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Decker’s brush is a can of spray paint
Written by Lu Stitt   
Thursday, 30 June 2011 12:00

Artist creates bold, spiritual images to promote his Apache culture

Charles Decker paints with a different sort of tool than most artists. He uses a spray can of paint affixed with different tips for whatever effect he wants to create.

Many people associate spray paint with gangs and graffiti or “tagging.” While Decker admits to indulging in such activity in his youth growing up in Phoenix, at 30 years old he has matured in his thinking and his direction. People will see Decker’s artwork in galleries, not ghettos, alleys and highway overpasses.

Artist Charles Decker takes a moment before speaking at the Sedona Heritage Museum in May. Decker uses spray paint cans affixed with different tips to create his art. He lives with his watercolor artist father, Don Decker, in Camp Verde.“I was a bad boy — not too bad,” Decker said and smiled. “I used to do a lot of graffiti, but I’m getting older now and getting in touch with my roots. I’m making a transformation into an art style.” Decker is an Apache who is living with his watercolor artist father, Don Decker, on the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Camp Verde. He and his father spoke about their art and their heritage at the Sedona Heritage Museum’s Living History series May 11.

“The paint I use is not your $2 a can you get a giant discount store. They are spray enamel, and I work on large-scale canvas,” Decker said.

Decker orders his special art spray paints from a manufacturer in Barcelona, Spain. They cost a lot more than the discount store variety. He also uses tips of various size and shape to create the effect he wants. He also wears a respirator to negate the effects of the spray gases.

Decker considers himself a performing artist because he usually creates in front of an audience.

“My art lends itself to performance with the cans and at the end I actually light the canvas on fire for a few seconds. It helps dry the paint and distorts the colors, and it gives an outstanding finish to the performance. It’s exciting,” Decker said. “I put it out quickly before it burns anything.”

His first live performance was for a rave in Phoenix with about 800 people.

The Decker family has a long history in Arizona, including at the San Carlos Reservation and the Yavapai-Apache Nation in the Verde Valley.

“I grew up in an artist family. My mother did art and, of course, my father,” Decker said. “I also grew up attending ceremonies in San Carlos and here. I am very proud of my culture and heritage, and I wanted to transform my modern art into traditional art.”

Decker attended Yavapai College and took a wide variety of art courses, particularly in painting and drawing. He is using that knowledge, combined with his Native American history to promote the culture and heritage of his people, he said.

“Currently, I’m taking my style and using it for traditional Apache spiritual art,” Decker said. “Apaches are usually portrayed as vicious, angry people. We believe in ceremony. We’re spiritual people and this needs to be promoted.”

Most of Decker’s paintings include stars, planets and the moon — things he said are a part of his being. He also uses stencils to make silhouettes.

“I personally enjoy looking at the stars. It reminds me of where we are and the bigger picture. I like to incorporate that feeling. I also use symbols from the Apache and borrow some from the Yavapai,” Decker said.

His medium may seem a bit strange to many art aficionados, but Decker said it’s the best way for him to express himself.

“With paint, it’s quick and a lot of accidental things can happen that turn out incredible. I get into a zone. It’s like church for me,” Decker said waving his hands and arms as if he was creating a canvas. “I also make it easy for others to love my work. I coat each painting with a high-gloss clear enamel. All you have to do to clean them is wipe them with a damp cloth.”

Decker said this has been a good year for him. He was the featured artist for the fourth annual Sedona Indian Artists Market in October. An Arizona casino is buying six of his paintings to make prints to hang in all of the hotel rooms, and members of the Havasupai tribe flew him to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to do a live performance for their two-day Peach Festival.

“It’s so beautiful down there with the falls and the turquoise water,” Decker said. “What an honor.”

Decker plans to continue his education and finish college to earn a degree in business, all while continuing to perform and create art pieces.

“I love my work,” he said. “My goal with my art is to travel the United States and do custom murals with other American Indian tribes and artists.”

Decker considers part of his mission with art is to be a mentor to youth who want to become artists. He said, like a quote attributed to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Never give up.”

“Be proud of who you are, learn what you can, and take what you have and use it,” Decker said.


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