Thoughts About The Kachina Series

Walter Gabrielson Painter

For a long time my work has focussed on the inner machinations within the human condition: emotions, relationships, foibles, experiences, the lot. I have mostly drawn and painted them representationally, and it has worked well for me. But now, I am at a place where I want to expand that world, to move to a territory that looks at this territory in a more symbolic, perhaps surreal manner. At least where in perceiving the image one is not caught up in whether the characters are "real" enough or the anatomy is correct, etc. I want to create a world of implications and ideas as well as depicting "reality. So I have decided to adapt some imagery from the Southwest Indian tribes and other primitive people as a starting place and see where it goes.

Adapting someone else's images for your own purposes solves one issue but creates others. We now live in an age of "multiculturalism" (hate these academic sounding definitions) whether we like it or not. Right now, today, any and all images that humans have created in all time are available to us, allowing us to cross-polinate, find new meanings, create other potentials. It is a startling and almost overpowering world.

There is nothing new in the use of previous cultures to provide inspiration for newer ones. In music, the primitive dances and strains of gypsy music have been melded into European classical works. Our own inventions of the blues, jazz, and R & R are appropriated and reinvented all over the world. Paul Simon used African musicians and riffs in his "Graceland" album, Aaron Copland has acknowleged his use of primitive themes, etc. etc.

In Art, Picasso painted from African sculptural deities in his "Demoiselles d"Avignon", and his and others subsequent investigation of cubism resulted. Impressionists used flat color ideas from Japanese woodblock prints, Renissance painters borrowed from, and were inspired by the paintings of Greek gods, etc. In our new super-information age, we are awash, drowning in images, ideas and concepts from all cultures . Just about any image or icon is in the public domain, whether we like it or not.

The Hopi Kachinas are a rich lode of rituals and beliefs that the tribe uses to portray physically their concept of life, the other-world, harvest time, water and so forth. The dolls, or "tihu" also represent birds, animals, foods; some three to four hundred images make up the basic dictionary. Originally the dolls were made to pass on the belief system to their children and define their culture, now they are largely carved for profit as much as ritual. Kachinas are not considered worshipful gods, but friends or partners who are interested in Hopi welfare. Tribal members dress as Kachinas for dances during the year in order to give happiness, good health and long life to the participants. The Suni tribe has kachinas, the navajo carve many of these dolls for profit.

I have been fascinated with these images for some time. I first used them in a sculptural piece in l987. Lately I have been taking bits and pieces from various kachinas to make up my own dramas and commentary. My feeling about using these sources is to appropriate them with respect, not to denigrate them but to allow them to inspire me to another level. I began the series doing more traditional kachinas, now I find myself moving past the specific to a form I am inventing along the way. Art is always evolutionary, always changing, borrowing, building and expanding on ideas that have come forth.

We stand on the shoulders of the past and other cultures as well as our own imaginations as we seek to create. That is the beauty and the challenge of creativity.