This is what this gifted, award-winning artist and activist is best known for – a powerful portrait of a Plains warrior.
Although Navajo, Bennie often uses his wife’s Kiowa heritage as inspiration and does so here.
Front and center, the warrior confronts us with resolute expression, full war paint, and his best wardrobe.
An eagle forms his headdress, exemplifying the sacramental and powerful name he has earned; he wears silver trade beads and an earring, as well as a bone choker, deerskin tunic, and woven blanket.
One hand holds his ceremonial staff, and the other an ornamented shield. He seems ready for confrontation.
However, his stance, accouterments, and expression seem more ceremonial, than martial.
Although his expression is majestic and determined, there is also an element of wistfulness, even melancholy, about it.
The portrait is emotionally eloquent; the figure is portrayed as a strong and respected warrior, and the painting technique is masterful.
Each element of the figure and his paraphernalia is painted with singular realism and expertise: The eagle perched on his head; the wisps of his hair, and that on the shield; the skin tunic, jewelry, hand, beaded staff, blanket, and cloth-edged, feather and bell-decorated shield.
All are painted with confident exactitude and naturalism, including his fingernails, eyes, and face.
He stands against a background that forgoes realism, for a luminous blue background that creates a subtle halo around him.
The colors in his blanket and shield are repeated in a warm orange rectangle behind him, while the red of his robe extends out in a strong horizontal band.
Plains tribes traditionally used cloths of red, blue and other colors as signs of protection and blessing, after a medicine man’s ceremony. Perhaps that is what the artist is alluding to.
In any case, the central stance of the figure, its scrupulous detail, and the bold geometrics of the background combine to form a haunting, colorful, and affecting painting of great power and beauty.