A Creative Alliance:
Tony Abeyta, mixed-media painting; Patricia Michaels, Native-inspired fashion and textiles. HCC Ybor Gallery (in the Performing Arts Building, Palm Avenue and 14th Street, first floor). Through Dec. 9. Mon., Wed-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues., noon-8 p.m. Free. Tony Abeyta's work can be seen at tonyabeyta.com; Patricia Michael's work can be seen at pm-pm.org.
The work of Tony Abeyta and Patricia Michaels infuses the HCC Ybor Gallery with the colors and forms of their New Mexico home. The spiritual and physical landscape of their roots — his Navajo, her Taos Pueblo — are embodied in painting and textile.
The couple both began their formal art education at Santa Fe's Institute of American Indian Arts. Their studies have subsequently taken them to Chicago, Venice, Florence and the south of France, but they have always returned to New Mexico. The couple lives in Taos, where they raise their two children and create art in Native American ways. Their extensive academic training and world travel brings contemporary and art-historical influences to their work.
Abeyta's monumental commissioned piece "Anthem" became the signature work for the opening of the Smithsonian's new Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Using multi-panels, it includes narratives of Native American stories, yet takes on modernist and contemporary forms. Abeyta's compositions have the geometry and abstraction of American modernism, bringing to mind Georgia O'Keeffe and Charles Sheeler. The HCC Ybor exhibition is a small selection of new works representing his esthetic and spiritual range and depth.
The grandly scaled Mother Earth and Father Sky are companion paintings of the primal deity figures of Navajo creation stories. Mother Earth is adorned with symbols of plant and animal growth: stalks of corn, birds and feathers. Father Sky embodies the deep blues and distant stars of the cosmos. Abeyta uses the natural colors and materials of earth and sky in all of his work. His palette includes the gold and sand tones of the earth, brick reds and turquoise blues mixed in media of sand, encaustic wax, oil and pigment.
Those to Come and Those to Come II, Abeyta's most recent paintings, are smaller, with an amorphous and mysterious spirituality. Stylized faces and figures crowd the canvases, painted in layers, striated with textured verticals. The stripes are like rain, and the simple figures have powerful and ghost-like presences.
These souls might be emerging from the Underworld or receding to another place in metaphorical evolution. The imagery refers to the ancient contours of Cycladic figures and the microscopic shapes of unicellular biology. This new imagery is less literal and all the more powerful for its breadth of reference.
Patricia Michaels' fashions look at home against the backdrop of her husband's paintings. A group of three designs are installed on mannequins in the center of the gallery. The symbolic content of Abeyta's painting becomes real in the actual feathers, leather bands and terra-cotta beads of Michaels' garments.
At her fashion show in the HCC Ybor Dance Studio last weekend, Michaels welcomed visitors in the 2000-year-old language of her Taos Pueblo people. Mournful Native American music introduced the dancers modeling her eclectic fashions, as they struggled to become comfortable in the cloth. Every piece has a core of meaning from American Indian traditions, yet the designs are truly contemporary in their casual, unstructured cuts.
Michaels wore a blouse of white silk with a hand-painted oval shape covering the center, surrounded with thick white fringe. She held up the fringe to show what she called a "Woman's Shield," a white oval with a black egg shape surrounded by black sperm swimming away from the center. In each of her designs, humor, playfulness and sexuality join a reverence for traditional Native American art.
As the dancers modeled more than a dozen of Michaels' designs, the Native American music segued into jazz and hip-hop. Most of the pieces were made of silk, many with hand-painted organic designs. Traditional beadwork, re-imagined fringe, leather laces and, of course, feathers adorn the contemporary, fashion-forward cut of her clothes. An elegantly simple standout was a fawn-colored, short evening dress with a shirred bandeau top and floaty chiffon skirt accented with feather-shaped painted gauze ties.
Imagination and fine craftsmanship are equally evident in each piece. Michaels studied art and fashion design at the Art Institute of Chicago, and apprenticed with costume and fashion designers in Venice and at the Santa Fe Opera. She learned fundamentals of traditional clothing and textile design at the Field Museum's Department of Anthropology in Chicago. The fashions on view in the gallery represent a small spectrum of the designs she produces, but are beautiful examples of her work, well worth seeing.
In their separate ways, Michaels and Abeyta marry tradition and modernity, landscape and spirit in the deep colors and contours of their New Mexico home.