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.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening : 1. Chip Thomas and True Artivism
BSA Special Feature: Chip Thomas and True Artivism
We’re switching it up a little this week and recommending an audio podcast with Radio Juxtapoz instead a film. We think you’ll dig it.
Chip Thomas (aka Jetsonorama), his art, and his photography has of course been featured on BSA and his work/life/activism perhaps 40 times since the late 2000s, but its usually been a blend of other peoples’ stories that we have helped him deliver.
Over the years we have facilitated his historically informed storytelling on the health and life of people on the Navajo Nation, the US dumping radioactive matter there, issues surrounding climate change, the voting rights act, the March on Selma, the favelas in Rio, his “Painted Desert” multi-year project with invited Street Artists.
All the time Chip has been showing us how to bridge communities, raise awareness, through socially engaged street art and photography.
Here you’ll enjoy Evan Pricco and Doug Gillen as they dig deep through the personal and professional history of this artist, activist, and doctor. For once here you’ll hear his actual voice and trace his navigational route in storytelling about himself and the path he’s taken to bring to the surface of our consciousness the people who the US historically makes invisible.
Chip Thomas Is Telling The Story Of The Navajo Nation Through Street Art. Via Radio Juxtapoz.
In her introduction to the list, editor Katherine Brooks writes:
“It turns out, 365 days is hard to summarize in anything but a laundry list of seemingly disparate phenomena, filled with the good — woman-centric street art, rising Detroit art scenes, spotlights on unseen American art– and the bad less than good — holiday butt plugs, punching bags by Monet, Koonsmania. But, as a New Year dawns, we found ourselves just wanting to focus on the things that made us beam with pride in 2014. So we made a list of those things, a list of the pieces we’re proud of.”
Describing why we thought this was an important story for us we wrote:
“We loved a lot of stories this year, but this hometown Brooklyn one about a street artist with humanity mounting her first solo major museum exhibition was a special turning point — and an astounding success. For us street art is a conversation, a continuum of expression, and Swoon is always a part of it. From following her street career to her transition to international fame to witnessing this exhibition coming to fruition in person in the months leading up to the Brooklyn Museum show, it is easy to understand why Swoon still remains a crucial part of the amazing street art scene and continues to set a standard.”
-Jaime Rojo & Steven Harrington, HuffPost Arts&Culture bloggers and co-founders of Brooklyn Street Art
In fact, we wrote 48 articles that were published on the Huffington Post in 2014, and as a collection we hope they further elucidate the vast and meaningful impact that the Street Art / graffiti / urban art movement continues to have on our culture, our public space, and our arts institutions.
Together that collection of articles published by BSA on Huffpost in ’14 spanned the globe including stories from Malaysia, Poland, Spain, France, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, New York, Arizona, The Navajo Nation, Philadelphia, Sweden, Istanbul, New Jersey, Lisbon, The Gambia, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Rome, India, Italy, Delhi (India), Montreal, San Francisco, London, Coachella, Chicago, Kabul (Afghanistan), and Kiev (Ukraine).
Here on BSA we published another 320 postings (more or less).
We thank you for allowing us to share these inspirational and educational stories with you and we are honored to be able to continue the conversation with artists, art fans, collectors, curators, academics, gallerists, museums, and arts institutions. Our passion for Street Art and related movements is only superceded by our love for the creative spirit, and we are happy whenever we encounter it.
Our published articles on HuffPost in 2014, beginning with the most recent:
There is a stretch of highway from Bitter Springs to Moenkopi Wash where you might slow down or stop all together to take a look into the eyes of a Navajo. They are there looking at you. Artist and photographer Jetsonorama is telling more stories out here about the Navajo people and their neighbors in black and white poster-sized wheatpastes.
The portraits, snapshots of life, and representational scenes are telling you their stories, even if you didn’t ask a question. The sun-baked creases on their faces are maps of roads you may have traveled but probably not. Serene, apprehensive, jovial, content, resigned, pensive, beautiful – that’s how these individuals are captured and blown up; a way of life on display for the world to see.
Don’t be fooled by a coyote playing “dead”. He’s not really playing.
They say that rabbits comprise about 1/3 of a coyotes’ annual diet, and yet one of them is right here sitting by the door on this desert plain, so unimpressed is he with the fast moving varmits. ROA has just painted the long eared napper at the entrance of this one story building just around the corner from a couple of equally sanguine and predatory kit foxes, their reddish hue desaturated by the Belgian Street Artist’s monochromatic aerosol treatment. It hardly seems like a coyote could mover faster than ROA has across the US this summer and now we catch him for you on the Navajo Reservation with Jetsonorams’s project, “The Painted Desert”.
ROA’s parade of wildlife is equally striking in these wide-open rural areas as they are climbing multi-storied city buildings. Just last year he was in the Australian Outback, before that he was in Mexico’s highlands and Chile’s coastal towns. It is good to see ROA here and with future visits he may find time to paint more animals from the coyote’s buffet, since they’ll eat anything it that they can catch among the low-rise bushes and brush – rabbits, mice, squirrels, gophers, lambs, calves, goats, small pigs, ducks, magpies, crows, buzzards, quail, grasshoppers, and other coyotes.
Thanks to Jetsonorama for sharing these exclusive pics for BSA readers.
Doing Street Art projects is easier than you think. And harder than you think. Just because you can conceive of the 5 easy steps that it takes to get there, you still have to do those steps. Jetsonorama is continuously commingling his interests in community, medicine, sociology, photography, and public art – in a part of the country not known for streets, let alone Street Art.
