Larry McNeil

b. 1955

Born in Juneau, Alaska, lives in Idaho.

Member of Tlingit and Nisga'a nations. 

My place in our American culture is a bit off-center because I, like many other Native Americans, really grew up outside of the mainstream while simultaneously being immersed in it, which is a kind of paradox that confuses the hell out of everyone, me included. As a kid I was likely to hear Roy Orbison blasing Pretty Woman out of the jukeboxes in bars along the avenue, and then go home to traditionally smoked salmon and hearing my grandma talking to my mom in Tlingit. 

Being raised partly by our grandmother, who was born in the late 1800s, gave my siblings and me an atypical worldview--and an unusual strength and deep connecting to our identity. We were raised in turbulent times that challenged our very existence as Tlingit people---from experiencing racisism in our everyday lives to having the government refuse claims to our traditional homeland our our right to exist as a sovereign nation. Our experiences are not unusual...many of our friends and relatives have similar stories, and they continue to forge powerful bonds that go deeper than blood. 

I see my work as a bridge between cultures that is satirical about both. After finding our own mythological creature, the raven, to be very relevant to the absurdities that we encounter every day in America, I drifted toward the broader idea of myths and mythology and how it informs who we are. The title of the series, fly by night mythology, seemed perfect for everything that I have been making work about because it refers to the Tlingit creation story in which Raven flew by night because in the beginning there was no light. The raven from the Northwest Coast is also a changeling or transformer and is a trickster. "Fly by night" is also colloquialism that alludes to being an undependable rascal, yet Raven plays a key role in our creation story--which makes him an embodiment of irony, an aspect that the Tlingit people are keenly aware of. 

I have always had an affinity for words and images. Language and stories became a part of my art without much conscious thought. The use of language is not necessarily literal; I like visual metaphors. Personally, the work is very much a visual manifestation of Tlingit culture and identity, which are comprised of both formal and informal language and stories. Someone from my own Kéet Hit (Killer Whale House) would understand the interaction of text and image without having it described to them; I believe it is very innate to us. The postmodern crowd gets it too, as do kids, which is an aspect that I really love. 

--Larry McNeil

Larry McNeil created lithographs at Tamarind in 2004 as a participant in the project, Migrations