Printmakers You Should Know: T.C. Cannon

Last month we looked at Fritz Scholder, whose provocative and controversial depictions of American Indians continue to resonate with audiences. Today, we'll take a look at one of his students, T.C. Cannon (1946-1978):

Self-Portrait with Red Scarf, mixed media, image courtesy of
Cannon grew up in Oklahoma; his mother was of French and Caddo descent, while his father had Kiowa and Irish-Scotch heritage. Cannon himself would ultimately choose to become a member of the Kiowa tribe, the same as his father. 

In 1964, he enrolled at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where Fritz Scholder was teaching at the time. After graduating in 1966, he briefly attended the San Francisco Art Institute, but left school to enlist in the army. He participated in the Vietnam War from 1967-1968, and was awarded two bronze stars. His artistic breakthrough also happened while he was still at war, when his work was featured in a major traveling exhibit, Contemporary Southern Plains Art. In 1972, he had a two-man exhibit at the Smithsonian with none other than Fritz Scholder. Eventually settling in Santa Fe, Cannon continued to achieve success as an artist, until his death in 1978 from a car accident cut short his career. 

As an artist, Cannon explored the multivalent, and often contradictory qualities of American Indian identity. In a lot of his compositions, he paints historical Indian figures into contemporary settings, emphasizing the juxtaposition between the popular conception of American Indians and the reality of an ever-evolving world. These works humorously highlight the anachronisms of popular culture with regard to American Indian identity.

As a printmaker, Cannon worked in relief techniques, making linocuts and woodcuts. 

Big Soldier, 1973, linocut, image courtesy of

He's particularly renowned for his color woodcuts, which implement bold patterns and bright hues to create lively compositions and meditate on multivalent American Indian identities.

His Hair Flows Like a River, color woodcut, image courtesy of

Here, we have two individuals dressed in traditional garb while listening to Puccini. The combination of traditional indigenous clothing, European music and technology, and the political campaign poster in the background underscores the complexity of American Indian identity. Not limited to a single time period or place, the work emphasizes that American Indians live in a variety of cultural and social frameworks, just like everybody else.
Tosca, color woodcut, image courtesy of

Similarly, in this woodcut a man is seated in a wicker chair with a European landscape hanging on the wall behind him. The contrast between the indigenous, traditional clothing and Western-style art and composition underscores our tendency to restrict American Indian identity to a single lens of culture and taste.
Osage with Van Gogh, color woodcut, image courtesy of

 Cannon's love of history also expanded into his familial legacy. Several of his prints directly address specific family members or stories, such as

Grandmother Gestating Father and the Wahsita River Runs Ribbon Like, color woodcut, image courtesy of
Like a lot of artists who die young, we speculate on what Cannon might have accomplished if he had lived longer. Nevertheless, he produced a significant amount of work during his life that continues to endure today.

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