“I spent all day sweating, hanging out with people from the community and a buddy from Flagstaff who helped me get pieces up,” Jetsonorama says of his latest project is in Bitter Springs, Arizona, a community where he also serves as a doctor on a reservation. His new action-blurred photographs are less about portrait and more about poetry on the rugged facades in this part of the country. Horses are more of a focus in his work also, as they figure prominently into the history of the people, as well as the present. With help from people in the community, Jetsonorama enables conversations to start and stories to be told through art and photography.
The sheltering sky is huge in Navajo country, and city slicker Street Artists have room to expand their minds and their imaginations when they get out to see the landscape dotted by occasional man-made structures. Jetsonorama and Yote invited a handful of them to come out and meet some local artists and the folks who live here.
By meeting the business owners and community members who invited them to create work on their buildings, the artists learned a little about local customs, their histories, and relationships. According to Jetsonorama, the guys appreciated that this project wasn’t about big walls with lots of exposure and were interested in connecting with people and the land to inspire their work. The resulting collection has a character and context very specific to the culture and the qualities of life here.
We’re beginning to see an ever growing mural/wheat-paste/stencil circuit, a clan-like constellation of firing synapses across the globe, the informally formal collecting together of Street Artists in one town or area to smash some walls and exchange tips, learn new skills, make connections. Sometimes there’s a budget, sometimes there’s just beer.
But it’s cool to see this generation of Street Artists reaching out to each other and hosting in their town, even cultivating an exchange that is personal and cultural. Having just returned back to the Navajo reservation from his trip out east to Baltimore to participate in the Open Walls project, Street Artist Jetsonorama is readying his own version with his buddy, a Street Artist you know well from these pages named Yote.
Together they imagined inviting some of their favorite Street Artists to the Navajo nation to paint. Jetsonorama gives Yote the credit for thinking up the archtypical roadside stand as a recurring mural location. “He first voiced the idea,” says Jetsonorama, “but as soon as he said it, I was already drawing up my dream list because I’d been entertaining this idea too.”
So there you have it. A project can happen if you dare speak the words, and these two guys are bringing some of their dream list, plus a couple of surprises, back to their stomping grounds to make art. The list includes Gaia, Doodles, Chris Stain, OverUnder, Labrona, and local talents like Thomas “Breeze” Marcus from the Tohono O’odham and Salt River Native communities. To set the stage, here are a number of pieces by Jetsonorama to whet your desert appetite.
A New York Times article a couple of weeks ago about abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation reported about 638 uranium mines that were active on the Navajo Nation from the 1940s to the 1980s. Street Artist Jetsonorama writes to say that “Fewer than 10% of the mines have been capped and contained and, as a consequence, uranium tailings circulate with wind and have contaminated ground water supplies affecting livestock and humans. The rates of liver, bone, breast and lung cancer are high on the rez.” The Times article quotes Doug Brugge, a public health professor at Tufts University medical school and an expert on uranium, “If this level of radioactivity were found in a middle-class suburb, the response would be immediate and aggressive.”
According to The Guardian this year, “In the final years of the George Bush presidency, when uranium prices were rising worldwide, mining companies filed thousands of new claims in northern Arizona, on lands near the Grand Canyon. They also proposed reopening old mines adjacent to the canyon.”
As recently as this January, the Obama Administration acted to protect a 1-million acre area around the Grand Canyon from uranium mining with a 20-year ban, despite pressure from mining advocates. But that won’t prevent the current requests on record to mine the area from progressing.
Wanting to draw attention to this situation, artist Jetsonorama did this installation in Flagstaff, AZ over the weekend called “Owen Dreams of Atomic Sheep,” and one called “JC at the Reservation”. With infants as their spokespeople these new pieces on water storage containers spotlight the next generation, the inheritors of whatever we decide to do with the earth and it’s resources. American Indian tribes in the region — Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab-Paiute, Navajo and Hopi — have banned uranium mining on their lands, according to the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, and it makes you wonder if environmental defense will become the preeminent issue that this generation will seize as their own.
Street Artist Jetsonorama has a new campaign in Flagstaff, Arizona and on the Navajo Nation reservation using his photographic wheat pastes to highlight the relationship of coal to health, economy, and people. As a health care professional, he sees the impact of burning coal vividly, and with a fresh faced model named JC, he makes the simple and powerful connection to the cloud of history that is fossil fuel metaphorically hanging over our heads.
Beginning September 24th, an organization called 350.org will launch an international campaign to raise awareness on carbon emissions and climate change and Jetsonorama joined with a number of other artists to illustrate the relationship we have with fossil fuels.
“If the Navajo Nation and coal were to declare their relationship status on Facebook, they’d chose the ‘it’s complicated’ option. I live and work on the Navajo Nation where coal is mined and burned. That’s why I chose to work with this imagery and to use coal as a metaphor for a black cloud over the head of future generations.
I informally interviewed 16 Navajo co-workers and asked them to share with me the first thing that comes to mind when I say ‘coal.’ Everyone identified respiratory problems associated with burning coal in the home.
The Navajo Nation is home to 170,000 people who live in an area that is 27,500 square miles in size, or approximately the size of Ireland. Despite having land that is rich in coal, natural gas, uranium, water and timber, the Nation has an unemployment rate of 40% and over half of the Navajo population lives below the USA defined poverty line. A small segment of the population is able to provide a middle class lifestyle for their families by working in mining operations. The cost to the families who burn coal in their homes and to the environment is great, as indicated in my interviews. Interestingly, only 1 of those 16 identified CO2 emissions associated with coal burning as being a contributing factor to climate change.
Again, it’s a complicated relationship and hopefully the 350.org campaign will heighten awareness of coal’s dark side and strengthen support for more environmentally friendly alternatives such as solar power and wind turbines. We have plenty of sun and wind in Arizona after all.”
350.org will launch an international campaign on 09.24.11 to raise awareness on carbon emissions and climate change. To learn more about this project and become involved please visit the organization site: