For 20 years, Melanie Yazzie has been mastering the art of printmaking. At first glance, "simple" may seem the word to best describe her newest exhibit of monotypes: Homeland: The Familiar & The Foreign, at the Smokebrush Gallery. On further investigation, though, "complex" turns into the key descriptor. This isn't your everyday printmaking.
"Many people in the general public don't know about the art of fine printmaking," Yazzie says. "It's different forms ... they assume that it's a copy from a Xerox machine."
Far from it. Her monotypes are "almost like paintings painted onto Plexiglas and then transferred to high-grade paper," she says. Pieces feature layers of textures and patterns within figures — more of symbols — that are shaped in the style of plants, animals and feminine outlines, which stem from her Navajo childhood memories and recent travel experiences.
While the figures have colorful energy flowing through them, the vast white, negative space in many works reminds Yazzie of the quiet that surrounded her childhood on a reservation without traffic or electricity.
"It was almost like a white noise, you would hear a fly or, every now and then, some crows, but it was just a really, really quiet space."
Among other themes, femininity runs strong in her work. "[The Navajo] is a matrilineal society," she says, "but within my own experience, I've been using female imagery [as] an alter ego of myself."
That alter ego comes in handy when Yazzie needs a release to "put me in a good place, to be able to mentally and physically deal with all of the different health issues that I've had in my life."
According to Yazzie, who currently teaches art at the University of Colorado at Boulder and showcases her work internationally, "art brings a certain type of peacefulness and harmony to each artist even if they are making a piece that is very controversial or dealing with a difficult issue — it's getting that energy out of the artist and putting it out into the world."