Dr. Chip Thomas and his “Painted Desert” project invites you to see the new face of Whiting Motel in Gray Mountain, Arizona. Once a haven for the weary travelers on their way to the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas, the property is an abandoned eyesore along this highway that is heavily used by motorists from across the Navajo Nation.
15 years after the motel building was deserted here to languish without a thought for its appearance or effect on the community or the environment, Chip invited Thomas “Breeze” Marcus to organize a crew of artists with native lineage to transform the exterior into a somehow mystical mirage in the desert.
Using portraits of strong natives, graduating colorways, and calligraffiteed writings, the community reclaims the visual landscape, transforming it with aerosol painting. A reference to the taking of native lands by Europeans and the machinations of the motel itself, the team emblazoned the backside with a message, “American Rent is Due.”
Forty miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona, Chip tells us that the motel was built originally in the 1950s and he shares this postcard from the 1980s that displays the business in its humble heyday. Now with a new façade by this small group of artists who painted just before the weather turned chilly at the end of November, this fresh coat may inspire passersby this winter.
The crew included:
Vyalone – Zuni, Raramuri, Chicano
Breeze – Tohono O’odham / Adimel O’odham / Ponca / Otoe
Douglas Miles – Apache
Jerrel Singer – Diné
LivA’ndrea Knoki – Diné