Common in the Southwest is the artistic depiction of Native American culture through painting, sculpture and photography. Often times, we recognize similarities in art through perspectives of Native artists, that was until Yavapai-Apache artist Charles Decker entered the art scene.
Decker comes from the Yavapai-Apache Nation and is a graduate student at Fort Lewis College studying business and marketing. As a young artist, Decker has been widely recognized for his fresh and innovative approach through his art, incorporating celestial motifs, symbols and landscapes with the traditional Apache world.
Decker is part of a new and fresh generation of artists, who use modern and contemporary approaches to depict their traditional Native roots. Decker emerges from the “Nagozogen” clan or “One who marks on the ground people”. Interestingly enough, he’s turned out to be an artist just as his Apache clan name indicates. Decker’s great great grandfather was Henry Irving, a well noted Apache medicine man who was born in Cibecue, Arizona and later grew up in Star Valley East of Payson during the mid to late 1800’s. Henry was known as Deyelleh or “One who dreams”. Today, Decker reflects on his Apache ancestral roots for inspiration in his artistry. While his art incorporates his Apache roots, Decker is using his art to tell his journey and his perspective on time and place.
“I had a childhood like most, which was full of imagination and plenty of coloring and drawing materials to keep myself busy. In elementary school, I can recall always having to incorporate some type of drawing or design into whatever the class project may have been, even if it wasn’t required for the project,” said Decker. In high school, Decker attended the Flagstaff Arts Leadership Academy, and now in his post-secondary education, even though pursuing a degree in business, Decker continues to engage and participate in art classes, to continuously perfect his skill of art. In the early 2000’s, Decker began attending music festivals in Arizona, and would create live art of spectators and visitors to enjoy and purchase. He added, “Creating art at events, and live art no less, was really when I began my journey as an artist. I recognized my talent, but at that point I hadn’t discovered my inspiration for creating art.”
In 2007, Decker returned home to the Yavapai-Apache Nation, to reconnect with the tribal community and his tribal identity. Working with his father, Don Decker, provided him with inspiration and artistic direction. His father, Don, is an acclaimed artist using pastels, paints and other mediums and had a successful career in journalism and is currently a Yavapai-Apache cultural influence of history, tradition and language.
“My pops is the coolest dude. To me, he is the epitome of an older Apache guy who has been there and done that. He has lived his life as an adventure and provided that mindset to me. I mean, I have the coolest dad ever, he can do digital recording, does great photography, produces the most amazing art and he has a gift that I will never have, and that is the gift of oral history and knowledge, which is a form of art itself. Spending time with my pops and learning form him and listening to him gave me the artistic inspiration to create visual pieces that have my own cool and hip take style while incorporating my roots as an Apache man,” said Decker.
Decker’s inspiration not only emerge from his father, but also from the many paths and places that life’s journey has taken him. As a young man, Decker recognized the many dangerous paths that his life could have taken him, however, turning to his art saved him from many of life’s tragedies. “When I create paintings on the canvas, I portray a moment in time that symbolizes strength, wisdom, protection and promotes health within the spirit. Channeling through the Apache paintings, I want to visually inspire strength for the endurance to move through life,” he added.
When Decker begins his artistic process, he starts with a blank canvass. As an artist, he always wants the observer to connect with his paintings and take away with them what is needed in hopes of making them feel better off and to have a better understanding of life and life’s moments.
Growing up in Arizona, Decker recalls attending tribal events and noticed that artist representation was predominantly from other tribes, which initiated the thought process that more Apache artists needed to be represented in the world of art.
Though his artistic career is still young and launching, Decker is humbled by the achievements and accomplishments in his artistic journey. “I am humbled by everything in my life. The biggest honor is knowing that my father, my community and my tribe has believed in me and embraced my vision. It’s amazing to reflect on all of the support I have received, and it feels great knowing that I am given the opportunity to contribute to so many people. I will continue to grow as an artist, evolve as an individual and share the story of my surroundings and experiences through the canvass,” said Decker.
Decker is an edgy, urban artist whose humility resonates in all aspects of his life. Yet, in his humility he has great accomplishments that should be celebrated. In 2010, one of the Southwest’s leading galleries recognized Decker for his art and has consistently displayed his pieces, showcasing his talents, Native perspective and fresh take on art. Through this relationship, Decker’s pieces have traveled internationally to find new homes with people, elevating the shared stories and lifestyle of Apache people, through the eyes and work of an Apache man. This is significant to tribal communities, because with Native languages diminishing and being lost forever, artworks of traditionalism is a great way to put the spiritual concepts on something tangible like canvas and onto a wall or into a vault to not be forgotten.
In addition to the support of renowned galleries, Decker’s art has been showcased in places such as the office of Yavapai-Apache Chairman Thomas Beauty, the Durango Mountain Ski Resort, and a 2011 edition of Cowboys & Indians magazine, the Durango Winter Sports Foundation and many other prominent galleries and facilities.
“2015 is the year of the Decker! Art is like everything else we do in life. We have to start somewhere, implement goals and we have to grow throughout the journey to accomplish that goal. I love putting my urban and creative perspective on things, and especially to give Apache art a fresh look. I respect all artists and I love looking at art depicting our Apache culture, which inspires me to use be cutting-edge with my art so that our children’s generation will have something to reflect on,” stated Decker.
There is one thing about it, if you haven’t seen the art of Charles Decker, you must make it a priority. As a new generation of tribal artists, Decker is leading the way in incorporating technology, modern society and urban trends to touch the minds and souls of audiences everywhere.