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Global Track is our bi-weekly street art column by Rhiannon Platt .
Nike Air Max Humara Black Friday US, Street artist Jetsonorama , aka Chip Thomas, has a deep passion for local communities. During the fist edition of the street art festival Open Walls Baltimore , he spent hours everyday photographing Tony, a local who cared for pigeons. After selecting the right image, Jetsonorama pasted Tony several stories tall for his mural, stopping occasionally to greet people who recognized the figure.
In the past, Jetsonorama was a member of Operation Crossroads Africa (which inspired the Peace Corps). He did medical work in Liberia and became the first person of African descent to bike from the northern to southernmost points on the African Continent. After that, he moved to the Navajo Nation as part of his medical service. Later in life, he discovered street art, and in 2012, he began the "Painted Desert Project," a project that invites international artists to a Navajo Reservation in Arizona to paint roadside vendors' stands. The murals have attracted tourists traveling to the Grand Canyon, boosting business for the roadside vendors.
Nike Air Max Humara Black Friday US Jetsonorama spoke with us about how his past played a role in the formation of the " Painted Desert Project," which is currently in its third year.
Global Track Interview: Jetsonorama Brings Color to the Navajo Nation With His "Painted Desert Project"
The artists I invite to participate in the "Painted Desert Project" are soulful idealists changing the world.
Nike Air Max Humara Black Friday US How did you begin working on the Reservation?
What sparked your interest in using street art to discuss First Nations’ politics?
Additionally, I’m a community responsive family practice physician who is concerned about the health of the individual as well as the wellbeing of the community. After wheatpasting photographs of people from the community for a couple years, it occurred to me that I have the skill set to amplify voices within my community. I identified grassroots organizations advocating for positive change and offered my skills.
Nike Air Max Humara Black Friday US Jetsonorama
How is the "Painted Desert Project" an outgrowth of these interests?
As beautiful as this land is, many people on the reservation are plagued with high unemployment rates (approximately 50 percent), high rates of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and high rates of teen suicide. One of the ideas I wanted to explore with the art project was how it could be used to build community and influence a more positive sense of self.
I had some insight into the positive direction in which things might go when Gaia came as one of the first participants of the project in 2012. He painted murals on four sides of a roadside café called the Bluebird Diner. Although I’d seen the owner of the café as a patient, I’d never socialized with her in any capacity. Upon completing five days of work on her walls, we had a big dinner with all of the visiting artists, the restaurant owner, and her family at my house.
A similar, next level community building process is happening now with the return of Nick Mann , aka Doodles. Nick really represents the heart and soul of the "Painted Desert Project." He wasn’t included in the first group of artists I invited out in 2012, but he heard about the project from Overunder and called asking if I’d consider letting him participate. We talked at length, and he said some things I’ll never forget. Because of his experience with large mural festivals, he perceived the future of street art projects to be small and community-centric. He appreciated that I was pairing artists with people from the community for an immersive experience.
Nick went on to paint a beautiful series of panels on a food vendor’s stand at a weekly flea market near my house. After about 15 months, the food stand burned down. He and I were talking about a year ago, and I told him I thought it’d be super badass if he came back to rebuild the food stand and paint it again. Not only are he and Monica Canilao rocking an awesome new stand, but the vendor’s family members have been coming over to my house this week with their kids to assist in the construction of the stand. It’s a coming together with members of the community like I hadn’t anticipated. What’s more, Mrs. Woody, the food stand vendor, has brought us food as well.
Monica Canilao, Nick Mann, and Jetsonorama
Monica Canilao with Mrs. Woody’s son and his family working on one of the walls of the food stand
I’d like to think that art has the ability to break walls down and bring people together.
What influences the artists that you invite to the project?
Apart from that, I’m drawn to strong line work, especially if it’s rendered in black and white. This is what initially drew me to Swoon and Chris Stain , artists I invited in 2011 but who couldn’t make it out. But Alexis Diaz , aka 2501, came out here and killed it.
I’m also drawn to the magical realism found in work by people like Labrona (who will also be returning for a second time this summer), LNY , Troy Lovegates , and Jaz . I like the simplicity, soft pastels, and politics of people like Hyuro and Escif . In short, the artists I invite to participate in the "Painted Desert Project" are soulful idealists changing the world.
How have these ideas developed over time?
Nick Mann and Monica Canilao
After wheatpasting photographs of people from the community for a couple years, it occurred to me that I have the skill set to amplify voices within my community.
Currently Monica Canilao and Nick Mann are painting for the project. What ideas will they be exploring? How do these underscore the ideas behind the "Painted Desert Project"?
How have the participating artists changed the Reservation, and what influence has it had upon them?
In terms of the impact the project has on the artists, I think Alexis Diaz said it best. He didn’t know what to expect when he came last summer and really wanted to come to spend time with his buddy, Ever . He, like all the artists here, worked on structures at human scale, frequently not requiring a ladder and certainly not a lift. His experience here forced him to think in a smaller scale and differently because I asked that he not come with a stock image but to reflect upon what he was seeing and experiencing and create something new. When I spent a month with him in Australia in April, he shared that this experience helped him be more spontaneous in approaching projects. Incidentally, one of the two pieces he created here is his most liked image on Instagram.
Who else will be participating this round?
Monica Canilao and Jetsonorama, created for Nicholas Lampert of Justseeds