Fritz Scholder was born in 1937 in Breckenridge,
Minnesota. While in high school, in Pierre, South Dakota, he studied
with Oscar Howe, a noted Sioux artist. After graduating, in 1956, from
Ashland High School in Wisconsin, he enrolled at Wisconsin State University
in Superior. Following his freshman year, he moved with his family to
Sacramento, California, where he studied with Wayne Thiebaud. Thiebaud,
along with Greg Kondos, Peter Vandenberg, and Scholder, opened a cooperative
gallery in Sacramento, where Scholder’s first show received exceptional
reviews. A one-man exhibition followed at the Crocker Art Museum, as
did regional showings of his work, including an exhibit at the Palace
of Legion of Honor (San Francisco). Following his graduation from Sacramento
State University in 1961, Scholder, who is one-quarter Luiseño, was
invited to participate in the Rockefeller Indian Art Project at the
University of Arizona. Upon receiving a John Hay Whitney Fellowship,
Scholder moved to Tucson, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts, in
1964. Soon after, he accepted the position of instructor in Advanced
Painting and Contemporary Art History at the newly formed Institute
of American Indians Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Scholder has always worked in series of paintings. In 1967, his new series on the Native American, depicting the “real Indian,” became an immediate controversy. Scholder was the first to paint Indians with American Flags, beer cans, and cats. His target was the loaded national cliché and guilt of the dominant culture. Scholder did not grow up as an Indian and his unique perspective could not be denied. Resigning from I.A.I.A. in 1969, he traveled to Europe and North Africa, before returning to Santa Fe. When the Tamarind Institute moved from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, in 1970, Scholder’s suite of lithographs, INDIANS FOREVER, opened as the inaugural exhibition, marking the start of a large body of work in that medium. The first book of his work, SCHOLDER / INDIANS, was published by Northland Press.
Scholder became a major influence for a generation of Native American artists. He lectured at numerous art conferences and universities, including Princeton and Dartmouth. In 1972, DARTMOUTH PORTRAITS opened in New York and Adelyn Breeskin, of the National Gallery of Art, suggested a two-person show featuring the work of Scholder and a former student of his choosing: T.C. Cannon. The show opened in Washington D.C. and traveled to Romania, Yugoslavia, Berlin and London. In Switzerland, Scholder was featured in a one-man show at the Basil V International Art Fair and then traveled to Egypt, where he painted the Sphinx and pyramids.
In 1975, Scholder did his first etchings, at El Dorado Press in Berkeley, California. In 1977, he discovered monotypes. His first exhibition of photographs was shown at the Heard Museum in 1978, documented by INDIAN KITSCH (Northland Press). A miniature book of Scholder’s poetry was produced in 1979 (Stinehour Press). In 1980, he was guest artist at the Oklahoma Art Institute, resulting in the second PBS documentary to be produced about Scholder: AMERICAN PORTRAIT.
In 1982, Scholder returned to Egypt at the invitation of archeologist Kent Weeks. Two years later, he was named lifetime Societaire of the Salon d’Automne and exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris. In 1985, he was honored with the Golden Plate Award from The American Academy of Achievement. In 1991, AFTERNOON NAP was published, the first in a series of book projects by Nazraeli Press, Munich. In 1994, Scholder and Leonard Baskins collaborated on a major book at Gehnenna Press in Massachusetts, after which he returned to Arizona and established a private press, Apocrypha. The following year, two major shows opened at the Phoenix Art Museum and the Scottsdale Center for the Arts in Arizona. Soon after, Scholder began the MILLENNIUM series, working in London, Paris and Budapest. In 2000, he produced his first digital book, THOUGHTS AT NIGHT and opened ALONE / NOT ALONE at Chiaroscuro Gallery in Santa Fe. In October of 2001, an exhibition of paintings and sculpture exploring death and skulls, LAST PORTRAITS, opened at the Tweed Museum of Art in Duluth. In March 2002, Scottsdale’s Chiaroscuro Galleries hosted ORCHIDS AND OTHER FLOWERS, Scholder’s response to 9/11.
Scholder holds honorary degrees from Ripon College, University of Arizona, Concordia College, The College of Santa Fe and the first honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin, Superior. He received a Humanitarian Award from the 14th Norsk Hostfest follos and was honored with the 2002 Arizona Governor’s Award.
"I have been described as a paradox, and I truly am…I call myself
an American expressionist, someone who celebrates life in paint and
other media. I am most interested in gesture, color and an honest use
of the material. As far as subject matter, every serious artist has
his own subject matter; it's very personal. It has to do with his own
life or a statement he wants to make about life."