adios + gracias hermano

the-raven

I started the Painted Desert Project in 2012 uncertain how long it would go.  A friend at the time warned me to watch out.  “Once street artists hear about this project you’ll start getting requests from all over and it’ll get out of control,” he said.  Fortunately, this hasn’t happened.  However, one such random request came early in 2013.  I’d invited the Argentinian artist Ever to come paint.  He really wanted his friend Alexis Diaz to join him for the two weeks he’d be here.  Alexis contacted me and I told him I work on a shoe string budget and didn’t have the funds to get him out in 2013 and that I’d work to get him out in 2014.  He responded saying he really wanted to come and was willing to pay his own way from San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I couldn’t argue with that.

I knew of Alexis’ work with the surrealist Puerto Rican duo La Pandilla and though I dug their work, I was concerned that his animal/human hybrid forms would be considered anathema in the traditional and Christian conservative setting of the reservation.  buffalobearFor example, I was told last summer by an older man from the community of Bitter Springs that the buffalo/bear power piece (so named because the buffalo and bear are power symbols within the culture and have examples of manmade power sources on their backs – power lines, a windmill and the smoke stacks of the Navajo Generating Station), was considered evil.  IMG_6222“It’s seen as unnatural, like homosexuality.” I’d already been ruminating on what it means to attempt to introduce an art form not common to the traditional community of the reservation and how best to do this.  I wasn’t following the model of public art community of holding community meetings to explain the project or the work and to get their consent although I was getting the approval of wall owners to create art in that space.  I figured I’d have this conversation with Alexis once he arrived.

Alexis came in May of 2013.  His time here coincided with Ever, Brian Barneclo and Ann Van Hulle, art historian and Roa’s business partner.  When I think of Alexis I think of a cuddly teddy bear (although Ever teases him relentlessly about looking like a monkey, especially when he sleeps).  He possesses the most affable and personable spirit I know.  Being around him is to laugh constantly.  the-crewI talked with him about the philosophy of jazz and the act of creating in the moment inspired by one’s surroundings.  ann, alexis + nico I actually told him this before he came and asked that he not come with a preconceived idea of what he was going to paint.  He said this was the first time he’d been asked to approach painting this way.  A year later when I spent 3 weeks with him in Perth, Australia at a street art festival in 2014 he thanked me for pushing him out of his comfort zone saying his practice now is to wait until he gets to a place before deciding what he’s going to paint.

The first week Alexis worked in Antelope Hills along Highway 89 about 20.  His site had a lot of visibility as anyone traveling north from Flagstaff would pass his work.  I wasn’t sure what he was going to paint.  In truth, I don’t think he knew what he was going to paint until he spent some time hanging out at his vacant billboard.  Ever was working on a wall in Gray Mountain, about 10 miles from Alexis’ site.  They shared the ride and would leave from my house early in the morning.  Alexis’ style involves working with a fine brush doing small cross strokes and he’d work until darkness descended often illuminating the billboard with my car headlights.  The first day Ever and Alexis went out to paint they returned to my house at 11:30 p.m.  Uncertain of the roads they’d missed a key turnoff to my house in the pitch blackness of the reservation night.  Regardless, Ann stayed up and prepared a meal for them and heard stories of their adventures from the day.  She did this for them each night.  I was thankful for the small community of kindred spirits invading my house.  It took Alexis 4 days working 10 hours a day to get the raven up.  antelope-hills-in-progress-(enhanced)painting-antelope-hillsWorried that the Anglo proprietor of the trading post might have an issue with his hybrid figure I asked Alexis what she thought of the piece.  He said she liked it.  Once the piece was complete I stopped by and talked with the proprietor about the billboard.  Her name is Chris.  She became emotional talking about the painting because she felt Alexis had been guided by a spirit and the piece spoke directly to her in that she had a sculpture in the store someone had given to her of a raven.  She identified the raven as her power animal.

