Buffy Sainte-Marie was a graduating college senior in 1962 and hit the ground running in the early Sixties, after the beatniks and before the hippies. All alone she toured North America’s colleges, reservations and concert halls, meeting both huge acclaim and huge misperception from audiences and record companies who expected Pocahontas in fringes, and instead were both entertained and educated with their initial dose of Native American reality in the first person.
By age 24, Buffy Sainte-Marie had appeared all over Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia, receiving honors, medals and awards, which continue to this day. Her song Until It’s Timefor You to Go was recorded by Elvis and Barbra and Cher, and her Universal Soldier
became the anthem of the peace movement. For her very first album she was voted Billboard’s Best New Artist.
She disappeared suddenly from the mainstream American airwaves during the Lyndon Johnson years. Unknown to her, as part of a blacklist which affected Eartha Kitt, Taj Mahal and a host of other outspoken performers, her name was included on White House stationery as among those whose music “deserved to be suppressed”, and radio airplay disappeared. Invited onto television talk shows on the basis of her success with Until It’s Time for You to Go, she was told that Native issues and the peace movement had become unfashionable and to limit her comments to celebrity chat. The next presidential administration, that of Richard Nixon, also came down hard on her, as this was the time of Wounded Knee.
In Indian country and abroad, however, her fame only grew. Denied an adult television audience in the U.S., in 1975 she joined the cast of Sesame Street for five years. She continued to appear at countless grassroots concerts, AIM (American Indian Movement) events and other activist benefits in Canada and the U.S. She made 18 albums of her music, three of her own television specials, scored movies, garnered international acclaim, helped to found Canada’s Music of Aboriginal Canada JUNO category, raised a son, earned a Ph.D. in Fine Arts, taught Digital Music as adjunct professor at several colleges, and won an Academy Award Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for the song Up Where We Belong.
Two thousand nine marked the release of her eighteenth album Running for the Drum, which won Buffy her third Juno Award. Packaged in tandem with the bio-documentary DVD Buffy Sainte-Marie: A Multimedia Life, the two disks together give audiences a glimpse into the life and work of this unique, always current artist.
Buffy likens electronic painting to “painting with light”. Working on her Macintosh at home, she has used the entire 15 year history of digital imaging software, using mainly Photoshop these days, combining colours and light, sometimes with scanned-in realities (photos, fabrics, feathers and beads) and over-painting with metallic dyes to create huge, brilliantly coloured paintings which she describes as being “both reflective and deep, like new car paint”. Her works have graced the covers of Art Focus and Talking Stick magazines and been featured in MS. Magazine, Yahoo, and USA Today.
An early Macintosh pioneer in digital art and music, by 1994 Buffy Sainte-Marie’s huge works were among the first to be seen in museums and galleries across North America: the Glenbow Museum (Calgary), the Emily Carr Gallery (Vancouver), the Mackenzie Gallery (Regina), the Institute for American Indian Art Museum (Santa Fe), The Isaacs Gallery (Toronto), Ramscale Gallery (New York), the G.O.C.A.I.A. Gallery, (Tucson), the Tucson Museum of Art and Gurevich Fine Art (Winnipeg). The images are created as very limited edition Ilfordchrome photographic prints, ranging in size from two feet to nine feet high. The pieces are then framed and exhibited in galleries, both physical and virtual.
Buffy Sainte-Marie was very early with digital art and, as digital media caught on, Buffy assisted many other artists in understanding computers as an additional tool for real art. She was keynote speaker at the Interactive ’96 conference (in Toronto), where her digital images were exhibited amidst great media attention. Singing a concert with the Regina Symphony with her magnificent huge digital paintings exhibited in the foyer of the concert hall, her continuing theme Cyberskins: Live and Interactive crossed media boundaries, always emphasizing how Indians are alive and thriving even within the digital revolution.