July 06, 2012

Painted Desert Murals

For those not living in the Navajo Nation the colossal photographic wheat pastes of Jetsonorama may be foreign territory. But anyone on the res can't drive further than their neighbor's house for some sugar before spotting one. And those of you just passing through on your way to the Grand Canyon can spot Jetsonorama's work by just looking out the window for the nearest old rusty water tank or dilapidated roadside stand. And that's just how all this happened. "All this" being the Painted Desert Project.

The Painted Desert Project began as Jetsonorama, aka Chip Thomas pasted one of his photographs on an abandoned roadside stand only to return months down the road and see the very same stand now open for business. Amazed, he pulled over and chatted with the folks only to learn that their impetus to re-open was based on seeing tourists stop to take photos of the art work. They figured it was the best captive audience they'd seen in years and the only thing to make it better was if there was another one for traffic going the opposite direction. Unabashadly Chip let them know about his altar ego Jetsonorama and the cogs started turning.

Before the paste could dry Chip and fellow street artist Yote had a plan to bring some of their favorite artist to the Painted Desert to paint run-down stands in an attempt to rejuvenate the life of those in need of business and as Chip states, "explore how this might build community."

I was fortunate enough to find myself in the presence of a few of my favorite people and artists. Gaia made it out from Baltimore, Doodles came down from Port Townsend, Washington and Labrona was hailing all the way from Montreal.
After driving for a day and a half it was really great to be there and see my homies again. Me and Gaia get embracey while Doodles packs it up. Photo by Chip Thomas

I spent the next week in this very lot painting alongside Doodles. My stand was huge and for the beginning of the week completely vacant. Come the weekend however the lot was bustling with merchants selling hand-picked herbs, second-hand clothes, jewelry, mutton galore, and even a semi full of hay. Some of the stands and r.v's stuck around for the next few days and Doodles and I got to know many of them on a first name and 12-pack basis.

My first mural was an interpretation of a portion of the Dine (Navajo) Creation story. It goes...
The gods laid one buckskin on the ground with the head to the west, and on this they placed the two ears of corn with their tips to the east. Over the corn they spread the other buckskin with its head tot he east. Under the white ear they put the feather of a white eagle; under the yellow ear the feather of a yellow eagle. Then they told the people to stand back and allow the wind to enter. Between the skins the white wind blew from the east and the yellow wind from the west. While the wind was blowing, eight gods called the Mirage People came and walked around the objects on the ground four times. As they walked, the eagle feathers, whose tips stuck out from the buckskins, were seen to move. When the Mirage People finished their walk, the upper buckskin was lifted. The ears of corn had disappeared; a man and a woman lay in their place.
The white ear of corn had become the man, the yellow ear had become a woman: First Man and First Woman. It was the wind that gave them life, and it is the wind that comes out of our mouths now that gives us life. When this ceases to blow, we die.
'Power Line' mural by OverUnder on a beautiful Arizona day.
Also in the creation story is a part about how the people of the Third World (a sort of human insect hybrid) had to travel across a sea of red water on a raft made from blue spruce, white pine, yellow pine, and black spruce. On the opposite bank was the Fourth World where beings lived in upright houses and although it was dry the people could cultivate food through irrigation.

This connection between worlds is not too far off from the way many of us live today. No one of us is an expert in everything and we are all continually learning from those more skilled and practiced around us. Through our continuous connections to new people and experiences we cultivate ourselves to reap better personal harvests. At least I can vouch that it's true for me.

Maybe it was the pot brownies working but while exploring the hillside and canyons behind Chip's house I was in awe of the gigantic power lines dotting the horizon like metal foot prints of a future society. Their stature matched the enormous characteristics of everything else out there in that red mess of beauty. Staring at them I knew I had to include them...somehow.
'Power Line' mural detail by OverUnder
This is another mural I painted based off a photo of a young Dine girl with the text from a poem about the Blessingway. While painting this piece, Virginia, who runs the stand asked me to paint a rainbow so that it would rain. Following her request I added the rainbow and sure enough it rained within an hour.

I also put up some other pieces that you can see on my flickr. And none of it could have been possible without the amazing hospitality of the one and only, Chip Thomas. Thank you!


  1. This is all some great stuff. I appreciate the explanation both of the project and the background in the various myths. Quite interesting.

  2. coolness. look's like goodtimes.