 

the raven

 

The raven with the human hand became immediately iconic.  For the past 2 and 1/2 years whenever I’d leave Flagstaff heading home I loved seeing this piece.  Although I knew it was there, seeing it maintained a feeling of surprise.  The raven owned the space like it belonged there.

raven-day-3

I noticed a couple weeks ago that it had acquired a serious northward lean.  Winds on the Colorado Plateau can get up to 70mph but I wasn’t worried.  So it was with great surprise and sadness when I came over the pass from Flagstaff yesterday and looked for my familiar landmark only to realize it had succumbed to the wind.  It’s time had come.  I stopped at the trading post to ask Chris when this happened and whether she was going to replace the billboard.  She confirmed that strong winds earlier in the week felled it and that the company who owns the trading post won’t be replacing it.  “The roof leaks and needs to be replaced and all they keep telling me is to patch it up,” she said.  With sadness she reminisced on all the people who’ve stopped over the years to photograph the piece.  And so it goes…

raven-at-night

Gracias por el amor hermano.  You touched many souls.

jetsonorama

I called a fellow physician in Tuba City about a month ago to get his guidance.  I had a patient coming down off a several week binge who was open to inpatient rehab.  Despite my being here 28 plus years I wanted to confirm with my friend who has been working on the rez 30 years that despite there being high rates of drug and alcohol use on the reservation there’s still no treatment facilities.  I was hoping the resources had appeared miraculously under my radar.  Sadly, he confirmed that we’ve got new jails in Tuba City and Kayenta to temporarily detain people for public intoxication but no rehabilitation centers. Yet, the Navajo nation and indigenous people in general have one of the highest suicide rates in the country which often occurs under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. It’s a problem that’s been well documented.

“The game of life is hard to play.

I’m going to lose it anyway.

The losing card I’ll someday lay.

So this is all I have to say…

That suicide is painless.

It brings on many changes.

And I can take or leave it if I please.”

MASH theme song by Johnny Mandel

 

Case in point.  I’ve know Josie since shortly after I arrived in 1987.  I’ve taken care of her in her pregnancies, am watching her kids grow up and was with her on that hot, windy day in June of 1994 when she walked down the aisle for the first time, her father at her side while her sister secured her dress.

Josey-Watson's-wedding-(June-94)

When I went to her in 2011 with the idea of photographing her infant daughter JC for a campaign to raise awareness on CO2 emissions she and her husband Hank were there for me.

jc-looking-up-(b+w)

Her oldest son Kordell attended high school in Tuba City.  He competed against my son Jamaal who attended school in Page. Josie and I talked often about how our boys were doing.  She told me that Kordell enjoyed competing against Jamaal who made him play harder, play his best.

Talking with Josie now a year after Kordell shot himself at age 16 it sounds like she could see it coming.  Despite their best efforts Kordell didn’t heed his parents interventions.  Though the reservation is dry, drugs and alcohol are plentiful.  Now it’s Josie’s mission to raise awareness regarding drug and alcohol use while trying to get the tribe to build a rehabilitation center. She realizes the problem is multifaceted – that the education system needs a robust overhaul, after school programs need to be created and sustained, youth centers are needed and meaningful work is missing on the reservation where the unemployment rate hovers around 50%.  Despite the odds she feels it’s what she’s being called to do.  She doesn’t want Kordell’s death to be in vain though 2 other suicides occurred in the family shortly after Kordell’s.  Yet she remains positive.

jc-on-horseback

 

girls-on-horseback

 

1. jc-getting-her-hair-braided

 

2. josey-breastfeeding

 

3.--hands

 

4.--my-girl-jc

 

7.--family-3

 

5.--family-1

 

6.--family-2

There’s work to be done; the struggle continues.  Stay tuned…

free your mind…

New stickers and screen prints.

 

owen-holding-his-sticker

Owen, now 11, holding a sticker of himself with his brother Aidan in the background getting a snowball ready for his noggin.

 

owen-throwing-snowball

 

family-portrait-(dogs-+-cat)

 

owen-at-little-colorado-overlook-(no-text,-sepia)

 

stephanie i am the change (revised blue) 5 inches

 

jc with coal cloud (4 inches)
step-on-jr's-house

Individual stickers are $3.00 each or buy 2 for $5.00.  Contact me at jetsonorama@gmail.com if interested.

 

step-holding-step-on-jr's-house

Stephanie rocking the screen print of her image on JR’s former house outside Tuba City.

