Coconino Community College alum and artist blends modern with traditional Navajo culture
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — In Randall Wilson’s latest artwork, the Mandalorian’s helmet is adorned with arrowheads, and he sports a Navajo seal and traditional hair bun. He wears a silver bow guard decorated with turquoise. In another piece, Yoda strikes a pose, very much in the Navajo tradition, also wearing a turquoise necklace and traditional hair bun.
Wilson’s work blends modern and traditional with the purpose of making connection across time. His goal: To teach.
“With painting, I learned emotions,” Wilson said. “All of my paintings have these types of stories.”
A Coconino Community College alum, Wilson’s work is now on display at Coconino Community College’s Comet Art Gallery at the Lone Tree campus. His work is featured with the work of other CCC students and faculty.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has closed the CCC campuses to public visitation and gatherings, the gallery still offers a bright spot of beauty for those who have business at the college.
Alan Petersen, CCC Fine Arts faculty, said the exhibition of Wilson’s paintings is part of the college’s ongoing series celebrating the work of alumni artists.
“I think it’s important to continue programs like this because there are staff, students and faculty members who are working in the Lone Tree campus,” Petersen said. “It gives them something to enjoy in the otherwise very quiet facility.”
Peterson added that there are plans to feature Wilson’s work online and on CCC Fine Arts social media.
Wilson started out wanting to be an architect, but his interest soon moved to teaching.
“I wanted to be an art teacher,” he said.
He started classes at Northern Arizona University, but then he took a turn down a dark path of self-destruction before finding himself and the art that proved to be a saving grace.
“I knew how to draw, but I didn’t know how to paint,” Wilson said, adding that galleries didn’t want drawings; they wanted paintings.
Wilson started taking classes at CCC to learn how to paint. He took the classes he needed over a three-year period.
“For me, it was a personal thing,” Wilson said, adding that his intention was to sell enough artwork to be able to go back to school and finish his studies to be an art teacher.
In the meantime, Wilson found success as an artist, and it was the learning to paint his emotions that unlocked his potential as an artist.
Modern and traditional
Now, when Wilson talks painting — basically, teaching — he begins with the strokes. Soft, feminine strokes contrast with aggressive, male strikes, and they correspond with emotions felt by the painter. From there, he weaves in Navajo culture, and he does so for the benefit of those seeking connection to remember and those who have never experienced that connection in the modern world. He hopes to integrate that cultural connection into everyday life.
Wilson talks about the “four directions” of Navajo culture and the colors and life states they represent. East (white) refers to thought, south (blue/turquoise) refers to planning, west (yellow/pollen) refers to action and north (black) refers to evaluation.
As with art, life goes through a similar process, and it is through this way of thinking that we all learn about how to navigate life, Wilson said.
First, there is the thought. Then, there is the plan, after which, an action made. Finally, we need to evaluate how well or poorly the action was executed in order to improve in the future. After the evaluation is completed, the process is repeated.
Wilson is now a member of Art of the People, an organization dedicated to bringing Native American art to a wider public, and to show Native Americans of all ages that they can aspire to become artists like him.
His said his journey has come full circle. He gets to teach.
“I can teach anybody how to paint or draw,” he says with a smile. “But I enjoy teaching that our whole (traditional) world can be translated into the modern world.”
The Comet Art Gallery at Coconino Community College will continue to rotate art on a regular basis, and Wilson’s work will be featured until mid-April. More information about the gallery exhibit is available at www.coconino.edu/art-gallery.
Larry Hendricks is the senior manager of Public Relations and Marketing at CCC.
Click Below to: