Celebrating Two Decades
by Fred Veil, Executive Director, Sharlot Hall Museum
On the reservation in the ‘60s, a young Virgil Nez found himself herding sheep and studying the petroglyphs on nearby rocks. Soon, he was carving his own rock designs, then teaching himself to layer colors, and developing his sense of expression.
Over time, he began to capture and convey the cultural symbols which communicate the integrity of the Navajo as a community of people. It’s an art-form that has served him well “in this hectic world (by) shifting from impressionistic or pointillist style, to realism and symbolic,” said Nez.
He added, “If one is in tune with oneself, one can feel and see the tradition dancing in the hot shimmering summer, and sense the laughing spirits in a hush of solitude that nature gives.”
It’s his variety of content and style that propel Virgil Nez to be the featured artist for the 20th Annual Prescott Indian Art Market that is set for July 8-9 at Sharlot Hall Museum.
A favorite of PIAM audiences, Nez joins more than 100 distinguished Native American artists at this premier marketplace of Indian art in the Central Highlands of Arizona. It is one of the top shows in the Southwest.
Virgil Nez currently resides on the Diné Bekayah (Navajo Reservation), which is located between the four sacred mountains within the boundaries of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah (called “Four Corners”).
His formal training led him to architectural and design studies at Mesa Community College, and then to a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in illustration and painting from Northern Arizona University. Since his graduation in 1991, painting – in pastel, watercolor and oil – has been his calling. In a realistic style, he began exhibiting his work and winning major awards at Indian art markets all over the Southwest.
He has currently shifted to an impressionistic or pointillist style, which continues to garner awards and accolades. There is no telling what his style might be a year from now, “because I’d get bored if I didn’t keep growing and challenging myself,” he admits.
The notion of planning a painting in advance is unfathomable, Nez said. With a visual mind and a lifetime of images and imagination upon which to draw, he awaits a vision to emerge… maybe a sound, a smell, a feeling in the air will call up something in his memory and compel him to put it on canvas.
And patience? “The hectic world is the enemy of patience.” he said. “I have the worst patience, but art calms me. When I am painting, I can’t think about time or deadlines… I must wait for the image – the spirit of the piece – to reveal itself. I am painting through the hands of my ancestors, and I must paint slowly to have the spiritual connection with the work.”
Nez hopes the viewers of his paintings feel his “spiritual connection.” Many have sufficiently keen perception to see hidden figures “ghosted” in his paintings. He doesn’t do this to be clever or cute, or to play games with the viewer; he must do it because the hidden figure belongs there.
His contemporary paintings cover a wide range: Navajo women representing his memories of his grandmother, landscapes and hogans, shape-shifting characters, Native “aliens,” Olympian Yei figures, and the occasional mystical figure snowboarding or surfing – such is the whimsy of his imagination.
And then there are the tepees. Nez is a ceremonial chanter in the Native American Church; the tepee is the sanctuary of the church. Whether his art shows the tepee from the inside or the outside, it often depicts the prayer ceremonies going on. Spiritual beings, the Yei’bi’chi, shown in some paintings, represent the images the people inside are seeing in their minds.
Virgil Nez presents original paintings and prints at the Prescott Indian Art Market the weekend of July 8-9 at Sharlot Hall Museum. He has been presenting at PIAM for many years and regards it as one of his favorites. He was selected to be this year’s “Featured Artist” at the juried show.
Pottery, rugs, silversmithing, jewelry, fine art acrylic, oil, water-color and sand are just a few examples of the artistic media showcased at the 20th Annual PIAM. Come for the fry bread; stay for the fabulous art, music and dance.
Walk among the craftspeople as they demonstrate their artistry and skill. Admire the winning art of this juried show, and celebrate with the artists, or simply sit under a shady tree with a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade as you listen to traditional native music.
Member admission is discounted to $8 per adult, $10 general and youth FREE. The museum and its four-acre campus are located at 415 West Gurley Street, Prescott – two blocks west of the downtown Courthouse Plaza. Call 928-445-3122.