Before I leave his studio, artist Jason Garcia (Santa Clara Pueblo Tewa) hands me a CD he burned, Song for My Muse: Vol. 1. One of the tracks is "You're Mine," a slow, two-steppin' cover of the Ritchie Valens' hit recorded by Los Lobos for the movie La Bamba. I've known the song since I was a kid—back when I thought Lou Diamond Phillips was actually Valens himself—and I sang along, humming to the twangy guitar chords, awash in a nameless nostalgia.
Garcia (known also by his Tewa name, Okuu Pin or Turtle Mountain) is one of six artists participating in IMPRINT, an exhibition-cum-public art and social media blitz helmed by the Ralph T Coe Center for the Arts that opens Tuesday Aug. 14. Founded in 2012 by Coe, a collector and art historian, the center holds nearly 2 ,000 objects in its collection and has proven to be a curatorial and creative laboratory and vanguard in commissioning these six Indigenous artists. They produced the work together and individually and helped decide at which venues it would be appear. Most of the artists were at the table (virtually or in person) during the earliest stages of conception, even when the title had yet to be set; uncertainty was present throughout, but the experimentalism is now IMPRINT's signature.
Garcia's album is just one piece of ephemera he plans to put into one of two repurposed newspaper boxes to be strategically placed and re-placed all over Santa Fe and elsewhere as part of the show.
Other artists plan to contribute items as well, and any passersby can simply take whatever they find inside, including Song for My Muse, which Garcia has placed in a custom sleeve, screen printed in red ink and signed. I wound up with edition 10/10; the CD and the print are germane companions, analog forms sharing the material qualities of inscribed media. And the impression the song left lingers on like an afterimage, even well into this writing.
According to the Coe's press release, "To imprint is to forge a connection that leaves a lasting mark." Mark-making can be the actual practice of putting ink to paper, multiplying one form into many, or the far more elusive act of impressing a certain worldview through art onto viewers. From the conceptual to the actual and even psychological, IMPRINT bundles all of those lines of thinking into one grand experiment in making impressions.
Garcia, along with Eliza Naranjo Morse (Santa Clara), Jamison Chās Banks (Seneca-Cayuga, Cherokee), Terran Last Gun (Piikani), Dakota Mace (Diné) and Jacob Meders (Mechoopda/Maidu), with Coe curators Bess Murphy and Nina Sanders (Apsáalooke), have spent the last year conceptualizing IMPRINT. This long-simmering process of co-creating a vision was, as Naranjo Morse says, similar to the organic meandering art-making itself often takes. The vision takes several forms over the course of the month and coming year, traveling beyond the walls of the Coe into social media, the streets of Santa Fe and beyond.
Art works will be wheat-pasted across the city alongside a near-monthlong scavenger hunt for the official repurposed IMPRINT boxes, which will be filled with original art by all six artists. Some who find these will do so by happenstance. Others will seek its location based on clues found on social media or shared by word of mouth. In addition to the traveling boxes, Axle Contemporary hosts IMPRINTMOBILE throughout the month, and is set to travel to the Santa Clara Feast Day on Sunday Aug. 12.
Finally, the official reception for IMPRINT takes place at the Coe on Tuesday Aug. 14 and includes a larger exhibition of prints made especially for the event, as well as fare from the YouthWorks food truck, a Meow Wolf family activity, live music with DJ Garronteed and, yes, more onsite printmaking. Naranjo Morse plans to wheat-paste an enlarged drawing of a rabbit with his treasures on the wall of Consolidated Electrical Distribution (just east of the Coe at 1590 Pacheco St.), and attendees will have a chance to contribute their own drawings to the process.
