Earl Biss


Biss was a central figure in the "miracle generation" of students at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe in the 1960s. When Earl and his fellow students – which included Kevin Red Star, T.C. Cannon and Doug Hyde – arrived at IAIA, western art was focused on cowboys and landscapes, while Native art was stylized, linear and depictive. That perspective was too narrow for Biss, who studied painting with Fritz
Scholder, sculpture with Allan Houser, jewelry and design with Charles Loloma, and architecture with Paolo
Soleri. Inspired by these teachers, as well as fauvism, impressionism, expressionism, and other modernist
movements, Biss pushed himself and his friends to create an entirely new genre that we know today as
Contemporary Southwestern Art. "Earl was the catalyst," Red Star said.

Biss went on to the San Francisco Art Institute on a full scholarship, then moved to Paris where he haunted museums and studied printmaking with S. W. Hayter. Returning to Santa Fe, he rented studio space with several of his fellow artists who continually challenged each other to further develop their unique styles.
Biss often painted in bursts of 48 to 72 hours or more, eating little and sometimes working to collapse. He
created thousands of paintings and drawings in his lifetime, many of which sold so fast their whereabouts are unknown. He remained at the top of his field for thirty years. Even as his career skyrocketed, Earl admittedly struggled with alcohol and other substances, and went through multiple relationships and marriages. While attempting to balance Native ways in a white man's world, his love for art superseded any of life's challenges. His mastery with oils evolved over time with colors becoming richer and with unparalleled depth as he pushed
the edge of what is possible in wet-in-wet technique. Expressionist - yet always giving enough imagery to ground
the viewer - Earl Biss was ever the explorer. He continued to stretch of the boundaries of the genre of Contemporary Southwest Art up until his last day on this Earth.
Weakened both by his lifestyle and a childhood bout with rheumatic fever that damaged his heart, Earl Biss
died of a stroke in his Santa Fe studio in 1998. His works in the Contemporary Southwestern Art style are now collected worldwide.