Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Lorenzo Clayton



Myhistoryquest:Indigenous, 2006, Mixed media installation, 420 x 312 inches, Courtesy of the artist












By Shanna Ketchum-Heap of Birds

Diné/Navajo artist Lorenzo Clayton works in a variety of media including painting, printmaking, mixed-media assemblage and collaborative installation. Since his early exposure to ceremonial life on the Navajo reservation, Clayton’s artistic vision has been influenced by Indigenous spiritual and philosophical observations about human connections to the natural world. These experiences have provided Clayton with a direction from which to explore a range of universal concepts in social, political and religious realms. Based in the New York City area since 1973, Clayton has stated that he thrives artistically from the cultural chasm he experienced when leaving New Mexico and arriving in New York.[1]

In the Come Across II series (1997–99), Clayton articulates this cultural mixing by examining his bicultural heritage, combining family photographs with Navajo and Christian symbolism. For example, in Come Across II: Shadow Dwelling, an image of Clayton as a child is shown with an adobe building in the background and a glimpse of his father’s shadow in the foreground. Located above this photo is a shelf holding moccasins and other Navajo objects. Large crosses extend skyward with another panel depicting a table explaining Navajo cosmology. Situated below these panels is a labeled drawer system constructed out of wood that Clayton describes as “represent[ing] attributes of his character, some accessible, some not.”[2] Clayton’s files make sense because the drawers are labeled and sealed shut, perhaps representing the compartmentalization of family history and personal memories.

In an ongoing series titled Mythistoryquest (2002–06), Clayton explores diverse spiritual beliefs by outlining six major systems of thought: Indigenous spirituality, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Atheism. The mixed-media installations are arranged separately in gallery spaces to highlight the range of cultural approaches in the search for a universal “truth” shaped simultaneously by myth, history and quest. These polarizing differences are what inspire Clayton — “a spirituality stemming from urban demographics, immense cultural diversity, and the creative torrential mindset unique to the New York City area.”[3]

Clayton’s continuing interest in his Diné/Navajo heritage is also cited in recent collaborations such as Inner Equations (2004) with George Sidebotham. In this conceptual piece, mathematics and art are combined to investigate human emotion through abstract equations. The installation divides the gallery into two spaces where large chalkboards inscribed with equations are mounted on the walls in contrasting light and dark spaces. Curator Joe Baker (Delaware) explains that Inner Equations references “traditional Navajo belief systems of balance and harmony (male/female, darkness/light, positive/negative) to materialize abstract ideas of complex emotional engagement.”[4] Clayton continues his creative endeavors as a faculty member at The Cooper Union and Parsons School of Design in New York City. 


Inner Equations (detail), 2004, Mixed Media installation in collaboration with George Sidebotham, Courtesy of the artist












[1] Lorenzo Clayton, “Bibliography,” unpublished manuscript, 2009.
[2] Kathleen Ash-Milby, “Lorenzo Clayton,” in Contemporary Masters: The Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art, Volume 1 (Indianapolis: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, 1999), 46.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Joe Baker, Inner Equations: Lorenzo Clayton and George Sidebotham (Phoenix: Heard Museum, 2006). Exhibition Catalog.


Additional Resources compiled by Students in the Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Spring 2013

Web-based Resources


“Lorenzo Clayton”. Wikipedia. 2012.

 Wikipedia provides the artist’s background, his accomplishments and degrees, career, artwork, exhibitions and collections.

“Lorenzo Clayton: Adjunct Professor and Printmaking Technician.” The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. 2012.

  This link leads to the artist’s career page and information.

 Tafoya, Patrick. “NAAR: Native American Artist Roster.” American Indian Artist. 2004.

 This website has his artist statement, bio and list his education, exhibitions, collections and awards. Last updated in 2006.

 McMaster, Gerald. “Lorenzo Clayton.” National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institution. 2006.

 National Museum of the American Indian website gives information about his artwork and what inspires him. It also has his statement and pictures of some of his artwork. 


Selected Bibliography


Ash-Milby, Kathleen E. “Lorenzo Clayton: Navajo.” Native Peoples, February 2000, 70-75.

 A journal article written by Kathleen Ash-Milby (Navajo), a curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York.