Following the uncertainty of 2020, The HeArt Box owner Jill Sans wanted to welcome in a new dawn.
Dawn | A Reflective Exhibition, currently on display at the downtown art gallery, features five canvases by five artists displaying their different interpretations of creation, how to move forward from the darkness into the light.
“It’s a concept I came up with at the very end of last year,” Sans explained.“I reached out to specific artists, gave them a few questions, the ones that are in the show description, and that was that.”
“When we have been stripped down, standing bare, after the loss; where do you go from there?” the exhibit’s description asks. “The ignition of the fire within, from deep within our bellies. The hope in our hearts to dream again. After the fog has cleared, the sharp clarity of a sunny day. What will you birth when asked to create? What is the story your hands will tell?”
Sans, along with Jerrell Singer, Shonto Begay, Jacques Cazaubon Seronde and Jihan Gearon, worked on answering these questions through imagery over the course of a month, each artist’s creative process largely kept to themselves until the completed canvases were brought back to the HeArt Box.
“I just knew right off the bat who I wanted to have [in the exhibit] because of the way they paint, the stories that they tell in the art,” Sans said.
She encourages those who are able to visit the show in person to fully experience the stories conveyed.
Singer’s “Navajo Morning” is an expressive display of the artist’s signature pink, blue and purple hues, a golden sun partially obscured by clouds.
“Each sun rising is a new day to make something meaningful happen,” he said of his inspiration behind the piece. “It is important to be thankful for all the gifts that you can distribute every day.”
For Sans’ contribution to Dawn, she wanted to veer away from her meticulously planned mandala paintings that adorn several corners of the gallery.
“It’s so different,” she said with a laugh. “At one point I felt very vulnerable and raw, [and wondered], ‘Do I want to share this?’”
The finished piece, titled “The Light Within,” used the movement of watered-down, dark red paint for the background with Sans using the shapes created to find the image, allowing it to flow through her rather than being manipulated to her whims.
“Last year a lot of us were on hold and for me it was kind of like, ‘Well, what do I want to make? Everything just feels so different, I’m not sure I can keep making the same things,’” Sans said. “So this piece was about me just making something totally new, just allowing it to unfold, going with the flow, and in that flow we might be exposed to something that we’re not familiar with, but we have to allow whatever it is to come through.”
Similarly, Diné and Black artist Gearon said she has practiced trusting her intuition more when it comes to the creation process and how she moves within the world.
A leader in Indigenous environment justice and recipient of the NDN Changemaker Fellowship, Gearon said she was grateful for the opportunity to step down from her longtime role as executive director of Black Mesa Water Coalition and focus more on her art—which had consistently been pushed to the sidelines—by enrolling in an online art class.
“Running a nonprofit takes up a lot of your time,” she said with a laugh. “I feel like I may have had [artistic] talent but I had no skills or training and I was just getting frustrated.”
She ended up incorporating the techniques she learned in the class into her finished painting, “Let it Burn,” featuring the tree of life in a call to remember our place in the universe.
“A lot of my year was also about my transition out of Black Mesa Water Coalition and that world of organizing,” Gearon said. “Not to say that I don’t believe in those missions and values, I will continue organizing, it was just to such an unhealthy level. I was living capitalist qualities of productivity, raising money, working the majority of my days.”
The stress caught up to her when she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2017 and realized she had been ignoring her body trying to tell her something was wrong.
“This year was really about undoing that, undoing those negative patterns, connecting with my spiritual self, the unseen world, and trusting my intuition and being able to relax and trust and just have faith in what’s coming next,” she explained. “A big part of that is art.”
Gearon spent time in nature, meditating on any roadblocks she encountered during the creative process to receive answers that may have seemed outlandish—such as using aqua to color the trunk of the tree—but ended up being some of her favorite aspects of the painting.
Seronde’s contribution to Dawn is an oil and spray paint dreamscape titled “Filling Our Cups with Desert Shadows.”
“So often the most honest work comes from a place of not forcing it,” he said. “I’m not able to set out with an idea and go along line by line, block by block; I have to approach it openly and it felt good to do this piece. A lot of times making art can be a long drawn out endless pursuit so it was nice to have structure to it. [Jill] gave us the canvas and the prompt of dawn, and that idea was sort of in the back of my mind, not quite part of the effort going in, but it ended up working perfectly.”
The Flagstaff-born artist began with simply putting marks on the canvas to create texture before delving into emotions to be conveyed, a datura, storm clouds and the hint of a face on the horizon revealing themselves to him almost as an afterthought.
“My approach has always been about I need to paint because it makes me feel good, it makes me feel rewarded and fulfilled, and we need that in times of pandemic and not,” Seronde said. “We always make time for what we need to do.
“It’s so cool to see what people do with the same amount of time and same canvas,” he added. “There’s definitely a feeling of the Southwest throughout all of them, goes to show how pervasive our landscape is in our artwork.”
Another familiar name is that of Diné painter, illustrator, author and educator Begay. Each stroke of paint that makes up his “Morning Spirits Emerging” is a prayer, figures in shades of pastel bursting from the depths of a deep canyon.
“It is with words and gestures of gratitude and protection, we call the morning spirits of the young gods. It is upon the grace of their benevolence that we petition the spirits. In the stream of the corn pollen, we manifest their beings into our internal universe,” Begay wrote in his artist statement. “It is always a new dawn of hope.”
Continuing the exhibit’s theme of new beginnings and birth, 10% of sales from this show will go toward Changing Woman Initiative, a nonprofit out of Santa Fe working to raise awareness of Native American maternal health and the lack of Indigenous representation in midwifery.