On the art blogs circuit, Chip Thomas has been gaining popularity as a street artist for his stunning large scale wheat paste installations on the Navajo Nation in the Arizona and New Mexico deserts. Thomas pastes up portraits of Navajo folks cropped from photos he’s taken in the course of the 23 years he’s lived in northern Arizona. His installations include images of a young woman grinning at herself on the opposite end of a brick building, the cropped portrait of a rodeo pasted onto a rodeo announcer’s stand, dignified elders guarding rusted water towers. The wheat paste installations, which he’s scattered across Arizona and New Mexico, are a tribute to the basic humanity of the Navajo, temporary monuments to everyday people.
Thomas has been doing it since 2009 after being inspired by the work of the famous French street artist JR. But Thomas wasn’t always a street artist. He came to the Navajo Nation in 1987 to work as a physician on the reservation in northern Arizona. Thomas said that it was through many home visits over the years tending to the medical needs of Navajo on the reservation that he really got to know the community.
“Wheat pasting gives me the opportunity to work and share with people on the reservation in a way that I never have,” Thomas, who also goes by the name Jetsonorama, told the Paradise Valley Community College student publication Lynx Magazine. “Putting up a new piece is a chance to give back to the community.”
In an interview with finite foto, Thomas is refreshingly candid about what it means to be an a non-Navajo artist documenting and sharing Navajo life. “There’s an expression within the Navajo culture that unless you’ve been around for a couple years, people don’t take you into their trust,” Thomas said. “I think my actions over time and commitment to the community have helped me overcome being an outsider. Yet, make no mistake about it. I’m still and always will be an outsider.”
On Thomas’ blog he calls his wheat paste installations his “love letters to the Navajo Nation.” Read more about Thomas’ work at his blog, speakingloudandsayingnothing.
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All images via speakingloudandsayingnothing.blogspot.com.