Tlin­git Form­line in the Desert

James John­son (Tlin­git)

Native American Art - - GALLERY PREVIEWS - by Chelsey Lu­gar


The subur­ban en­clave where James John­son lives is quiet and cookie-cut­ter, lined with town­home upon iden­ti­cal town­home bathed in hues of beiges and tans in a cor­ner of Gil­bert, Ari­zona. It isn’t the sort of neigh­bor­hood in the metro Phoenix desert where one would ex­pect to find a cre­ative stu­dio crank­ing out work rooted in Indige­nous Alaska; pieces carved of mighty red and yel­low cedar trees from the tem­per­ate rain­for­est and adorned in paint­ings of sea­far­ing an­i­mals like salmon, whale and ot­ter. But it be­came that place when, 12 years ago, John­son packed up and moved from the cold so that he could help take care of his ail­ing mother.

Just like the neigh­bor­hood out­side, John­son’s liv­ing space and stu­dio garage are neat and or­ga­nized. Silent. His home is alive with spec­tac­u­lar coastal carv­ings and bold paint­ings of tra­di­tional cul­ture, a wave of ocean wa­ter in a sea of sand. It was here in the swel­ter­ing heat John­son, a com­mer­cial artist, taught him­self an an­cient form of Tlin­git paint­ing, por­ing over books and fre­quent­ing mu­se­ums.

1. Tlin­git artist JamesJohn­son uses var­i­ous types of brushes to ap­ply de­tail to his wood paint­ings. Photo by An­thony Thosh Collins. 2. Kéet Woochaagáa, Alaskan yel­low cedar, acrylic, 96". Photo by Ian Tet­zner.

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