Navajo painters explore their culture from contrasting perspectives
contemporary, ones traditional. Ones brilliantly colored,
the other more subtle. Two very different picturesboth handling
the same subject matterbut from two very different men who
will display their work together for the first time and present
a taste of the yin and yang of Native American art.
Echo Canyon Art gallery will be featuring the work of Navajo painters
David K. John and Charley Singer in their upcoming show The
Way of the People. It is the first time since opening their
doors in 2008 that Echo Canyon Art has had Native American artists
felt there were many places, the Museum of Northern Arizona included,
that had very, very fine collections, says Elaine Morrison,
co-owner of Echo Canyon Art. We didnt want to show that
we were in competition with those other potentially more well-established
gallerys second year of businessand the new exhibit
in particularmarks a change in its offering for art lovers:
a combination of both traditional and contemporary, abstract styles
of Navajo painting. Morrison describes the paintings as having a
kind of conversation between one another, offering different possibilities
to the viewer.
thought it would just be a wonderful juxtaposition to have these
two artists looking at similar themes through very different eyes,
says Morrison. Im hopeful that what people will grasp
onto is just the depth of meaning and feeling thats apparent
in each of these works of art.
work of David K. John brings the Navajo culture to the public straight
from the heart. He began his artistic path in high school, with
his instructors encouraging him to pursue a raw talent. He credits
being raised by his great-grandparents as having influenced his
subject matter: scenes of ceremonies, dancers, deities and other
Navajo cultural stories.
were traditional Navajo, says John. Traditional people
that respected the earth, plants, animals, everything thats
on earth. Thats how they live and thats how I get a
lot of my ideas, those teachings.
work takes on an abstracted, contemporary role when getting around
cultural taboos. Certain colors, symbols and designs cannot be copied
except by particular individuals within the tribe. John chose to
break through those barriers by letting his imagination fill in
like putting the new and the old together, coming up with more contemporary
paintings, says John. A lot of the paintings that I
do are kind of sacred, certain things that youre not supposed
to paint. This is more my own style; Ive come out with my
example of this is in Johns interpretation of sand paintings.
Medicine men create them using sand during ceremonies, recreating
particular symbols in the design. When the ceremony is over, the
sand painting is erased and the symbols are not to be recreated
by anyone but the medicine man. John says that he lets his emotion
run free on the canvas, his imagination taking over to create his
own series of symbols and his own sand paintings on canvas.
want to express something new, says John. A different
perspective, different point of view of how you can create a painting
from within your heart.
contrast to John is Charley Singer, whose own life is as filled
with history as his paintings are filled with elements of traditional
Navajo culture. He lives a simple life in a hogan on the Navajo
reservation without electricity and speaks little English. Raised
by Little Singer, a prominent medicine man for which Little Singer
School outside of Leupp is named, Singer gained an expansive knowledge
of his culture.
a poor man, but a rich man, says Steve Kay, a friend and marketer
for Singer. Financially hes poor, but in so many ways
hes so rich and so talented and so full of information. Even
though we have a language barrier, I learn so much from him, especially
about the Navajo and Native American ways.
sought Singer out after purchasing his painting of a white buffalo
at a trading post. He began to learn from Singer, eventually becoming
fast friends. Kay practices marketing as a hobby, and decided to
offer his services. Together, they began producing reproductions
and prints, expanding out of Arizona and into Santa Fe, N.M.
realized that art, this is a tough business, says Kay. And
at the same time, I just loved it so much that I ran with it. So
I thought, You know what, this will just be my way of giving
it back. Kay worked with Morrison to place Singers
work in the upcoming show. His pieces greatly contrast with Johns
in terms of style. While Johns use extensive color and symbolism,
Singers work takes a more simplistic approach.
uses cooler colors, often a background of black, blue or gray. Singer
loves horses and features them in many of his works. The Four Horses
and the Four Sacred Peaks of Navajo lore are frequently featured,
their colors representing the four directions. I think that
its so wonderful, says Kay. Just to see it and
realize what the four horses mean, theyre all different colors
and stand for different life cycles, and the four peaks
should have a chance to at least see Charleys art.
show will officially open on the First Friday Art Walk, but a reception
for David K. John will be held the day before. The Art Walk has
been drawing giant crowds to the gallery, with people often standing
elbow to elbow within the space. Morrison hopes that by holding
the reception a day earlier, visitors will have a better chance
to visit with the artist and view the exhibition.
think its going to be extremely cool, says Kay. I
think its going to be really neat to have two excellent artists
that are going two different directions in their style. I think
its going to be the best of two worlds there.
Way of the People opens Fri, Feb. 5 and runs through March
31 at Echo Canyon Art, 14 N. San Francisco. The opening reception
with David K. John will be Thu, Feb. 4 from 57 p.m. For more
information, call 255-0349 or visit www.echocanyonarts.com.
To see more examples of work by John and Singer, visit www.davidkjohn.com
Raised by his great grandfather, David grew up hearing the stories
and teachings of his homeland. In his art, John expresses his own
interpretations of his childhood learning with the utmost care and
respect. John has won many awards for his paintings and masks, including
awards at the Intertribal Ceremonial in Gallup and the Santa Fe
I am Charley Singer - welcome to my world. I and my wife of 40 years,
Marie, reside in the Birdsprings Chapter Community on the Navajo
Reservation near Flagstaff, Arizona. Our primitive day-to-day lives
with all their simplicity and beauty find expression through my
artwork. My paintings represent my life, reflecting what I see and
feel from the breathtaking panorama of my homeland. I have never
pursued formal art training, yet I have felt blessed with a natural
talent to create and capture vibrant, enchanting images on paper