Dan and Arlo Namingha; Theodore Waddell. What a pairing. Altamira Fine Art is the gallery to connect these dynamic, sublime artists in a double show, opening with an artists’ reception Thursday, June 6th, 5-7:00 pm. The Naminghas’ “Form & Symbolism” and Waddell’s “Abstract Angus” are ultimately about interpretation of place. All three artists’ native territories’ images and landscapes course through their veins, exploding on canvas and permeating sculptures.
How exhilirating for Thomas Hoving to compile his can’t-put-it-down biography “The Art of Dan Namingha.” The Namingha family’s history begins with Dan’s great-great-grandmother, famed Tewa/Hopi potter Nampeyo (photographed by Edward S. Curtis, c. 1905). The family tree is an arts dynasty. That’s a regal word to describe a creative clan so rooted in landscape and indigenous culture, but it’s an undeniable accreditation.
How to begin to describe Dan’s remarkable journey as an artist? Namingha’s initial influence was Hekytwi Mesa near the Hopi reservation where Namingha was born. Namingha’s work is phenomenally diverse, the breath of his artistic style is almost impossible to comprehend; he moves from complex arrangements of Hopi mesas, kachinas, spirals, sun and depictions of dual cultures he inhabits to minimalist, graphic, geometric landscapes. As a child, Hekytwi Mesa was the dominant landmark beyond Namingha’s grandparents’ door. Its presence left an endurable mark on the artist’s soul, and some version of Hekytwi Mesa appears in almost every Dan Namingha work.
“The presence of two cultures, he believes, also makes him sensitive to the dual nature of all things—night and day, past and future, then and now,” writes Hoving. Ultimately, Namingha’s exposure to his native culture, wise and encouraging mentors, and 20th century abstract modernism are melded in this remarkable body of work.
Sculptor Arlo Namingha, Dan’s eldest son, became involved with carving at an early age. Surrounded by his family’s legacy and practices, his first carvings of Katsina dolls manifested early in life. Positive and negative space, geometric design, cosmology and Hopi/Tewa identity are interwoven in Arlo’s wood, clay, stone, fabricated and cast bronze sculptures.
“Using the idea of design, form and movement, I minimize these literal images not to recreate them but to draw from them and my personal experiences,” writes Arlo Namingha. “My work not only reflects the figurative aspect of my native people and cultural deities but also the idea of scenery and landscape as well as symbolism.”
Theodore Waddell’s comment to “American Art Collector” about his work and this show is delectable. “Well, the modern guys didn’t like me because I used subject matter,” said Waddell. “And then Western guys didn’t like me because I was too modern.”
Somebody liked him. Waddell’s work is highly influenced by the Abstract Expressionist school. Though the artist didn’t initially realize how important those artists were to his vision, he continues to relate fully to the sense that paint has its own identity.
In this show, we recognize the Montana artist and rancher’s signature painterly landscapes dotted with horses—often so abstracted as to resemble animal tracks rather than mature species. Waddell’s horses, cattle and bison—often black as coal—leave their mark below the thin blue line of Waddell’s mountain skylines. In Montana’s sky, clouds softly wave, like the sea. Waddell has expanded depth and range of color, suggestive of seasonal shifts in atmosphere, foliage and the earth’s tendancy to morph from fertile browns into hardened, impenetrable surfaces.
Alongside these works are fully abstract and interpretational works on paper from Waddell’s “Abstract Angus” series, recently exhibited at the Denver Art Museum. DeKooning is the expressionist I see most reflected in these illusive, amorphic works. They do, as the gallery has said, suggest the drift of grazing animals.
Western art encompasses so much more than the realism many of us associate with the term. But in the West, notes Waddell, we are a part of it all. This exhibition remains on display through June 15th. To view all of Altamira’s artists, click on their website, www.altamiraart.com .