A fascinating genre-bending biography of a Native American artist
Coined as a biography, it’s difficult to place Poteet Victory absolutely into that genre, as it is structured as a mostly-dialogue narrative. The Author’s Note at the end of the piece, describing the line between fact and fiction is necessary to get the full scope of how and what we’re supposed to believe as readers.
In the beginning of the book, Judy Hightower, a research assistant for a film production company, comes to check out the studio of Poteet, a somewhat famed artist living and working in Santa Fe.
After falling in love with some of his paintings and an inside hunch that he’s the real deal, she sends her boss Elliot down to him in the hopes he’ll be as interested as she is and offer a movie deal for his life story. Elliot returns again and again to visit Poteet and his wife/studio assistant, Terry. These visits and the ensuing narrative are the bulk of the 600+ page text.
We come to find he had a somewhat abandoned childhood, with his parents and grandparents leaving him alone or out on the town for days at a time without a worry. He’s always had an issue with authority, which crops up here and there as an adolescent and a young man.
He’s lived a hundred lives, as a National Guard soldier, as a vagabond doing odd jobs, and then, in his first artist’s pursuit, as a screen printer and eventual t-shirt maker. Bouncing from Hawaii to the Midwest to New York City, Poteet introduces an insane array of characters that helps make him the folkloric man he is today.
Each story is the stuff of legend. As Elliot constantly questions whether the stories are real, so does the reader. Run-ins with Andy Warhol, working alongside other European-famous artists like his pal Harold being in the right place at the exact right time: all these add to the mysticism and allure surrounding the artist.
As Elliot gets to know Poteet and Terry more and more, he comes to their house, shares meals with them and is eventually convinced to make the film about Poteet’s life. Sales roll in, as do plans for the movie production, but Poteet and Elliot continue talking and the reader is treated to the ins and outs of Poteet’s work, love and personal life over the course of the book.
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in stories of a wild and interesting life, lived out over several decades. It is a long read, and it continues in the same format, with essentially no variation at all.
The stories and the man are undoubtedly fascinating, and to know it’s mostly a true story, adds greatly to the appeal. Googling the name “Poteet Victory” confirms many of the tales told and gives the reader a present face to the name. Knowing you could walk into his gallery and purchase some of the pieces discussed is its own type of thrill.
While the book reads and feels quite long, the individual stories can be broken up and digested piecemeal, allowing the reader to treat it as a single narrative or a book of short stories, which is likely helpful for those short-attention spanned among us.
Like noted earlier, the blur between fact and fiction isn’t so clear and the Author’s Note might be better as an Introduction. From it, we discover that the role of “Elliot” is that of the author himself, interviewing Poteet and Terry. Elliot, along with his assistant Judy Hightower are fictional representations of the real work that Keating performed interviewing and recording Poteet’s stories.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Nonfiction / Biography / Native American
Print Length: 620 pages