One of the most significant artists in the field of contemporary Native art, Fonseca is known for the versatility and experimentation of his work. Outstanding examples from a collection of Fonseca’s works that highlight his life and career are on exhibit. The collection, including paintings, ledger art, sketches and handwritten notes, was donated to the museum in 2014 by Fonseca’s partner Harry Nungesser after the artist’s death.
From the start of his career in the 1970s, Fonseca (Nisenan/Maidu/ Portuguese/Hawaiian) changed perceptions of Native artists. He broke through barriers by gaining the respect and admiration of art critics and academics who began to view contemporary Native art as fine art. Fonseca was named an Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellow in 2005.
Visitors will be inspired by the variety and creative output of Fonseca's work. Among the best known of his subjects is his Coyote series that allude to both the trickster and heroic nature of Coyote as viewed by his Maidu's cultural lens. Coyote is often portrayed donning late 20th century clothing to convey modern Native experience as evolving yet continuing.
Fonseca employed different painting techniques, styles and themes that allowed him to investigate and revisit many series. One series focused on the impact of the Gold Rush on Native peoples in California; another called Stone Poems reinterpreted on canvas the stone petroglyphs of ancient Native peoples of the Southwest. In yet another series, his Stripes and Seasons paintings generate dialogue and ignite imagination.
In showcasing some of the best of Fonseca’s work, the 2018 exhibit presents insights into the artist’s warmth and humor, particularly through his painted handwritten notes and in sketches that depict his love of classical music, opera and entertaining guests. Fonseca’s death from cancer in 2006 brought about a profound loss to the contemporary Native art field; this exhibit, therefore, celebrates his extraordinary life’s work and legacy and places his legacy into a fuller context.