 

police-line-(toren)

For backstories + ordering info head over to http://www.jetsonorama.net and look for the “shop” tab.

Peace.

it only got up to 23 degrees today

santa-in-tuba-city

santa outside tuba city

 

sheep-1a-in-cow-springs

 

lola

 

 

luci's trailer

Luci’s trailer on Christmas Day

 

It only got up to 23 degrees today.  Not only was it cold, it was windy as shit.  All day.  Cold + windy.  As I was driving from the rez into Flagstaff I was thinking of the effort Klee Benally is making to distribute warm clothing and blankets to indigenous folks staying outside in the winter.  His campaign is called No More Native Deaths (I think.)  As I was driving I remembered seeing the last time I was in town a Diné friend who has fallen on hard times and who is living outside in Flagstaff now.   I wondered if he’s staying at the mission in town.

I made it to Flagstaff and was running errands when I encountered the friend I’d been worrying about.  He was dressed in many layers on this cold + windy day when the temperature only got up to 23 degrees.  His speech was slurred and he had a swagger in his step.  I gave him a hug telling him:

“I’d been was just thinking about you in this cold weather as I drove in from the rez.  Are you staying at the mission” I asked.

He confirmed that he’s not staying at the mission.  I told him about Klee’s campaign and that I worried about him living outside now to which he replied:

“5 people have already frozen to death this week.”

He said he wanted help with some food.  My friend with whom I’d just eaten and I had some nice leftovers and shared those. He thanked us, we hugged again and went our separate ways into a wind that cut like a knife.

building community

“The war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war and he does at his best what lover’s do which is to reveal the beloved to himself and with that revelation to make freedom real.”      James Baldwin

When I started wheat pasting large images along the roadside in 2009 I imagined it as an opportunity to deepen my relationship with the community where I work on the rez.  I often thought of this process as an experiment in building community in which I knew the medium for building community but was uncertain of the outcome.  What I’ve learned along the way is the importance of trust and how the process of building community parallels nurturing a friendship.

As a documentary photographer I believe everyone has a unique story though not everyone wants their story told.  But for those who do a trusting relationship established over time with the story teller is critical to an objective telling of this story.  I’ve learned inadvertently that taking someone’s words and writing or painting them directly onto their face is akin to the exercise of falling backwards trusting that the person positioned behind you will really catch you and prevent you from hitting the floor.  Unlike writing onto a photograph of someone’s face, spending 30 to 60 minutes sitting 18 inches away from someone you may not know well exploring the contours of their face, their lips, gently writing on their eyelids is a bonding, trust building exchange.  That someone would let you do this, photograph them and create a public mural is tangible evidence of their conviction to their beliefs, to their words.  As James Baldwin said, they are willing to reveal the beloved to himself and with that revelation make freedom real.

klee + princess 1.jpg

 

klee + princess 2

Rey Cantil painting the words of Flagstaff activists onto their faces regarding the controversial practice of using reclaimed waste water to make artificial snow on a sacred mountain.

 

klee + princess

 

john, sam + step

 

ladies 1

ladies 2

ladies 3

ladies 4

The experiment in community building is ongoing.  I continue falling backwards believing someone will be there to catch me. And while I don’t want to be known as the guy who writes on people’s face, it is an effective tool for getting a heartfelt message out.  Thank you to the community for trusting me with your words and joining me in this adventure.

requiem for a warming planet

improvisational duet with ice by dancer kimi victoria eisele.  (music “pathways of the mind” from meridian suite by antonio sanchez.)

 

goodbye to ice

Danish – Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson partnered with Danish geologist Manik Rosing to create a tangible commentary on climate change by bringing 12 blocks of glacial ice from Greenland to Paris for ArtCop 21.  The piece is titled “Ice Watch.”  By arranging the 12 pieces of ice like the numbers on a clock their melting in the temperate Parisian environment is a poignant reminder of our planet warming and the detrimental impact this will have on our fragile ecosystem.

