Check that SPAM
A mysterious e-mail leads local artist to Kazakhstan
Giving as little credence as most of us would to an e-mail supposedly from the government of Kazakhstan, Yankee Hill artist Timoteo “Ikoshy” Montoya sidestepped the message and moved on with his day.
A phone call that followed, however, confirmed that the e-mail was legit and in fact was a formal invitation from the mayor of the Kazakh capital of Astana. Turns out that Ikoshy (pronounced EYE-Ko-Shy), who creates vividly colored Native American-themed airbrush paintings, was just the person the Kazakhs wanted for their International Plein Aire of Artists festival to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of its second-largest city.
The 52-year-old Ikoshy was soon whisked away, all expenses paid, flying from San Francisco to Amsterdam to Moscow to the former Soviet territory. He was one of 12 international artists selected for the festival, which ran from June 30 to July 7.
So, how does a guy from Yankee Hill, off the beaten path even by Butte County standards, get discovered from across the world? Lucky for Ikoshy, festival organizer Roza Zhussupova, who is also director of an influential Astana art gallery, enlisted the help of her brother Tal, who lives in Oregon, to select one American artist. Tal was the one who followed up with a phone call confirming the e-mail from Kazakhstan.
“I used to show my work and go to ceremonies up [in Oregon], and they checked out my Web site,” Ikoshy explained. “I asked, ‘Why did you pick me? I’m grateful, but there are others more qualified and famous.’ Roza just said my work was interesting and they liked it.”
Ikoshy, a father of two, began his foray into airbrush art 10 years ago after his wife, Nadine, surprised him with the tools of the trade—a compressor, hoses, sprayable acrylic paint, brushes and a manifold (to hold several paint bottles). The self-taught artist now works out of his home studio as a full-time endeavor.
Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Ikoshy is a member of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas and considers himself a Tejano. He said many Tejano families from Texas have Native American blood in their ancestry. Several tribes were pushed out of Texas or dispatched to isolated reservations during the 1800s and early 1900s. Some, like the Lipan, went to Mexico, where they were accepted and given rancherias.
Ikoshy’s art glorifies Native American culture, teachings and spirit, in stunning color. His works have been featured in documentary videos and several periodicals, as well as on CD and book covers. His experience with plein aire—painting on location—was pretty much nil until he got to Astana. Making matters worse, the airbrush equipment he sent from home didn’t arrive in time for the festival. Instead, Ikoshy used traditional canvas and acrylics.
“Some guys cranked out three or four. I did one. I was like all thumbs,” Ikoshy said.
His plein aire work featured Astana’s presidential palace and golden towers. He added his own touches, painting mystical faces in the clouds and also inserting a majestic eagle. Ikoshy also presented to the city a limited edition of one of his proudest works, “The Thunder Being,” that Roza told Ikoshy generated much discussion and appreciation.
The Kazakh region has been inhabited for thousands of years, with Russian settlers arriving in the early 1700s, but the country’s new post-Soviet constitution was adopted just 13 years ago. Unlike Kazakhstan’s expansive countryside, Astana, which is evidently rich in oil money, is so new it’s quite eager to develop a culture and become a world destination at the same time. Astana is a burgeoning, modern city, but Ikoshy said there was an effort to include different cultures that reflected the old “Silk Road,” which accommodated trade routes between Asia, Europe and North Africa for 2,000 years. The International Plein Aire of Artists festival represents one of those efforts.
“They have all this wealth and are trying to become a major player in the world. They are trying to reach out to the world—after that Borat thing put a taint on it. That was kind of an outrage,” said Ikoshy, referring to 2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, a comedy that caught some attention for its mocking tone of the Kazakh culture.
Thousands of people of Asian, European and Russian descents, many of whom were drawn from the rural countryside, converged on the festival. Ikoshy was warmly received by all.
“The Kazakh people have quite an affinity for Native American people,” he said. “They consider us distant relatives because of the indigenous people from their country that traveled across the Bering Strait in ancient history. … They can relate to Native American people because the struggles are about the same. When I went over there I taught them about our tribe and culture.”
Ikoshy recently received another e-mail from Kazakhstan, and this one he read right away. It was a message from Roza, inviting him back next year for a three-city tour.