Ishi Glinsky is a Native American by blood and an artist by vocation. He creates giant sculptures from unusual materials, shedding light on the history, culture and uncomfortable truth of his people.

We talked to the artist about the history of his native Tohono O'odham tribe, the collaboration with Polo Ralph Lauren and the jewelry brand Larry Smith Tokyo, the giant punk leather jacket and the resourcefulness of the jewelers of the early XX century.
Your artworks are full of the heritage of your tribe, the Tohono O'odham Nation. Please represent your tribe to us. Tell us about its history and your roots.
Thank you for asking. My Dad's family and people are Tohono O'odham and have lived for thousands of years nomadically in villages throughout what is now called the «‎Sonoran Desert» that's on the modern day US southern border of Arizona and Mexico. On my Mom's side there are several lineages and nomadic backgrounds as well. My Grandmother is originally from Bohemia, during and post WWII grew up in Germany, then immigrated to the Eastern United States. Finally with my Mom, moved to Tucson, Arizona. So in short I'm half Tohono O'odham and German descent. I grew up in Tucson, AZ and moved to Los Angeles, CA in 2006 and have been here since.
In an interview for Juxtapoz you said that you grew in a creative family. And told the nice story of how the father's work inspires you to draw more. What things also impressed/inspired you to draw in that time? Maybe some from LA culture, pop culture, music and so on...
When I was younger, yes there was a drawing I had that my father made. His passing when I was still very young gave the work that much more importance. The paper drawing was one of the only connections to him. That work, my Mom's paintings and my Bohemian Grandmothers sculptures provided a motivating environment as a little kid to pay more attention to my own drawings. Putting more time on the line work of my interpretations of Donatello and Leonardo. Ha, not the great Renaissance masters but «‎Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles». During my early 20's while still in Tucson, Arizona and when I first arrived in LA some California culture and music, for sure found its way into my experimental fundamentals and approaches. Still learning I would go ballistic and explode on canvases. Then here in LA, drag elements from the streets of Echo Park to reshape and paint as sculptures. This helped find my way and explore positive and negative space.
Why did you choose to make artworks based on Native American culture?
In my teenage years is when I started being more traditional. I began dancing at powwows and making regalia. I would loop back to this moment in my life in later works and what I learned then has become a huge part of my process today.
Tell us about your first sculpture you make. What was it? How was it?
I could talk about some of the creations I made as a kid but I'll focus on my first all sculpture show in 2008 in Los Angeles, CA. For this show I made the first version of my oversized necklace. The creation of the piece flowed out like I've never experienced. My hand felt as if I had been making them for years, but it was the first time I've made anything like it. It felt like there was an additional presence above or in my hands. I was working with very considered movements and confidence. My hands were doing the thinking. This made it obvious to me that I should make more oversized sculptures. Scale has been a part of my process ever since. The work itself was made from elements in my neighborhood. I was a lot more mischievous then and used chain links stolen from parking lots. I really like the aged rusty chains but felt pretty awful stealing. I transitioned to store bought mediums quickly.
Do you have any rituals or something unusual and special related to your current creative process?
I do not have any obvious rituals. I would consider my process of self educating of history and gathering as many stories as my prep for my paintings and sculptures. Some approaches I have to my concepts might be drowned out over years and possibly be overlooked as a ritual. But research and storytelling is becoming more and more a part of my process when starting each new work.
Photo: Marissa Gonzales
In 2016 you did sculpture Tokyo Birds with Larry Smith Tokyo. Tell us about it. How does it happen?
The sculptures are oversized necklaces of what is referred to as Santo Domingos. In the 1930's during America's Great Depression the original works were being made out of extremely ambitious resourceful materials. Using car battery plastic for the backing of the tabs and center Thunderbird. Later, using plates and cutlery from a fast food chain called Dairy Queen for the bright red color. These Santo Domingo necklaces were sold at trading posts throughout the South West of the US. Each of these works are truly amazing examples of indigenous craftsmanship from selective resources. I'd suggest looking them up. The intention of my work is to start a conversation about these pieces. I am trying to redefine the space that these hold. Each of these necklaces either from the past or contemporary, should hold the same amount of space as my larger sculptural interpretation. I created this work for a showing they had in Tokyo. We have partnered on several projects since 2013.
Photo: Masao Inoue
You made the mocassins with Polo Ralph Lauren (and we know that you're a fan of the RRL line) So, can you tell us how your collaboration with PRL happened? And what things in this collaboration you appreciate the most?
I was contacted by the Ralph Lauren team. Having worked at a few of the RRL stores some years prior, I was happy to be on their radar. The project came as Polo was working internally to address its usage of Native American/Indigenous designs. Being a part of this special collaboration and program was attractive to me for a few reasons. In addition to the Moccasin art I was to give a talk with other speakers, to a large portion of their design team. I hoped to convey my attention, respect and great care when sharing these age old stories. The many steps I take and strive towards to honor the past and present culture, They should too. It was a great time and project. I feel like Polo Ralph Lauren can be a great platform for inclusion of indigenous voices. Looking forward to working with PRL again in the future.
Photo: Tyler Wray
At the last group exhibition «‎Monuments to Survival» you showed giant punk jacket sculpture. We know that you have a collection of punk jackets or something like that.
So, firstly, we would like to know about your passion for punk jackets. Where does it come from? Why do you like that? Were you a punk in your youth?
No, I was never a part of any punk scene. In my youth I did dress up like a freak and weirdo and jump around at live shows. But that's a different story and vibe. I do have a small punk jacket collection but the «‎Coral Vs. Kingsnake Jacket» was not solely inspired by these pieces. Some obvious elements informed the decisions made on the larger version. There can be similarities and crossover with the physicality aspect. A lot of the actual process of working on a «‎punk» jacket reminds me of making my Powwow regalia, a lot of hand made elements.
How do you create this giant sculpture? It looks really unbelievable
«‎Coral Vs King Snake Jacket‎» began as a seedling around 2008 when I worked with a friend to make an oversized button up shirt for my first sculptural show here in Los Angeles that I mentioned. We joked that we should make punk jackets/ gang cuts and what that kind of art show might look like? In 2019 I was approached by the curator at Los Angeles Municipal Art gallery regarding a show that she was putting together inspired by the essay of the same title by African American writer Ross Gay. In sum the idea of loitering or languishing in a space is different depending on who is doing the loitering. Of course the arrival I had was the loitering or occupation on stolen land. This idea of what Los Angeles, this place is, who it belongs to and calling attention to the fact that we are all present and loitering on stolen land.

