An internationally recognized painter, sculptor and mixed-media artist, Santa Fe-based artist Gregory Lomayesva is a master of many mediums. Born of Hispanic and Hopi roots, his whimsical pieces have a wonderful folk art flare that weave together the colors, motifs, and stories reminiscent of his rich cultural heritage. We had the unique chance to chat with Gregory to get a behind-the-scenes peek at his world. Get the inside scoop below.
When did your love for art begin?
I have always been creative. As a child, I would paint, make my own toys… I was always making things. I started working at a gallery at about 16, where I was formally introduced to the paintings of O’Keeffe, Pollock, and assorted masters. I was in packing and shipping, so I would spend hours alone with these amazing paintings. I think this is where I fell in love with painting and contemporary art.
Growing up, your father was a Hopi wood carver and jewelry designer, and your mother a Hispanic santo carver. How did their careers as artists play a role in your own artistic development?
As any child would, you take these things for granted. However, mom showed me how to carve, or rather, not kill myself with the carving knife. Dad studied art at the Institute of American Indian Arts with all the greats—Charles Loloma, Fritz Scholder, etc.—some of the pillars of contemporary Native art. One of the most important things that my parents instilled in me was the concept that art is a valid career path, or rather, a means to an end.
Can you describe the style of traditional Hopi art? What are some common themes/motifs, and what, aesthetically speaking, sets this artwork apart from that of tribes in other parts of the United States?
I was raised off the reservation and integrated into western culture as a child. I look to my heritage from the outside in. I think it is my art that brought me closer to trying to understand my own bloodline.
Hopi has very specific style to the culture and the artwork. Many of the symbols and designs represent nature and necessity—corn, water, rain, earth, etc.—the things we need to live in such a hostile environment.
What was it like growing up in Santa Fe? How has the city changed since you were a child, and what about it compelled you to stay rooted there through the years?
Growing up in Santa Fe was cool. My grandparents here were tinsmiths. I think it was peaceful here. Though, I did split to Los Angeles for a few years when I was 17. There I worked for Earl McGrath. Earl was the manager of the Rolling Stones and owned a gallery. This was where my final training happened—Earl showed me Warhol and Cy Twombly.
After a few years there, I returned to Santa Fe broke, and lived in my old room at moms. I made a bunch of art, and one day, mom drove me to a gallery and kicked me out of the car. I sold my first piece of art at 21, and that’s when an amazingly wild ride began—gallery shows, museum shows, the works! I stayed in Santa Fe because here you actually have time and space to think up that opus–something I found that a busy city doesn’t provide.
What are some of your favorite places in and around Santa Fe to go to for inspiration?
One of the places I find inspiration is the O’Keeffe museum, but since I wake up at 3 in the morning, I tend to just drive around town while sipping coffee and waking up—the town is beautiful at that time. It’s like my own personal version of ‘I Am Legend’.
Your paintings and carvings all have similar folk art-style motifs that weave them together. Is each piece intended to convey a common story or message?
The origin of my Indian style work was rather nefarious. As a broke teenager with no job, I was planning to forge antique versions of Hopi carvings I saw in a Sothebys catalog—I mean I was Hopi, so hey! It turned out the first forgeries I did looked amazing and unique—almost too good. I ended up signing them with my name and they were the first pieces of art that started my career.
The paintings on the other hand, if they are Indian, I try to blend Hopi symbology with contemporary concepts. If not Indian, I just paint what my heart feels…sometimes pain, love, loss, abandonment—the good stuff.
Molten parrot feathers are used widely throughout your work. What do these feathers symbolize and what inspired you to include them in your pieces?
The Hopi use feathers in a lot of dances and ceremonies. I am also very inspired by Zuni-style animal carvings. A lot of early Hopi carvings didn’t have a lot of feathers, but I adore feathers and just explode each piece with them—it’s rather my thing.
I read that you’re also an accomplished music producer. Do you draw influence from the Electropop scene when creating your pieces?
I love music! I write music—mainly for myself, sometimes engineer for other people. I now design vacuum tube recording equipment for rock stars, as well as garage bands. I, of course, bow to the greats of electronic music, namely Kraftwerk.
What do you want people to take away from your art? How does that play into your creative process?
I’m not sure. I do art because sometimes no words can express how a person feels—often it’s the only safe place to say the words or feelings we hide or yearn for. I would hope someone would look at my artwork and feel inspired or moved by their own interpretation. I guess my paintings are just blank canvases for someone to project their interpretation onto—sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes it’s dark.
What’s your next big project?
Currently I am designing a series of artwork for the Smithsonian shops in D.C. and New York. It’s a series of Hopi-style dolls, masks, and animals carved out of wood and adorned with feathers. These pieces express my Native American side, and are more representational of traditional Hopi folk art imagery and motifs. I’m also working on a series of 3- to 5-ft. silver gelatin photographs for a contemporary gallery here in Santa Fe. I love large-scale photos developed with traditional methods, versus digital. It should be a very moving show.