Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Steven Yazzie

New Portraits of the American West, 2009, Oil on canvas, 18 X 36 inches, Courtesy of the artist

“Different world views have always influenced my work, but rather than  attempt to reconcile them, I provide them with a stage and dramatic narrative for further examination and exploration”[1]

Steven Yazzie sees his painting as a way to bridge inherited traditions with contemporary experience; it is a means of acknowledging his multicultural heritage and the Southwest landscape he was born and raised in.[2] Primarily a self-taught painter, Yazzie also works with video, installation, sculpture, and mixed media.  His artistic practice is indicative of how contemporary Native American artists are re-making the boundaries and exposing the limits of a singular definition of nativeness and “Native art.”  His work speaks to the contemporary Native American artistic practice of utilizing postmodern strategies of play, performance, appropriation, and irony to disrupt colonial constructs that narrowly define Native identity and authenticity.

Following a residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2006, Yazzie’s work shifted from culturally-based identity themes to more conceptual explorations of the conditions of place and environmental issues.  Drawing and Driving (2007) is a project that involved performance-based drawing, video, painting, and sculpture.  Using a soapbox style of vehicle, powered only by the force of gravity, Yazzie added a fixed easel to the vehicle so that he could draw while moving through the landscape.  Video recordings and stills made during the making of these performance-based drawings also became a starting point for painting.  Yazzie states that this project was instrumental in realizing new ways of working through his creative process and became an impetus in the evolution of artistic projects that followed. [3]

Yazzie’s 2008 installation Sleeping with Jefferson, included in the National Museum of the American Indian’s Remix: New Modernities in a Post -Indian World exhibition, is indicative of the complexity and multilayered narratives he creates in his work.  Incorporating video projection with a bed of hubcaps, Yazzie explores a hypothetical narrative of miscegenation while employing Jefferson’s grid to address urbanization as a “global experience more frequently predetermined by algorithms and computer models.” [4]

Relationships, and especially the complexities of man’s relationship to the urban environment and natural world, are major themes in Yazzie’s paintings.  He describes his work as narratives of a sprawling desert city, in which the viewer is never really sure if he/she is witnessing an apocalyptic vision of the future, in which men and beasts compete for the limited resources.  What is very evident are the tensions between the competing narratives of the southwest, and the battle to control its history and future.  Yazzie’s series of paintings entitled Coyote Interiors (2009) is an example of how he captures the constant flux between the urban, man-made, and natural worlds.  In this series, the coyote metaphor is employed to addresses issues of expansion, growth, and urban development.

Yazzie states that his more recent paintings are explorations that distort ideas and images.  He hopes to challenge and inspire his audience to re-imagine their own perspectives, experiences, and terms for engaging the land beneath their feet. [5]Besides his individual artistic practice, Yazzie is a founding member of two artist collectives—Postcommodity and YRGproject.  Yazzie states that his involvement in the collective process allows him to explore and try things that he might not otherwise attempt on his own. [6]His work is represented in the Arizona State University Art Museum (Tempe, Arizona), Weithorn Collection, Mayo Clinic, E. Jungerman Collection, the Heard Museum and the Coughlin Collection.  Yazzie currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona.

Drawing and Driving, 2007, Video still of performance drawing, Drawing vehicle, video, sound, drawing, Courtesy of the artist

Drawing and Driving, 2007, Video still of performance drawing, Drawing vehicle, video, sound, drawing, Courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drawing and Driving, 2007, Video still of performance drawing, Drawing vehicle, video, sound, drawing, Courtesy of the artist

Drawing and Driving, 2007, Video still of performance drawing, Drawing vehicle, video, sound, drawing, Courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Yazzie, personal correspondence with the author, March 2010.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Yazzie, personal correspondence with the author, 2009.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Yazzie, personal correspondence with the author, March 2010.