Father, sons are just the latest in a string of generations of artists
Ride” is an archival print on paper, 30”x44”, by Michael Namingha. (Courtesy of Michael Namingha)
Arlo and Michael Namingha may represent the sixth generation of artists in their family, but they’re far from stuck in the past.
The same is true of their father, Dan Namingha.
It’s no surprise, then, that the label for their three-man show celebrating 25 years of their gallery on Lincoln Avenue is labeled “New Directions.” The artists are always experimenting, always stretching the boundaries, always trying new things.
The fact that they’ve run their own gallery for a quarter-century helps give them the freedom and control to explore new avenues, rather than be shackled to the tried and true formula of what sells.
From left, Arlo, Dan and Michael Namingha are celebrating 25 years at their family gallery, Niman Fine Art. (Courtesy of Nicole Namingha)
“They take it further every time,” said Frances Namingha, Dan’s wife and Arlo and Michael’s mother, who manages the gallery with Arlo’s wife, Nicole. “Dan didn’t want to be stuck in one style.”
“Our dad always said to do what you want and take it where you want,” Michael added.
Dan had gallery representation when he decided to strike out on his own, with the family selling art from their home. But that got old fast, Frances noted, especially when collectors would come by on weekends, when the parents wanted to focus on family time with the kids.
So they found a space at 125 Lincoln Ave. in 1990 that was being vacated by a travel agency and set up the gallery in about 1,000 square feet. That now makes up the upper section of the current business, which they expanded into an adjoining space when it became available, she said.
The family’s art also travels the world in exhibitions, often in museums. “All three (artists) had an exhibition in Morocco two years ago. We all got to go,” Nicole said. “All of us traveling like that is a lot of fun. We’re real close.”
If you go
WHAT: “Celebrating 25 Years on Lincoln Avenue: New Directions”
WHO: Art by Dan, Arlo and Michael Namingha
WHERE: Niman Fine Art, 125 Lincoln Ave.
WHEN: Opening reception 5:30-7:30 p.m. today
Exhibit on display through June 12
COST: Free
The gallery’s name, Niman, is a Hopi word for “home” or “returning home,” Arlo said, adding that the gallery has become a second home for the family, who live in Santa Fe.
And the family’s surname is translated to mean a volunteer plant that doesn’t need nurturing – “I say we’re weeds,” he joked.
The gallery occasionally has shown work by the family’s friends, such as the late sculptor Alan Houser and painter Fritz Scholder. And it occasionally shows works by emerging artists, giving talented young people exposure so they may gain local gallery representation, Frances said.
Currently, though, you can see the range of work – all contemporary – that is being produced by the Namingha father and sons. Dan is Hopi and both Frances and Nicole are from Ohkay Owingeh.
“Windows and Doorways #1 (Interactive)” is carved in Indiana limestone by Arlo Namingha, 18”x7”x7”. (Courtesy of Nicole Namingha)
Different paths
Both sons expressed an early interest in architecture, but took different paths to their art.
Arlo said he started with wood-carving, producing katsinas and other realistic forms. He managed the gallery for 10 years, though, before really focusing on “creating my own art.”
“I started breaking down my ideas, playing with negative space and positive space,” he said.
He pointed to one of his bronze works in the gallery, “SandHills,” that involves four pieces, one a circle and the others somewhat like long rectangles, but with one side shaped with flowing curves. The idea behind it came when people asked what it was like returning to his tribal home after being gone for a while. He said he thought about how he changes, people pass on, kids are born – nothing stays the same.
He developed the artwork with four pieces to represent the four cardinal directions, Arlo said. Notches in one piece refer to doorways or windows, and the cylindrical piece represents the sun. And to further the notion of “how things change over time,” the pieces can be rearranged, he noted.
While he makes jewelry as well as his sculptures in wood, bronze and stone, his latest multi-piece works play with the notion that the viewer can participate in a dialogue over their form, he said. And his approach always is minimalist, Arlo added.
Michael took his artistic interests to the Parsons School of Design in New York, where he started in architecture before switching to fashion design and eventually to design management, a field that could result in work as a creative director helping a company develop products or designs, he said.
He went to work for Hermès, a luxury goods company, when his father and brother asked him if he wanted to participate in a show they were doing. “I had done some art – photography, silkscreening,” he said, adding that he had studied over the years with a number of recognized artists.
“I used to have fun with Xerox machines,” Michael added, noting that he didn’t even realize at the time there was a whole genre of art being created that way in the 1970s. He experimented with transparencies and photographing plastic bottles and toys atop light tables, creating an unusual glow in the image.
“Solstice #19” is an acrylic on canvas, 48”x48”, by Dan Namingha. (Courtesy of Nicole Namingha)
Then he began working with images integrating text and social commentary. A photograph he took of the Galisteo Basin, for example, includes a purple square blotting out a portion of the landscape, intended to suggest what might be lost, he said. That idea came when he noticed signs calling for no drilling in the Galisteo Basin or no oil in Lamy, Michael explained.
In some of his latest works, he has been exploring the patterns created when he sets an exposure on his digital camera in a dark room and moves a beam from a flashlight through its field of view.
“It reminds me of how abstract expressionists would attack the canvas,” he said. The technique loosens his sense of control, he added, noting that he doesn’t know what he has created until he checks his camera screen.
And Dan, Frances noted, started painting as a child. “He grew up with artists,” she said. He studied art in college and then joined the Marines, hoping to travel. When he returned, Frances said, he decided art would be his life.
“He will do very abstract pieces,” she said, noting that he produces sculptures as well as paintings. “He uses a lot of symbolism from the Hopi culture. A lot of his paintings tell a story.” Dan increasingly has moved toward minimalism, she added.
All three of the artists have been involved in the community, donating artworks to non-profit organizations and serving on various boards and committees.
“The great thing is these guys give back to a lot of organizations,” Nicole said. “It’s neat to be able to help.”