Jim Denomie (1955–2022)

Jim Denomie in his studio, Jan. 29, 2022
photo by Paul Schmelzer

With deep sadness we mourn iconic artist Jim Denomie, who recently passed away after a short battle with cancer.

An impassioned chronicler of events, Denomie created vividly-hued paintings, works on paper, and sculptures that focused a critical lens on the history of Indigenous peoples and their intersection with mainstream culture. He fluidly combined cultural symbols, personal stories, and headline news, offering unflinchingly honest commentary on topics from Christianity and stereotypes of Native peoples to white supremacy, the 1862 mass execution of 38 Dakota warriors, and, controversially, the militarized response to the 2016 pipeline protests at Standing Rock. Infused with humor and rendered in dreamlike colors, his works often depicted elements from the natural world, including frogs, rabbits, deer, and human-tree hybrids, layered with references to historical figures, from Jesus and Mike Tyson to Leonard Peltier, Vincent van Gogh, and the Lone Ranger. Best known for works of political commentary, he also created a wide body of erotic dreamscapes, which poetically fused sensuality and spirituality. While anchored by his Upper Midwest roots—a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles band of Ojibwe, he was born in Hayward, Wisconsin, and lived in Minneapolis most of his life—he was a global citizen, exhibiting worldwide and connecting with and championing Indigenous makers across the US and in countries around the world, most notably Brazil and New Zealand.

“Jim was undoubtedly one of the most important painters of his generation,” says gallerist Todd Bockley, who has represented Denomie since 2007, “offering a powerful and unmatched vision, one both deeply expressive of his Indigenous roots and compelling for art and non-art viewers alike. But it’s his generosity of spirit, his tireless support for artists, and his kindness to all that I’ll miss most.”

Beginning his art journey in his 30s, Denomie graduated from the University of Minnesota, launching a career that has since been honored by his peers through grants and awards from the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation, among others. His work has been exhibited widely, including at the Denver Art Museum, the Heard Museum, the Walker Art Center, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where a survey show of his work will be shown in 2023.

We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, family, and friends. His humanity, humor, and vision will be missed.