Magazine article Southwest Art

Nature's Calm

Magazine article Southwest Art

Nature's Calm

Article excerpt

The serenity that pervades Emmi Whitehorse's paintings is, in part, learned from her grandmother, a traditional Navajo weaver, who taught her that art is a mental journey with a calming purpose. "My grandmother wove a lot of contemporary images," Whitehorse remembers. "From watching her, I learned to see space. I got a sense from her about how to get three-dimensionality from a flat surface, which she achieved with her blankets."

Whitehorse has become famous for her abstract paintings of luxuriant, atmospheric spaces sparsely populated with plant forms--thinly drawn marks that seem to float across deep color fields. These symbols are also inspired by her grandmother, who collected seeds and planted them in summertime, hung plants upside down to dry, and then used them for dyeing wool.

Whitehorse's grandmother was her first mentor, but there have been significant others. One was an art teacher, Kathleen Hueser, who encouraged the painfully introverted juniorhigh student to enter an abstract painting in a statewide competition. Whitehorse's prize came with a college scholarship and a boost of self-confidence. From that point forward, she had found her calling.

At the University of New Mexico, the feminist artist and teacher Harmony Hammond fostered Whitehorse's development by granting her permission to break longstanding art rules. "Harmony encouraged me to work big; before that I'd been doing these dinky little things. I stopped trying to paint traditionally at an easel and started working on a tabletop, using my hands. After that, things clicked. My work became more fluid, much freer. I was inside the painting."

For nearly 20 years, this has been Whitehorse's creative process. She layers chalk, turpentine, and oil on paper, then draws with oil bars and litho crayon. Next she adheres the paper to canvas. …

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