Thursday, May 25, 2017

Walking Alone

"POE XV - Traditions"
21" x 21" acrylic on paper
It's almost June and my last post was in January. I spent a lot of time this past winter thinking about the peoples of the desert southwest, reading books and getting prepared for a week long tour of the Chaco Canyon area of AZ and NM. The "ancient ones", the people called "anastasi" by many, became my focus, to the exclusion of all else. In April, back home from the tour, I began to sketch down some ways I could express what I learned, saw and felt.

Those people, those ancient ones, can only be studied by what they created and left behind. There is amazing stone work, buildings 4 and more stories tall, tucked into cliffs and on top of  mesas. There is pottery, several types, scraps of weavings, remains of murals. The people lived and built in relatively small numbers and then vanished. Archaeologists match the departure with a 50 year period of drought.

Today both the Hopi and the Navajo claim that arid and rocky land. The two tribes live in an uneasy balance. The Hopi, far fewer in number, literally live on reservations surrounded by the Navajo. The Navajo have embraced much of the culture of the Europeans. The Hopi, smaller in  number and much more insulative, secretive, have resisted, to a point.

"POE XVI - Traditions Witnessed"
21" x 21" acrylic on paper
Hopi culture has a legend that when lines crisscross the sky, times will end (at least for the Hopi) and so the "hardliners" (pun intended) live in Old Oraibi without electric power lines coming up from the valley nearby. I visited Old Oraibi and noticed the solar panels on the roofs of some of the dwellings along with the tv satellite dishes. There is no running water, no sewer, no electricity. And small luxuries creep in, regardless. The people of Old Oraibi exist in a far more fragile and marginal way than their claimed ancestors, the anastasi. They barely exist selling artwork and trinkets to the tourists. They still live in stone structures but lack the skills to rebuild them, so one by one those places crumble. They still practice ceremonies that hark back hundreds of years. And every year there are fewer and fewer of them.

In contrast, the Navajo move more easily within our European based culture. They understand how to negotiate with our government, how to change in exchange for those dollars the tourists bring. One of the hotels I stayed at during my tour was on a Navajo reservation in Chinle. The only difference between that and downtown Flagstaff was that there was no alcohol available. The traditional housing of the Navajo is hogans but most live in European style housing now.

Two paintings so far have come as a result of this specific trip, and there are more planned. I am trying to express what I learned and what I felt. The symbols are my own along with the Hopi and Navajo. Both tribes believe that there are 4 sacred mountains and assign colors also associated with corn (white, blue, yellow and red) to each mountain. This much at least they agree on. The Hopi's directions are NE, SE, NW and SW. Navajo are N, S, E, W. They disagree on up and down: Hopi believe they originate from the center of the earth and Navajo believe it is the sky. There are four sacred or traditional plants: corn, beans, squash and tobacco.

What I want to show in my paintings are my feelings that as strong as their beliefs are, I think their time is ending. This is part of the whole message of the "Peoples of the Earth" series which began in 2015. It isn't just the Hopi and the Navajo whose time is running. People are stretching and straining and tearing at the very fabric of life on which we depend. When I paint in this series (not everything I paint is part of this) I often feel very lonely. Will anyone understand or even care about what I'm saying? Is it important that they do? I walk alone here, because there are things I must put say and my primary means of expression is paint.