News From Native California Volume 31, Issue 3 - Page 58

We did several gigs together, performing on the same stage. We sometimes went on road trips, me functioning as his navigator. He needed a navigator. He was a distracted driver, often missing road signs and having to backtrack to get to our destination. I often stomped on a wished-for brake on the passenger side. James walked his talk. He read widely—newspapers, mag- azines, and books. He carried a notebook. So did I, but he wrote in his. I most often neglected mine. James lived with his eyes open, always ready to pounce on the ordinary, invest it with new meaning, transform it into art. In the collision of Native culture and popular culture, he picked up the pieces. Yes, he was an artist. A great artist. His art will long be remembered. But more than that, he was a friend to many, a good guy to take a midnight shot of Irish whiskey with, a fellow traveller, a man who cared about others. He made the world a better place and his departure leaves it emptier. Indian Country has lost one of the good ones. —Gordon Johnson james luna, a remembrance. It feels like I had always known James. The earliest feeling I had about him was about familial relationships. He looked like my relatives on the DeSoto/Andreas Cahuilla side of the family and his voice reminded me of my half cousin, Bif. He was Payómkawichum, but in my childhood days they said Luiseño. A “Mission Indian,” my aunt Virginia would say in a condescending way. She was proud that the Cahuilla had not been renamed by our Spanish invaders. I didn’t remind her of the Spanish form the name took in print. No matter; he seemed closer to me than my immediate family. We were both artists and we simultaneously encountered each other’s work at the beginning of the 90s. He suggested we do a piece together and I leaped at the chance. In 1992 we created Kísh Tétayawet/Dreamhouse/Wampkísh for the San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery. We created a modern Indian bachelor pad. We shopped at a rental furniture store and placed all the chrome, glass, and black leather we could throughout the space. The TV played video documentation of our work. Pictures of his family surrounded the big screen TV. On the coffee table were magazines, High Performance and ArtSpace, with supplemental articles spread around like fash- ionable talismans of the day. James had a cool Hardbody Red Nissan truck filled with river willow that we fastened to the walls. Feathers tied in a bundle hung over the pillow where “dreaming” would occur and we set up “Indian” blankets on the bed. 56 ▼ N E WS F ROM N AT IVE C AL IFO RNIA Kísh Tétayawet/Dreamhouse/Wampkísh exhibit. Courtesy of Lewis DeSoto. On the sleek dining room table was a big reed basket that held four small bags of CornNuts and next to it a granite matate with a grinding stone. I remember him laughing a lot and enjoying his welcoming nature. He was critical but never mean. He had a spiritual irony that was completely unique. He loved his family, his community, and his fellow artists. Since that time we saw each other less. We fell into having great conversations a couple of times a year. Our trajectories sent us off into opposite directions. Occasionally we helped each other with different projects. He died a year shy of my father at age sixty eight. I feel selfish and guilty that I’m focussed on his disappearance from my life. I imagine him floating over the land, free of back pain, free of the diabetes, smiling, wearing his Make America Red Again baseball cap, sailing toward the rising sun in the east. —Lewis DeSoto