WEAVING IN PAINT
Graffiti-inspired works by Thomas “Breeze” Marcus are shown at Blue Rain Gallery.
SANTA FE, NM
Tohono O’odham painter Thomas “Breeze” Marcus lives and works in a historic neighborhood in central Phoenix, a city that has been his visual playground for almost the entirety of his career. He works mostly from a studio in a garage near the rear of the house, where tubes of paint and spray cans line shelves, hiphop rattles from a nearby speaker and his intricately designed artworks—on board, canvas, guitar bodies, vinyl records, skate decks and other materials—fill the walls, tables and easels where he works.
Inside the house, in a makeshift second studio on a coffee table, are several books, including one large fullcolor glossy book on street and graffiti art. On top of it is a smaller book, one from a different era, with yellowed paper and black-and-white illustrations of Native American basketry. The pairing captures the artist’s artwork perfectly. If one is the North Pole, and the other the South Pole, Breeze’s work circles the equator in perfect harmony between the two.
“I grew up around basketry all my life, especially seeing it my grandmother’s house and our family house in Salt River. It always really intrigued me to see the patterns of the baskets. I know how those baskets were made by traditionally gathering materials in the desert, including things people would discard and dry weeds. It was amazing seeing how it all came together,” Breeze says. “Seeing the designs it just clicked somewhere in me as I was transitioning from a graffiti artist to mural artist to fine artist.”
Breeze says many of his current works call back to early basketry, often Tohono O’odham or Hohokam, but through the filter of graffiti culture, in which expressive
lines and exaggerated forms were bombed onto blank walls in the dark of night. “It’s very much wildstyle, which is a form of graffiti, intricate and complex with very unique typography,” he says. “I come from that background, but I don’t adhere to all of those rules. I’m not a basket artist, nor am I a graffiti artist anymore, but I’ve taken these interests and I’m meshing them together so I can find parallels and understand how they relate.”
He continues: “I always think about the movie La
Bamba, the story of Ritchie Valens. He was this young Latino kid who was into rock ‘n’ roll,” Breeze says. “He took everything he knew and bridged the gap from his culture by taking traditional folk songs and incorporating them into rock songs. He took all his influences and put them together until they fit.”
Breeze’s newest works, including several that were directly inspired by Native American basketry, will be on view in a new group show opening May 25 at Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The exhibition,
titled Neo-cultural Narratives, will also feature new work from Lummi Nation glass artist Dan Friday, Muscogee Creek painter Starr Hardridge, and Osage, Kaw and Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux ledger artist Chris Pappan.
Works in the show include Breeze’s elaborate acrylic pieces River People and Tribal Territory, each with an organized and methodical chaos of line and form— and his swirl motifs, which date back more than a thousand years and represent water, movement and life—as well as a variety of other works from the artists who represent a variety of mediums. Pappan will be showing two new ledgers works, In God’s Image II, a graphite and collage work on 1890s paper, and Keeping the Knowledge, with graphite, gold leaf and acrylic paint on an 1871 Chicago jeweler’s ledger. Friday’s newest creations include Polar Bear, a furnace-sculpted glass sculpture with a mesmerizingly transluscent glass that shimmers in the light, and Lightning Basket (Copper), which is a woven glass basket in golden colors. Hardridge, whose acrylic works have a three-dimensional application that looks more like beadwork than paint, will be showing Drifter Mirage, which depicts a male figure and a horse done in a cascade of color.
Neo-cultural Narratives will be on view at Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe through June 9. An artist reception will take place May 25, from 5 to 7 p.m.
2. Thomas “Breeze” Marcus (Tohono O’odham), Tribal Territory, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36" 2
6. Thomas “Breeze” Marcus (Tohono O’odham), River
People, acrylic and ink on canvas, 24 x 24" 6
5. Dan Friday (Lummi Nation), Lightning Basket (Copper), blown glass, 13 x 13" 5
4. Chris Pappan (Osage, Kaw and Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux), In God’s
Image II, graphite and map collage on 1890s institutional ledger, 12½ x 11" 4