Think also of the pages of SFR as another IMPRINT venue. Three pairs of artists (Meders/Banks, Last Gun/Garcia and Naranjo Morse/Mace) each co-created one of the three covers for this edition, which can be found across the city; and look inside for free original art created by the show's collaborators. With all of IMPRINT's efforts to transmit cutting-edge Native printmaking into Santa Fe's consciousness—and art into people's hands—therein lies a fresh and untapped model for how to make art accessible to those who may never step inside an institution. And in that way, the format is apropos. As Meders, the originator of Warbird Press, a newspaper vending machine filled with $3 prints, describes, "the print is for the disenfranchised, the common man, and the community."
It is best meant for circulation.
"IMPRINT acknowledges what came before us," artist Meders says, explaining the tendency toward creative mutualism already present in Native communities. As a print collaboration, he continues, "IMPRINT just highlights how connected we already are in Indian country, … our love of working together and sharing together."
And where there may only be six degrees separating the rest of us from Kevin Bacon, "there are only three degrees of separation [between artists] in the Native art world, much less printmakers," Garcia estimates.
Meders is an assistant professor in arts and cultural studies at Arizona State University, and fellow artist Banks is adjunct instructor of printmaking at the Institute of American Indian Arts. The pair have long worked together, even before IMPRINT was an inkling of an idea at the Coe. Banks describes their relationship like fishing, so easily do they bounce ideas off one another and so likeminded are their processes and simplified aesthetic. But, like Banks and Meders, all of the IMPRINT artists have already crossed paths in the intimate constellation of creativity they inhabit, whether through institutional lines or otherwise.
The three covers for this issue speak to those intersecting paths: layered images that not only partake in the legacy of print—one that is long and complex in the Americas—but also build on the stories, places, histories of travel and symbolic languages each artist holds dear. Collaborating on these images took many forms, from sharing studio space and equipment, to digital files for Photoshop edits when distance couldn't be bridged physically. In that way, IMPRINT's reach has already been expansive—a process of co-creating that Naranjo Morse calls "an incredible beginning."
Taking Print Back: Meders/Banks
"Print," Meders explains, "is an important medium in the history of the conflict of this land." His oeuvre often broaches the thorny relationship between image-making and colonization. His Divided Lines, a series of 3-by-2-foot woodblock prints exhibited at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in 2013, featured figures whose torsos were split; the upper body could have the features of an Indigenous person and the lower half of a European, or vice versa. Divided Lines spoke of the conflict of assimilation at the point of first contact, but also to the history of European-generated print imagery, a reproducible visual format that circulated all over the Old World during the early colonial period and beyond. Meders created his prints in the vein of those early colonial examples, traveling back in time through the language of print, a language driven in some measure by the logic of cataloging Native people for Western eyes.
"In order to claim the land," Meders says, "you have to erase or nullify the existence of its Indigenous inhabitants and replace yourself as Indigenous." This is at the core of his contribution to IMPRINT, the TOTE series, based on a dingbat (a decorative element in the language of letterpress) he found in grad school. TOTE refers to the Totem of the Eagle, a version of The Improved Order of Red Men, both 19th-century fraternal brotherhoods comprised exclusively of white men. Playing Indian was real (even if in really bad taste), as the historian Phillip Deloria outlined in his 1998 book of that same name, and the irony of such history is palpable in Meders' replication of the TOTE symbol, replete with the word and an Indian in profile.
Banks' IMPRINT series, The Bountiful South, focuses on the continental story of a parrot that allegedly once flew in Southwestern skies. "In the 1600s," he says, "Spanish expeditions noted the colors of [the thick-billed parrot] in this region." That parrot still exists in Mexico in Chihuahua and Durango, living on a healthy diet of pine nuts. As an art practice, Banks rewrites narratives. "My whole objective is to uncover information that may or may not be true," he says. Did the parrot ever live in this region? Maybe. Maybe not. There's a sense of truthiness (thank you Stephen Colbert) to this approach to history; a reminder, Banks muses, "that these possibilities exist."
The discipline of history tends to be like that; where hard and fast evidence doesn't exist, there have often been leaps of the imagination. Some conclusions are likely. Others less so. But histories exist elsewhere, too. Along those lines of inquiry, an Acoma pot in the Coe's collection bears an avian likeness to the thick-billed parrot. And Cochiti dances, Banks reminds me, use parrot feathers, too.