The idea as in nature with the King and Coral snake, is things may not always be as they seem. One is poisonous, one is benign but its outward appearance precedes these creatures. That is what this piece represents, Indigenous movements, the push for recognition, misidentification/misjudgement and the unapologetic pronouncement of these things, uncomfortable but necessary truths. Throughout the Jacket I wanted to call attention to movements and history in this monumental way. The Jacket is canvas with a concoction of industrial adhesives. I wanted the viewer to have to wonder what the material is. Rather than clock the piece as faux leather or actual hides. The studs I made out of fence post caps. I hand cut each one down to make the tabs on the stud. Ultimately, the jacket is full of opportunities to educate folks of past and present Indigenous movements.
Photo: Ruben Diaz
Well, you did a «‎rug» with oil on canvas, giant earrings made from rubber, giant punk jackets... What tools and mediums you would like to work with in future? Maybe something strange?
I'm always jumping from mediums to mediums. And as I mentioned earlier it can take years for me to fully commit and execute a concept. Being back in the desert last summer was extremely rejuvenating. Definitely would like to spend more time home in the desert experimenting with larger scale projects in natural landscapes.
If possible, share with us your plans for this year. Thanks!
As of right now I have some fun and ambitious projects. I'm making a sculpture for the state of California for a new building in Sacramento. It's going to be a 240" X 96" oversized bead work piece made from about 8000+ skateboard wheels. As well as collaborating with other indigenous artists on a big project I can't really get into right now. But looking forward to adding more Native voices to some great platforms.
Photo: Ruben Diaz
Instagram: @1451

Grade Moscow
8 Apr, 2021