Art in R w New Directions, an exhibition of works by Dan, Arlo, and Michael Namingha
A sprawling painting — almost 10 feet across — in rosy pink and cerulean by Dan Namingha hangs at the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino; a Southwestern landscape photograph by Michael Namingha, overlaid with the words Mañana Time, adorns a wall of the Compound’s chic bar; tucked among the cacti and flowering trees of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden is Arlo Namingha’s nearly life-size bronze female figure, her curved, loosely abstracted body glowing with a deep brown patina. There’s no getting around it: The Naminghas are a ubiquitous part of New Mexico’s visual-arts landscape, and the nexus of their empire is Niman Fine Art, the elegant, 25-year-old gallery on downtown Santa Fe’s Lincoln Avenue. Though the gallery shows work by emerging artists, for the most part, it acts as a showroom for Dan and his two sons, Arlo and Michael. The gallery’s latest exhibition, New
Directions, effects an impressive and varied look at the Naminghas’ new works in a range of media.
The three Naminghas can trace their lineage back to Tewa-Hopi potter Nampeyo (circa 1865-1942), whose practice of blending traditional indigenous designs with innovative elements revolutionized Hopi pottery as we know it — and made her a hugely collected and admired artist. Nampeyo was born in the Arizona Tewa village of Hano, near Sikyátki, an ancient city that thrived until it was abandoned around 1500. Nearly four hundred years later, in 1895, it was excavated by representatives from the Smithsonian Institute, revealing thousands of artifacts and pottery sherds — and piquing the interest of Nampeyo, who visited the site and was inspired to incorporate ancient techniques, patterns, and figures into the pottery practice her grandmother taught her. This drive to blend modern and ancestral styles continues to inspire the Namingha family. For decades, Dan says he has incorporated Nampeyo designs into his paintings. “What I love about her work,” explained Dan, “is the fact that she experimented with [Sikyátki] pot sherds, elaborating on old designs to take her own work further.” Dan’s latest paintings include both figurative and abstracted styles, resulting in far-reaching and muscular series that act as testament to an artist who is as multifaceted as he is prolific. His acrylic on canvas Solstice #19
contains circular mazes, jagged lines and squiggles set against a palette of earthy, elemental colors. A central square of fuzzy yellow-gray, dominated by a brilliant golden orb, is surrounded by symbols and shapes in complementary shades of orange, pale blue, and black. It feels talismanic, mysterious — bordered by bands of gold, turquoise, and blue. Mountain Dusk #1, with its radical, Creamsicle-orange sky and gently sloping, mountainous horizon, is a loosely figurative landscape. A snake-like streak of clouds undulates above the mountains — a strangely harmonious counterpart to jagged streaks of pale yellow and whispery peach below. Its haunting, rich contrasts and unpredictable, wildly colored skies are unmistakably Southwestern.
Arlo has said that his tactile, multipart stone sculptures are inspired at least in part by pottery sherds — referencing not just Nampeyo, but also his grandmother Dextra Quotskuyva Nampeyo (born in 1928), a ceramicist who interprets ancient motifs through a modern lens. Arlo’s sculpture ranges from starkly nonobjective to mystically symbolic, and his most recent works contain multiple parts that can be arranged according to the viewer’s whim. In Shift #1, four beige, ever-so-slightly-slanted stones are almost uniformly smooth to the touch, save a rough patch on one side: gently textured strips that act as a sort of Velcro, which creates just enough friction so two pieces can be “joined” in a variety of possible arrangements. This means the four individual pieces of stone can be manipulated into a solid rectangular unit; a set of two vertically oriented columns; or even a henge-like row, affording a marvelously tactile experience, and also prodding the viewer to examine the interplay between negative and positive space. Arlo said that his artwork “reflects my background and culture, but also my experiences. However minimal, my work often relates to my Tewa and Hopi culture.”
Arlo’s younger brother Michael initially studied architecture at Parsons School of Design in New York, before moving into fashion design, and ultimately returning to Santa Fe to focus on visual art. In several of his new photographs, bright bands of light restlessly zip across the circular surface of the composition. In other pieces, Michael uses text in a straightforwardly graphic way. In YES, a bold white sans-serif version of that word is turned sideways and inward onto a perfect reflection of itself. Intriguingly, these ultra-modern-looking works were in fact inspired by Nampeyo. “I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently and saw one of her large pieces of pottery on display,” Michael said, “but hanging next to it was a painting of Christ by Salvador Dalí. I loved that juxtaposition between the two pieces. I returned home and began to play with new word pairings.”
What’s it like to be part of this boundlessly creative family? According to Arlo, “Having our own gallery space allows each of us to explore our own individual ideas, and each time we create a new body of work, it seems to work well together.” Michael agreed, adding, “Visually, we all use the landscape; Arlo interprets it in stone, wood, and bronze, and my dad uses landscape in his paintings. I see landscape in my photographs, sometimes depicting our cultural landscape with text-based, social commentary pieces.” Whatever the inspiration, it’s safe to say that the innovative, refined artworks of Dan, Arlo, and Michael Namingha succeed in myriad ways, joined alchemically and timelessly as a unified, yet utterly individualized set of ideas. — Iris McLister
Left, Arlo Namingha: Shift #1, Indiana limestone, 2015 Right, top, Michael Namingha: YES, 2015; right, bottom,
NO, 2015, archival pigment print on paper Opposite page, Dan Namingha: Mountain Dusk #1, 2015, acrylic on canvas