Kites with the green bird printed on one side, based on photographs taken in Mexico a couple of years back, will hang from the skylight of the Coe this month. The Acoma pot, for which the provenance is unknown, will be on display as well.
Banks' interest in animal life and its disappearance from particular environments played out in his June 2018 exhibition in Winnipeg, Manitoba, titled Crypsis: Eradication Methods Laboratory. The title riffs on an actual agency of the same name, which began with poison research in 1916. It was, as it happens, located in Albuquerque and focused on eradicating predatory animals (think coyotes, wolves, mountain lions and bobcats), but in the exhibition, the laboratory eerily paralleled the eradication of animals alongside the history of westward expansion and, no doubt, the Indian Wars.
"Much of my work," Banks says, "has a foundation in conflict and a loss of innocence." Nothing says it more clearly than a screen-printed cardboard box emblazoned with the visage of Davy Crockett and the words "Official Indian Fighter Hat," replete with a coonskin cap. It looks like it's a throwback to the 1950s. Meders' and Banks' SFR cover reproduces the likeness of Crockett yet again, but overlaid with Mechoopda design motifs.
In Multiples: Garcia/Last Gun
A print is an artwork comprised of "multiple originals," according to Last Gun. It seems counterintuitive—especially when, in any other art context, copying an original artwork leads to devaluation and, worse, the loss of that je ne sais quoi (the aura, say) that pulses within originals. But prints are different. And to that end, screen-printing is the practice of thinking in layers of color separations made from positive images burned onto one or several screens. When those separations line up in all of the print iterations, making them nearly indistinguishable from one another, a print edition is born. Sometimes, however, that means making double the intended amount of the edition, just to account for error.
Garcia's Santa Clara studio is tucked just behind the Pueblo's church in the home where his paternal grandparents used to live. "Just look outside this window," he says, pointing beyond the turquoise frame toward the satellite dishes, electrical lines and antennas that crisscross the skies and roofs of houses; the visual cues that pop up in his Corn Maiden series, which features Pueblo dancers scrolling through cellphones, taking selfies or leaning against lowriders. His muses are the actual women he sees, sometimes in person and sometimes on social media. The series, he adds, is about "the influence of technology on identity."
Garcia grew up in a family of potters (his mother is the renowned Gloria Goldenrod Garcia) and pop culture. After school, Garcia recalls going to his maternal grandmother's house where she would paint pots with Pueblo iconography. Wanting to participate, a 7-year-old Garcia instead painted images of Darth Vader. That pop culture sensibility is a trademark of his Tewa Tales of Suspense, a body of work that features characters drawn in a comic book style to tell the stories of historic events, such as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Then and still now, he made clay tiles that look like comic book covers, pulling his materials from the pits just west of the Pueblo and using slips from clay he's collected all over the Southwest. He shows me the hunks of earth, which seem to shimmer in the sunlight. It wasn't until years after working alongside his grandmother that Garcia created a serigraph of Tewa Tales of Suspense. And though the medium changed, he says, "the work, whether pottery or print, is a linked together by a graphic illustrative format."
During a recent visit to his studio, Garcia placed paper bags underneath the screen as Last Gun pulled the squeegee, carrying the yellow speedball paint across the surface, pressing it into a print. Last Gun, who has an exhibition currently on view at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, spent five consecutive days at Garcia's studio, learning his way around and pulling prints. In thanks, he gave Garcia an artist proof of one of his creations.
"I consider what I do as continuum art," Last Gun explains, a carrying on of his tribe's long history of using geometric design motifs on lodges (buffalo hides stretched over a conical frame). In Piikani aesthetics, the lodge can be divided into three parts: the bottom, which represents the land; the middle, which is close to the owner and not to be replicated; and the top, which represents the cosmos. Once a lodge was rendered unusable, it was laid out onto the plains or sunk into a lake. Its design could only be replicated when permission was transferred from its owner to another person.
