An award-winning painter, Navajo artist David K. John also creates exceptional masks that combine the traditional symbols of his culture in a contemporary way. Using clay, natural feathers and paint, he portrays a Yei (Navajo spirit) in a new, three-dimensional, way.
The warm red-ocher of the clay base is coated with a sparkling mica-laced clay slip. The artist uses this as his canvas, painting water symbols and misty areas of blue, gold, white and red in a compelling composition that unites allusions to sun, water, sky and land, as well as day and night – a perfect harmony, both visual and symbolic.
The “hood” over the face is painted in a dark blue that resembles the night sky. The reds represent the land; the golds and oranges, the sun. Front and center are a quartet of dragonfly signs, with zig-zag lines on either side, denoting waterways. The square spiral at bottom is also a water sign, as is the pale yellow stepped line that surrounds one eye. The dragonflies hover over a textured, pale area that is stepped on one side, another sign of rain. The other eye is framed in a turquoise rectangle, suggesting sky, as well as water. The natural feathers, pheasant and parrot, symbolize prayers for a balance of water and sun, which will result in healthy crops and animals.
Beautiful colors, adroitly painted and composed, make this mask visually striking. Traditional symbols of good luck imply happiness and prosperity, so the design is more than just good to look at. This mask will liven up an arrangement of wall art, or look just as intriguing on its own.