© By Trey Adcock
John Henry Gloyne, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian (EBCI), grew up in the Yellowhill community of the Qualla Boundary in Cherokee, NC. Born to a Cherokee father and a Pawnee/Osage mother from Tulsa, Oklahoma he is a prolific artist using several mediums to blend traditional indigenous images within modern contexts. Tattooing, painting, drawing, and sculpting are his main outlets of expression. John Henry’s most well-known works include his own take on traditional Cherokee masks and Mississipian inspired gorgets.
His work has been most recently featured in the Renewal of the Ancient art exhibit of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Appalachia Now! exhibit at the Asheville Art Museum.
John Henry and I met on a sunny, brisk morning at a small coffee shop in the River Arts District of Tokiyasdi “The place where they race” known by its more popular colonizer name of Asheville, NC. Former industrial buildings turned art galleries, coffee shops and micro-breweries sprawl out along the French Broad River that runs northeast through the city. We both live and work within or near urban spaces associated with Tokiyasdi. I am an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma who directs the American Indian & Indigenous Studies program at the local university while John Henry is the owner of Serpent & the Rainbow tattoo shop located in the western part of the city.
I heard about John Henry for years from friends who he played basketball with and from students who raved about his work, both painting and tattooing. We finally met-in-person when he and his partner were taking Cherokee language classes at the local university and I came to sit-in on the class from time to time. I was immediately taken by his work, his love of basketball and his family’s passion for Cherokee history and culture. For my 40th birthday I got my left forearm with my Tsalagi ‘Cherokee’ name in syllabary at his shop. The Cherokee writing system known as syllabary was invented by Sequoyah in the 1820’s and eventually led to the first bilingual Native American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, in the United States.
During our morning together we talked art, politics, language, and another of our shared interests…basketball. The following is a brief excerpt of our conversation which highlights his work, his inspirations, and how fatherhood has shaped his craft.
Trey: Do you feel that there’s a Pawnee-Osage influence in your art or do you feel like its mainly Cherokee?
John Henry: Now, I think there’s a big Mississippi influence. That’s the umbrella of all of us in the southeast. Even beyond the southeast too. I think all tribes can relate to the iconography. I would definitely say at the moment, more Cherokee leaning. I even tried a little bit to get out of the Mississippian thing… just cuz I was using it all the time.
Trey: When you were growing up when was the first time when you considered yourself an artist? Were you always drawing and stuff?
John: Always, yes. Always, as I had a very encouraging mother. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I was not being creative like that. Seriously don’t remember. Mom kept all my drawings since I was like five, six.
One of the big things that I ever did was I was just always drawing. My mom was always encouraging me to draw. I drew at school when I shouldn’t have been drawing.
Trey: Do you have other family members that are artists?
John: Yes, my sister was a big influence on me. She went to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and that’s why I went there because she turned me on to it. As she got older– I would imagine with a lot of people that are creative when they’re younger and then adulthood slows it. Just because you’ve got bills to pay and that kind of shit. I think I was a little bit more reckless with it like, “I don’t care about bills. I’m still doing this.”
I threw caution to the wind and just dove into doing art and fucking got lucky and it worked out for me. She painted, but she also did a lot of collage stuff. Just a mix- mixed media, collage, paint, she did a lot of that kind of stuff. She was a big influence on me though. She’s still creative in her own way. She was always funky.
Trey: How did she influence you?
John: She was a grind metalhead. I never got into that, but it was like, the aesthetic was always around. She loved [the band] Jane’s Addiction. All that was a big influence on me. Their album covers and stuff. That Nothing Shocking record that has two paper mache women and they’re like Siamese and their heads are on fire. Anyways, that was kind of the stuff my sister was into. She would show me all that stuff and she would be like, “Check out the art on this.” It’s cool, it’s awesome or whatever and then I’d trip on it. I was nine. That was a big influence, for sure.
Trey: How’d you get into tattooing?
John: I started learning to tattoo in 2001, I was still in high school, man. I remember I was working at Peter’s Pancakes in Cherokee, bussing tables with my sister. The owner of a local tattoo shop came to one of the high school art shows in Cherokee, He’d seen some of my stuff, asked me if I wanted an apprenticeship. I just immediately quit the bussing tables job and I just got real heavy into tattooing for almost 10 years. Not that I didn’t paint, but it was just strict, like real folks doing tattooing. Looking back, it was like, all I wanted to do was wake up and be creative. That’s all you had to do.
Trey: Do you have a particular style of tattooing?
John: I’m extremely versatile tattooer. I can do a lot of different styles. Maybe that is my style.
Trey: You tattooed in Minneapolis for a bit right?
John: Yeah, well, I got a job, but I picked up and moved almost immediately. I tattooed in South Minneapolis and East Lake Street and just a native would come in and it was just like a trip cuz I didn’t realize how huge the native community was there until I moved there. I tattooed Clyde Bellecourt that helped started AIM [the American Indian Movement organization]. Yes, I got to know his son Crow. He had a powwow group called The Midnight Express. Crow knows a lot of powwow heads from Cherokee.
Anyways, but it was awesome and on top of the native community, just the arts in Minneapolis are huge. It’s a very art hungry town. It was awesome. They call it, “Concrete Rez”, which is just right there in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. I think it’s called Red Earth. Anyway, it’s just like a little rez. It’s right in the middle of the city, it’s all just like concrete housing and stuff.
Trey: Why did you leave?
John: It was too far from home. I’m close to my family. I didn’t want to be a stranger to my nephews and nieces, because I got 12 nephews and nieces. We’re all close. I love Minneapolis, though. Too far from home, though.
Trey: You’re painting more now?
John: All the time. I actually paint more than I tattoo and I tattoo a lot. I’m just constantly doing something.
Trey: How do you describe your painting style?
John: Yes. Like most oppressed people, their anger and oppression makes them hilarious. I joke around a lot. I’m a real fun person, but it’s you’re just hiding your fucking anger. [laughs] I feel like– It’s like the more angry you are, the funnier you are. The more darkness there is, the funnier you are. It’s getting to the point where that has a lot to do with my artwork.
Trey: Does it?
John: Yes. Which is funny, because the past few years I’ve just been painting things to me that are just tame. It’s almost like, I just want to show people, I can do that. But there’s still a bleakness to it, I think. Just a little bit of darkness to it.
Trey: Do you as an artist, do you feel this pressure that some people talk about, doing so called, “native art”?
John: See, I was so against that when I was younger. Yeah. I was like,” Fuck you, I’m not going to paint a horse or painting” or like, “I’m not painting a fucking Indian doing some shit.”
Trey: You were resisting.
John: I was resistant as fuck. I’m a genetic dissenter, it’s like– It’s in my blood to just be like, “No man, I’m not doing what you want me to do.”…but really, me doing more Native American type stuff, everything changed when I had the kids. I was probably was thinking about it before I had kids, but then when I actually had them, I was just wanting them to be more aware of who they are, but also be really proud of it. For Cherokee people too, especially Eastern Band, we’re the end of the line here…