The art of Blue Spruce Standing Deer is about connections: between the physical and spiritual worlds and, in a narrower sense, between his music and his painting.
"When I'm singing, I bring in a painting, and when I paint, I'm singing a song," Standing Deer said in a telephone interview from his studio in Taos, N.M. "The paintings go with the songs and the songs go with the paintings."
Standing Deer will perform today at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, singing his own compositions while accompanying himself on drum. Several of his paintings will also be on display. The event will be his first solo concert, although he has performed often at cultural events in Taos and elsewhere.
"The program itself is very simplified," Standing Deer said. "I want to move people with my voice." A member of the Tiwa people, Standing Deer is a resident of Taos Pueblo, heir to a family tradition of medicine men (his name, in Tiwa, is Pha-Quen-Nee-e). He sings in Tiwa and tonight will offer explanations of his songs in English.
His highly stylized paintings express his interpretation of Tiwa beliefs and oral tradition. When painting, he said, he "communicates" with the second (spirit) world and translates his visions to canvas. His songs comment directly on the themes and content of the paintings.
Tonight's concert is part of an effort by Standing Deer, 48, to reach a wider audience with his music (his paintings, he said, have been exhibited in private galleries nationwide). It is a chance for people, he said, "to really see what the American Indian is like, rather than just see movie versions."
He has one album on tape, which came about as the result of a chance meeting in Laguna Beach three years ago, when he was singing on Main Beach as part of a "full-moon presentation." There, he met Los Angeles producer Terrie Marie, who went on to record his "One Voice" album. That connection also eventually led to tonight's San Juan Capistrano concert.
"I make it fun, and I make it interesting to hear. My voice is really different," Standing Deer said. In concert, he added, "I try to focus on the main energy. . . . The more people I have (in the audience), the more strength I pick up from the energy, and the better the performance."
Some of the themes central to Native American beliefs are now being incorporated into the environmental movement and in other aspects of mainstream life, Standing Deer said.
"A lot of people are barely catching up to what we've been saying for hundreds of years," the singer and painter said. Through his songs, he said, he hopes to add to that momentum. "Everything is so unbalanced nowadays. It's important that we all share what we have. . . . Music just opens doors."
There has been a great deal of criticism from Native Americans recently directed at some elements of the New Age movement, which incorporate and commercialize some traditional practices. Standing Deer agrees with many of the charges.
"There are so many wanna-bes out there it's ridiculous," he said. He and his family are willing to share many aspects of Tiwa culture, but some customs and ceremonies are not to be shared with outsiders and are certainly not meant to be exploited commercially.
If there is something the Tiwa can share with outside cultures, he said, it is a sense of unity and balance between our physical and spiritual sides, and a respect for the Earth. It is not possible for someone to "become" a Native American, he said.
"You have to be born into it," he said. "I couldn't be Italian if I tried."
For the Tiwa and other Native Americans, maintaining that spiritual balance and the sense of culture can be difficult in the face of pressures from mainstream culture. That has been brought home anew to Standing Deer as he watches his teen-age sons, Corey and Jarack, struggle with the lure of fast cars and brand-name clothes.
"It's a difficult balance," he said. "The (modern) world is always trying to change us. But we didn't come to (that) world. It came to us."
\o7 * Blue Spruce Standing Deer will perform today at 7 and 9 p.m. in the La Sala Auditorium of San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano. $3. (714) 493-1752. \f7