FLAGSTAFF — After growing up studying the artwork of his elders, 24-year-old Coconino Community College fine arts major Mondrian Chee has created the signature piece for the college’s largest annual fund-raiser Palette to Palate.
His colorful acrylic on canvas still life displays chocolate-dipped strawberries in a lime green striped dish next to wine glasses and a wine bottle on a glass table against a bright salmon backdrop.
“I tried to concentrate on the glass,” Chee said. “Everything in the painting is glass except the strawberries and the cloth napkin wrapped around the wine bottle. It took me three weeks to paint it. I wanted every inch to be perfect.”
For Chee’s classmates, everything about the painting seems to be pretty perfect. “They would tell me it was a good painting, nice and clear to look at.”
They also predicted his painting would be chosen to represent the college. Still, when he received word that his was the winner he was surprised.
“I was thrilled! This is the first time I’ve had this kind of attention,” he said.
“The reflective quality is so beautiful in that piece and I think he also captured really bold and beautiful colors,” said CCC art history instructor Catherine Petersen.
The murals on the walls of the Rough Rock community school first called out to the artist in Chee
“I kept looking at them and then I started getting into drawing,” he said.
A sixth grader at the time, Chee then learned that his grandfather, international artist Andrew Van Tsinnahinngie, had painted the murals. He remembers studying his uncle’s artwork, as well.
Chee continued to draw and paint into his high school years capturing scenes with horses, the ocean and sandstone monuments.
“My art teacher, Tony Mike, saw something in my artwork,” he said. “He was inspired by what I could do and he had high expectations. He wanted to see me do my best.”
During his senior year, Chee’s efforts paid off. His work placed first, second and fourth in a Rough Rock High School student art contest and his confidence as an artist continued to grow.
“I get a picture in my head and I just put it on paper or canvas,” he said. “It just comes out.”
Born of the Red Streak Running into Water Clan, Chee is Navajo and Zuni. Seemingly destined to be an artist, his aunt named him after early 20th century artist Piet Mondrian while she was taking college art classes.
“It is interesting that Mondrian’s painting shows a similar bold use of colors as the Dutch artist’s DeStijl style,” said Petersen. “Mondrian has talent and it shows. He can take it as far as he wants to take it.”
Mondrian plans to graduate with his associate’s degree in December. He says CCC has helped him broaden his range of creativity.
“I am hoping people will recognize my art 20 years from now,” he said.
The painting will be up for auction at Palette to Palate, 5-8 p.m., Friday, April 28 at the CCC Lone Tree Campus. Proceeds from the event will benefit fine arts students with scholarships, travel, supplies and studio equipment.
Tickets for the event that features artwork and local chefs’ creations are $25 and may be purchased from the CCC Foundation at the Lone Tree Campus and at the door on the night of the event.
For more information call 928-226-4205.
(Bonnie Stevens is Marketing and Public Relations Director at Coconino Community College.)