Jason Parrish, Navajo Painter

(Artwork above: The Watch by Jason Parrish)

Jason Parrish was born into the American Southwest’s sweeping, high elevation terrain of dry land ranching that cycles through sun baked summers, dust storms of autumn and spring, along with deep cold winter nights. The People that he was born into—arrived at their lands a millennium ago, speak a language that is understood from Interior Alaska to the desert Southwest, and hold numerous ceremonies and chants that include nine day Beauty Way Ceremonies during wintertime, which are conducted primarily at night. Jason’s family are Navajo (Dine) ranchers that live beside the southern end of the Chuska Mountains, located near the New Mexico-Arizona State Line. They instilled in their kin the understanding that success follows a sustained and dedicated commitment to hard work, a particularly important trait in the lifeway of the Dine people.

Jason’s foundation and heritage, groomed for tending livestock while spending long hours in the saddle, seems to contrast with the fact that in February of 2018, his paintings were part of a show in the Grand Palais, on the Champs Elysees in Paris. The location of the exhibition, near the Arc de Triumph, seemingly spans the human experience, from parading victorious armies to elite, world renown fine art galas that have included Jason’s finely drawn paintings depicting the Dine in their finest moments of traditional Dine attire. Then again, Jason himself couldn’t have conceived being a part of this exhibition 10 years ago, a time before he had begun to paint and during his career as a branch manager in a New Mexico banking firm. That brief career path followed completing his bachelor’s degree in History at the University of New Mexico.

Jason started painting in earnest eight years ago as a meditative exercise. Being an individual of precise word choice, dress, and thought, he chose to demonstrate images of the Dine, their livestock, plants, and activities in exacting outlines, then filled these spaces with pure color tones. The scenes in his works are ultra contemporary, yet they are without abstraction or ambiguity. Critically, an argument can be made that his approach offers the next step of an artistic heritage that could be traced—to the Institute of American Indian Art College in Sante Fe, NM, before that, the Kiowa 5 painters in the early 1900’s, preceded by Ledger Art of the late 1800’s, even earlier Plains buffalo hide paintings showing winter counts in the 17th thru 19th centuries, and ultimately further back in time to petroglyphs and pictographs.

Seven years ago Jason began applying to the annual prestigious and juried Native American art shows—The Autry in Los Angeles, The Heard in Phoenix, and the penultimate Santa Fe Indian Market in mid August. Quite surprisingly for a new artist, he was not only accepted to them but also began receiving awards and recognitions. In just a few years, he became a two dimensional artist whom buyers had to have at least one piece in order to complete their collection. The recent show in Paris further extends that recognition-of-excellence arc.

Jason will be in Sisters, Oregon for the town’s 4th Friday Art Walk weekend at the end of April. His works will be on display at Raven Makes Gallery, the only gallery in the United States offering his works.

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