Facing Expectations: An Interview Q&A with Madrona Redhawk

Madrona Redhawk, a Las Vegas local artist, is known for her stunning face work and performance art on Instagram.

In nearly all its forms, art is given worth by its ability to be consumed and to withstand time in homes or museums. Indigenous artist Madrona Redhawk's visual work defies those expectations, mostly existing temporarily on the artist's face. Her work’s only permanence is on her Instagram profile, which features 1,000 unique posts and over 100,000 followers. Presenting more questions than intended, the intimacy and confidence in her art make many wonder: What does it all mean? According to Redhawk, it isn't always that deep.

Born in Kansas, but raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, Madrona had an eccentric upbringing surrounded by a family that continues to support every one of her artistic endeavors. Newly relocated to New York City, it is clear that cities have a strong hold on her as an inspiration for her work. Unlike many profiles designed for fast consumption, each stop in her digital cityscape demands attention and time to appreciate. Finding her first post requires scrolling through portraits and video performances to a photograph of the young artist, dated June 9, 2015. In many ways, exploring her page can feel like exploring a new place, each look a separate location, complete with its own identity and life.

While Madrona oozes unrelenting trust in her own ability, she maintains a rare, symbiotic control of her ego, commanding an awareness of it while not being consumed. Although we could not meet in person, her laughter and personality beamed through the Zoom screen. She is an open book, smiling as she discusses her work and life, content with the state of her art.

Have there been reactions or interpretations to your work from viewers that you didn't expect?

I feel like, maybe, not so much with makeup, but with my performance art people have really wild takes on it. My performance art doesn't mean anything. [laughs] It's just weird ways to put makeup on. Everyone has the right to interpret art however they want...I take a lot of pride in my art, so of course I'm gonna be sensitive about my art. There was one where I had one of my makeup looks on and I put foundation on my hands, and then I covered it up. And everyone's like, "Oh my god, this is like having to cover up your true self from society.” [laughs] God, no. [laughs] I consider myself a pretty goofy, silly, like, light-hearted person. Art does not have to have meaning. And a lot of people think if art isn't serious and deep and dark, it's not good quality. Why do you have to be? Why does art have to be depressing to be good? [laughs] But lots of people have said: “You've shown me that makeup doesn't have to be about making yourself pretty.” Someone the other day said, "You always remind me that makeup has no limits,” and that that was very touching.

I'm sure your Indigeneity influences your work in ways we viewers can never know. Have you felt similar pressures to explain your work, particularly as an Indigenous artist?

People don't think I look Native. A lot of people think I'm Asian, and I'm not. In interviews—it's very much pointed out—they won't say anyone's race but mine. I'm sure you've experienced that as well because people will treat Native people like they're some sort of mystical relic or something. People [are] introducing you and saying you're Native when they wouldn't do that with any other race. It's very odd.

person with blonde hair and detailed makeup in shades of purple, white, and red
Photo provided by artist

Yeah, I can totally relate…Where would you say your designs come from? What space or inspiration are you pulling from?

I honestly couldn't say for sure. Some of them, like [the] cityscapes, are obvious. I don't know where my abstract comes from; I never make a plan. I always start with my nose, and then I go from there. I'm a really spontaneous person in every aspect, including art. [laughs] Like, one time my sister and I were in Olive Garden and I was really hung over. And I got a grand idea to go to L.A., so I bought tickets that would take off in two hours. We barely made it on the plane, and then we got to L.A. and we looked at each other like: What the hell are we doing? [laughs]

I'm curious how your upbringing in Las Vegas has also influenced you. It’s such an eclectic city, and as someone who has never lived there my only connotations are tourism, etc.

I really loved it. I think it was a great place to grow up. It's a party city, so as a kid, we're in like second grade talking about how we want to grow up and be bartenders. [laughs] I think there is an apathy problem amongst people who grew up in Vegas, which is strange... But I'm really grateful to have grown up there, and as far as work goes, it had a profound effect on me. I've always loved cityscapes; a lot of my work shows it. And my entire time there I always had a great view of the strip, so sometimes I would sit there for hours and just stare at the strip. It was, like, the prettiest place ever. I was imagining all the fun things that were happening on it. It's a very beautiful and very unique skyline. It's very colorful; the MGM is green and it makes the clouds green. I have a lot of pride [in Vegas] that shaped me a lot as a person.

person's face with purple sparkly detailed makeup and artwork around the edge in orange and purple lines

You seem to be really close to your family, how has that influenced your life and work?

Oh, my parents are my absolute biggest supporters. They believe in my art so much. My parents were also artists. My dad makes purses and my mom is a writer and also does leather work, too. They never made me do extracurriculars. They always just let me do whatever I want and were my best friends. I'm literally rarely ever not with them. I went to go to the DMV alone the other day, and I was so scared because they're always with me. Yeah, I was a little coddled. [laughs] No one's ever gonna love you like your parents will.

Yeah, that unconditional love is so important. No one else will love you the way they do. Is there any memory you have of them in the early days of telling them you wanted to pursue art?

One weird thing about me is I am not a leader. Like, I'm really good at makeup. I consider myself pretty intelligent, but I'm a follower. I follow my sister or my parents or musicians that I really like. I'm just not meant to be a leader. [laughs] So growing up my sister's always like the creative one thinking outside of the box. I do remember when I started getting better at art, I was in ninth grade and I was in this early childhood development class that—I dropped out of it, and in my school, if you dropped out of a class, they'd put you in art. [laughs] Schools do not respect art! But my teacher was really awesome! He let me do my own thing, and that's when I started drawing. And I got good; I just found my thing. He introduced me to papier-mâché as well. So I have two statues I'm working on right now.

person with intricate paint on the face in shades of pink and orange with caramel colored hair
Photo provided by artist

And now that your work has evolved, do you feel that your face is an extension of your art?

Yeah, I would definitely say so. My makeup is so personal. And that's part of the reason why I don't do makeup on other people. I don't want to put my precious art on their face. [laughs] I have reached out to a musician I like to ask if I can do their makeup for a photoshoot, and they said yes. So that's coming up, and I'm becoming more open to doing makeup on other people. I would always do it on my mom; or, I've done it on my dad and a couple of friends. I'm opening up to doing it on people that I respect. I'm not gonna just gonna do it on some random person that probably doesn't even like me.

I see your work as super intimate and vulnerable, especially because you're using your face for all of your work. As people who don’t have Eurocentric features, I’ve found it can take a certain amount of strength to say: “My face is the canvas. This is what you're going to look at.” What does that action mean to you?

Growing up, I always thought that I wasn't as pretty as my mom and sister. I think I'm beautiful, but I don't think I'm attractive. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I'm very comfortable with that. I'm very comfortable with my face; I wouldn't change anything. I think, in general, I'm very socially nervous around talking to people I don't know. It's terrifying. I won't even ask for help in a grocery store or whatever. So socially, I'm not confident. But otherwise I consider myself an extremely confident person. Like, my sister has told me I'm the most confident, strongest person she knows. I don't think it's always like that, but I definitely have a bit of an ego. I'm not afraid to admit that.