Big Brain 2012 Finalist: Thomas Greyeyes
Up today: Thomas Greyeyes
Photo by Claire Lawton, Art by Thomas Greyeyes
The artist splits his time among Tsegi, visiting family and friends; San Carlos, where he teaches art at a community college; and Phoenix, where he says he makes artwork whenever and wherever he can.
Greyeyes, 22, explains that he's filled with experiences from his two cultures -- life on "the rez" and life in Phoenix couldn't be more different. But more often, he says, members of his generation in his community have found themselves straddling the line between cultures and trying to figure out just where they fit in. And in that confusion, he says, is where the art happens.
"I've never been much of a writer," says Greyeyes. "My feelings and my arguments have always been visual."
Greyeyes grew up in Flagstaff and was politically active with a few student organizations on missions to educate one another about cultural conflict, land protection, racist pop culture stereotypes, uranium mining, and snow-making on reservation land. Traditionally, he says, Native artwork doesn't discuss these topics and doesn't stray too far from cultural icons and stories that are centuries old.
When he presents his work -- images of contemporary Native people and visual statements against political movements and leaders -- many don't understand the point.
"There are times when I feel like a black sheep," he says. "But there are so many issues that my generation deals with -- both in the city and on our land -- that I feel like I have no choice but to express them."
In November 2011, Greyeyes was arrested on charges of criminal damage after painting the word "PEAKS" in mud on buildings in Flagstaff.
His work could have easily been washed away with a hose - no damage was done to the building, he says -- but the statement against snowmaking at Arizona's Snowbowl had to be made, he says.
A month later, Greyeyes was asked to be a part of "Rezolution," an exhibition of contemporary Native art at The Hive gallery on 16th Street, organized by artist Thomas "Breeze" Marcus. The show aimed to expose the community to work outside the context of "institutionalized" Native American art.
Greyeyes says that Rezolution was an opportunity to make a statement.
Across the gallery, he hung two large paintings that faced each other in a standoff. One Greyeyes describes as a typical punk rock Native girl (the kind he always had crushes on in school) standing with an empty bow. On the other side of the gallery hung a police officer stuck with arrows next to a smaller screenprint of Sheriff Joe Arpaio riddled with the same fate.
"There's a challenge in finding where my work really fits," he says with a slow shrug. "And there are plenty of people in both of my communities who are unwilling to accept what I have to say ... But I have no choice but to get it out there."
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