“He Calls for Them to Gather”

Bennie Nelson (Yellowman)



An award-winning painter whose career spans 50 years, this Navajo artist and activist is known for expressive use of color and attention to detail.

High drama defines the style of his well-known, powerful paintings of Plains Indian life.

Here, the bold palette is muted, though no less dramatic, and the subject is Navajo.

With complete mastery of his medium, the artist depicts two dancers portraying Yebecheis, Navajo spirits.

They dance at night, during the winter, in the sacred Nightway ceremony.

In this energetic yet mysterious painting, the figures are portrayed in wonderful, naturalistic detail.

Physiques, jewelry, hair, feathers, every sprig on the evergreen ruffs, even the painted designs on their bodies, each is rendered with its own texture, and is utterly realistic.

Yet, the air of spirituality and non-realism is pervasive, partly derived from the ghostly, twilit0 palette of purples, blue-grey, and white.

The reds and yellow of the masks and kilts are subdued, as they would be in failing light.

The dancers are calling to others; invoking the spirits for this healing ceremony.

At consummate ease with his materials and the subject, Yellowman has created a major work that has all the drama and power of his brighter-hued pieces, with even more spiritual content.

Every time you look at this painting, you will see more in it.


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