Red mesas inspire local Navajo landscape artist

Kee Bahe honored to have one of his paintings dealing with Navajo emergence story selected to hang at Twin Arrows

Kee Bahe’s “Between Oblivion and Chaos” hangs in the Zenith Steakhouse at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort. Katherine Locke/NHO

Kee Bahe’s “Between Oblivion and Chaos” hangs in the Zenith Steakhouse at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort. Katherine Locke/NHO

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Kee Bahe is a Navajo artist whose work is displayed at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort in one of the largest collections of Navajo art on Navajo land. His painting "Between Oblivion and Chaos" hangs in the Zenith Steakhouse and is a landscape painting that shows the beauty of the San Francisco Peaks.

Twin Arrows looked for pieces that specifically dealt with the Navajos' emergence story. The resort, casino and conference center features custom commissioned artwork throughout the premises.

Bahe said he brought two pieces and the casino decided on one.

"It was pretty exciting," Bahe said. "There's a lot of artists out on the Rez, it's like our natural resource. To be picked out of all of those artists, I think it's an honor."

He added, "I don't know if it's been verified, I heard that the collection over there is one of the largest Navajo art collections in the world, they say, and that makes it an honor for me, too."

Bahe said he had many different thoughts as he was working on the painting. Among those thoughts were ones hoping for "harmony and moderation in our practices."

"[My thoughts] went from the significance of the sacred mountains and their creation in the Navajo emergence stories to how in all the universe, life exists here," Bahe said.

Bahe worked on the painting at a spot somewhere between Leupp and Tuba City.

"I wanted the point of view for the painting to be from the reservation," Bahe said. "To ... put the viewer in my moccasins."

It took him eight days from start to finish, from stretching the canvas to finishing the painting.

In general, he said he does a lot of contemporary and southwestern paintings.

"I do a lot of landscapes on the reservation and at sacred places," Bahe said.

He grew up on the reservation in the shadows of the red mesas, north of Tolani Lake.

"I think that's where I get a lot of my inspiration for landscapes, that area I grew up in, it was quite a sight," Bahe said. "You can see for miles."

Bahe said the landscape is very peaceful and a source of endless inspiration.

"Landscape has more meaning than just a pretty scene, it's sublime," Bahe said. "If I could put into words what painting landscapes means to me, I'd be writing about it. It's hard to explain, I think it's very spiritual. I like to do landscapes."

In addition to landscapes, Bahe also paints portraits of everyday people, "the common folk," he called them. He said that sometimes people ask for certain parts of their features to be altered.

"I don't like to do that but I get that a lot," Bahe said. "It goes both ways. Some people, I think, are open minded and will accept what I paint. But deep down, we have a view of ourselves that is kind of biased. There is a lot of that. It is kinda funny but also it is interesting."

He said that the portraits take longer to paint than the landscapes.

"Sometimes portraits take longer because it depends on how long people want to sit," Bahe said. "And when they want a portrait done by a photograph, I do them that way, too."

Bahe has been an artist ever since he could draw. Professionally, it was not until he was in high school that he started making money at it, but even before that he sold a couple of pieces when he was in grade school. He said he has had other jobs but he has always gone back to art.

"I think I didn't really appreciate the business side of it and making money," Bahe said. "I didn't appreciate that until I was in high school and that is when I started selling art work."

Landscapes and portraits seem like they could keep Bahe busy, but he has branched out more than that, too.

"I do a lot of stuff artistically," he said. "I'm blessed. I do a lot of sculpting, too. And bronzing. And now I want to get back into that. I always took it for granted that I was able to do both two-dimensional and three dimensional but now I understand it is a blessing."

Bahe is working on a commission piece bronze. The person who commissioned it told Bahe what he wanted but left the artistic part up to Bahe. He said he starts with a drawing and then casts it at the foundry to make a mold.

"It's quite a process," he said. "It's a lot of fun and it keeps me occupied. I really get into that process."

He said working on bronzes is different than working with something like alabaster, which is another type of art he used to do.

"There are certain shapes and I think you have to go with what the shape the rock is [when working with alabaster], what you end up doing takes that shape," Bahe said. "But it is different for bronze. You can do a lot with it, it's very forgiving, I like that about the bronze medium."

Bahe is a member of the Flagstaff Artists Coalition.

More information about Bahe is available at keebahe@yahoo.com.

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