Murality Play

Steven Yazzie creates a media circus

"I was nervous as fuck," he says, laughing. "There was like five of us that did it. I was up there shaking behind the podium. And all the guys that went before me are all well-schooled on how to talk about all the cool shit. So I had a couple of beers in me. I was like, whatever. I know I can paint."

After high school, Yazzie became a Marine just in time for the Gulf War. He spent eight crusty Saudi Arabian months surrounded only by men. He lasted a stretch of 64 days without a shower. One thing the Gulf debacle taught him was that war invariably breeds a rash craving for pornography. And the fact that Saudi was porn-free provided Yazzie an opportunity that would change his life.

"It was the Marines that pushed me into drawing," Yazzie says. "That's where I started working on the anatomy and human figures. Pornography is illegal there [in Saudi Arabia], so I started drawing it in the field for all the dudes. I'm like, 'Whaddya want?' Then someone would say something obvious and stupid like, 'I want a blond with big tits.' That's when I started drawing."

After his Middle East porn crises, Yazzie beat skins back in Phoenix in a punk group. Around '94, at the whiskey-soaked urging of artist Robert Anderson, Yazzie picked up the brush and pulled up residence in the infamous downtown art space called The House. Three ensuing moves to Portland, San Francisco and New Orleans later, Yazzie now runs and lives at The House.

Usually curated by a revolving cast of arty scenesters, The House was founded by Anderson six years ago as a way to ease the problem of dwindling resources and offer cheap art space for local artists. And a way, at least, to keep downtown Phoenix inhabited with a bit of color to counter its dull drop into Stepford land. Anderson now lives in Taos and owns a gallery.

Built in 1920, The House itself is as glorious as it is dilapidated, surfaced with all the color appropriate of a place home to at least six functioning art spaces. And the wry, red brick and old wood Victorian just smirks at night--resolute in colored lights against nearby smoked glass high-rises--as the neighborhood around her is slowly bulldozed.

And yet tonight Yazzie will spend hours putting detail on guys like the shit catcher, or the clown with the Mohawk carrying the big fish, or the man face in the elephant neck. And Tom Waits, too, sounding equally good at that volume.

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