A gifted painter from a prodigiously gifted and notable family, Donn Clark is a brother of the famed jeweler, Carl Clark.
Donn’s talent lies in painting, and this exquisitely atmospheric painting is one we recently received.
Half-hidden in the dark of night, a Blue-Faced Yebeche’i dancer waits for the ceremony to begin.
Participants in one of the most solemn Navajo ceremonies, the Nightway dance, this line of blue-faced dancers are led by one with a white face.
These dancers represent benevolent spirits who are intermediaries between people on earth, and the spirits in the heavens.
Nine nights long, this ceremony is held to bring, or restore, an individual to harmony, healing his/her soul, thereby achieving serenity and balance.
Often performed for soldiers returning from war or jail, others who have left the reservation for a protracted length of time, or anyone in physical or spiritual distress, it is an immensely affecting and impressive ceremony.
Nightway dances are held in winter, at night, around a large, blazing bonfire.
The darkness and shadows, thrown out by the firelight, are as impressive as the drumming, chanting, and dancing.
The compelling emotional experience of the Nightway ceremony is beautifully captured in this mesmerizing painting.
With the virtuosity of an Old Master, the artist has brought us up close to one of the dancers, standing in the dark night away from the fire, which only highlights parts of his hair, face, and torso.
This painting technique, called “chiaroscuro” (light and dark), was practiced by Italian and Dutch masters of the 1600s. It is extremely dramatic, and here recreates the mystical, spiritual effect of the ceremony.
Notice how the artist has produced different textures: the blue mask, the figure’s hair, ruff, skin, fingers, and the feather fan he holds, are each beautifully differentiated.
Almost invisible are two other masks behind the major figure, to his left and his right. Perhaps these are other dancers in the ceremony – there are ten of them – or perhaps ghostly evocations of spirits?
Seemingly simple – a figure highlighted in part by feeble light – the visual and emotional impact of this expertly painted canvas is huge.
The painting itself is not only skillful, but beautiful, and one that pulls the eye in with serene, watchful power.
This talented Native artist seems to have channeled an Old Master!