"I focus on the above and the below;" the earth, that is, and the cosmos, he said. A photograph of Last Gun's Above Beings and Us, an edition of 10 paper bags silkscreened with four concentric disks—the sun, moon, Morningstar, and earth—is included as one of the inserts in SFR. It is based on an origin story, the birth of the Morningstar from the sun and the moon.
"My work is often compared to geometrical abstraction, but it's really representational," Last Gun says. While some of his influences include Ellsworth Kelly, Frederick Hammersley and Wassily Kandinsky, Last Gun also points out, however, that "those artists were influenced by us."
His own prints have hard edges and vibrant colors that appear to vibrate in space, landscapes that have been distilled into simple shapes—much like his A Place of Elevation, a print that features what appears to be a mountain's silhouette against a red ground. It's done in a full bleed, printed from one edge of the paper to the other, and based on a photo he took of an Alan Houser sculpture on the IAIA campus. After making multiple sketches of the abstract sculpture's upper form, Last Gun came upon his own design.
Coming Home: Mace/Naranjo Morse
Spider Woman, according to Diné cosmology, was born in the second world. With the birth of the third, she shuttled across the skies weaving the cosmos. "She is the birth mother of weaving," represented in a "motif with four points," says artist Mace. It is a shape that Mace comes back to again and again in her own practice, one best described as a kind of reverent seriality. Often, the cross is surrounded by three other stylized forms that represent aspects of the landscape and deep, watery blues. Spider Woman's four points reflect a broader "symmetry that exists in fours," she says. "I am imprinting our way of understanding landscape through printmaking."
Mace's signature blues, achieved through both the natural process of indigo dyeing and through the chemical development of cyanotypes, speak to the essential quality of water to all life. But creating such deep azures is time-consuming; Mace must dip a piece of paper in an indigo bath at least 15 times to achieve the brilliant blue. Cyanotypes, alternately, require coating a light-sensitive paper while processing it with hydrogen to intensify the color and speed up the process, helped along by an ultraviolet light table.
An MFA graduate student at the University of Wisconsin's School of Human Ecology who researches the history of Diné textile design, Mace speaks of cultural forms as nomads, wandering into various groups' hands through lineages of trade across the Americas and throughout the world, or what she calls "the cross-cultural influence of design."
Her crosses, in a way, chart that wandering path. Naranjo Morse's landscape (seen on one SFR cover) is a kaleidoscopic drawing of a village punctuated by various architectural forms, a picture she describes as having the potential to conjure a sense of community. Mace's crosses were like anchor points for Naranjo Morse, who calls her own drawn landscapes "expressions of universe and the expansiveness of the world." In the oeuvre she made for IMPRINT, drawings pull viewers toward their detailed line work and prismatic color palette. They are intimate, in that way, like small conversations in tiny, but expansive worlds. In those worlds, creatures carry their treasures and homes on their backs, as if homeward bound to fantastical communities one might find in the pages of Frog and Toad. Some of her drawings on view will likely be surrounded by shrines, comprised of materials from the Coe's collection.
Naranjo Morse, who teaches art at K'hapo Community School in Santa Clara Pueblo, describes those anthropomorphic beings as harking back to her childhood; characters that represent a sense of safety and innocence. She speaks of that innocence personally, but also in terms of her students' process of learning—how to mix color, for example. Her classroom is a space for exploration, where she's working through how to indigenize arts education and maintain a sense of wonder in making.
There is nothing forceful about her works or their message, but there is an allusion to our unsettling political moment, especially to the increase in school shootings. Drawing becomes a way of processing what continues to reoccur: a kind of violence that poses a threat to the asylum we all find in our safe spaces, including school and home. She says this as we sit beneath the heavy branches of cottonwood trees that surround her own home and studio on land that her grandfather once farmed.
5 pm Tuesday Aug. 14. Free.
Ralph T Coe Center,
1590 Pacheco St.,
Through March 2019.