 

 

“ain’t i a woman?”

kids-1

 

kids-2

 

mahogany-browne

 

dog-1

 

dog-2

 

kind-woman-on-the-street-1

 

kind-woman-on-the-street-2

 

t'ai-freedom-ford

 

In 1851 Kingston native Sojourner Truth electrified audiences at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, OH with an extemporaneous speech on the value of womanhood known as “Ain’t I a Woman?”  Having been invited to create a mural for the O + Festival in Kingston, New York my collaborator Jess X. Chen and I wanted to honor the historical contribution of Sojourner Truth to the women’s rights movement and her role as an humanitarian by asking three New York City based, African-American, female poets to share with us poems pertaining to African-American womanhood.  The three poets included Jennifer Falu; writer, poet and teacher T’ai Freedom Ford and writer, poet and director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Mahogany Browne. Sadly, due to time constraints only Mahogany Browne and T’ai Freedom Ford were included in the mural.

In celebrating these poets Jess + I chose to include verses of their poems as halos around their heads. Mahogany Browne’s halo is extracted from her poem “Black Girl Magic.”
They say you ain’t posed to be here
You ain’t posed to wear red lipstick
You ain’t posed to wear high heels
You ain’t posed to smile in public
You ain’t posed to smile no where, girl

You ain’t posed to be more than a girlfriend
You ain’t posed to get married
You ain’t posed to want no dream that big
You ain’t posed to dream at all
You ain’t posed to do nothing but carry babies
And carry weaves
And carry felons
And carry families
And carry confusion
And carry silence
And carry a nation — but never an opinion
You ain’t posed to have nothing to say
unless its a joke

Cause you ain’t posed to love yourself Black Girl
You ain’t posed to find nothing worth saving in all that brown
You ain’t posed to know that Nina Beyonce Tina Cecily Shonda Rhimes shine shine shine

Black Girl,
You ain’t posed to love your mind
You ain’t posed to love
You ain’t posed to be loved up on

You only posed to pose voodoo Chile’ vixen style
You posed to pop out babies & hide the stretch marks
You posed to be still
So still they think you statue
So still they think you a chalked outline
So still they keep thinking you stone
Until you look more Medusa than Viola Davis
Until you sound more Shenananay than Kerry Washington
Until you more side eye than Michelle Obama on a Tuesday

But You tell them you are more than a hot comb & a wash n set
You are kunta kente’s kin
You are a black Girl worth remembering

& You are a threat knowin yourself
Loving yourself
Loving your kin
Loving your children
you black girl magic
you black girl flyy
you black girl brilliance
you black girl wonder
you black girl shine
you black girl bloom
you black girl black girl
And you turning into a beautiful blk woman right before they eyes

T’ai Freedom Ford shared her poem “I Sell the Shadow to Sustain the Substance” which she dedicates to African-American conceptualist Glenn Ligon and to Sojourner Truth.  Verses of her poem were projected onto her and used in her halo.

“I Sell the Shadow to Sustain the Substance”

As a Black woman I am untitled – nameless.

My heart a faint glow of neon wire buzzing toward some shameless demise.

I stand against walls looking nonchalant.

Flashbulbs mistake me for celebrity or bored whore.

Same difference.

As Black woman I am installation art as negress.

My heart a black plastic bag ghosting streets.

What parts of me ain’t for sale as woman?

A sincere word of thanks goes out to Gaia, the Kingston O Positive Festival, Michael Pisacane, Andrew Erdos, Clara Darrason, Mahogany Browne, T’ai Freedom Ford, Jennifer Falu, Jess X. Chen and the good people of Kingston, NY.

mo

 

finished mural

 

jess + me

 

the poets, jess + i

with mahogany browne, jennifer falu, t’ai freedom ford and jess x. chen.

people’s climate march commemorative screen print

people's-climate-march-(monica!-screenprint-3)

people's-climate-march-(monica!-screenprint-2)

people's-climate-march-(monica!-screenprint-1)
people's-climate-march-(monica!)

in anticipation of the world climate summit (this december in paris) you can show the painted desert project some love by getting a one color, hand pulled (by the good people at ocelot print shop in detroit) commemorative screen print on 19 x 25 archival paper.  they’re a limited edition of fifty, signed, stamped + numbered for $50.  if interested, hit me at jetsonorama@gmail.com.

peace.

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