Interview: David-Alexander Hubbard Sloan
David-Alexander Hubbard Sloan is a Diné artist who was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sloan works in the medias of painting, printmaking, silversmithing, and silkscreening. His artwork helps him rediscover some of the Diné and indigenous culture that was repressed in the last few generations from forced assimilation to American consumer culture. He also uses his practice to express respect for nature and ecology, and to advocate for preservation. Sloan uses his creative ideas to help guide his community and to reiterate Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the environment. Sloan was featured in ARTiculations in Print: David Sloan T’ah aniiłtso Yéé’bii’ Neiikai (Endangered Species) at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native arts. He currently exhibits in local New Mexico galleries, has participated in SWAIA’s Santa Fe Indian Market for over ten years, and teaches silk-screen printing.
David Sloan will be hosting an open studio and artist’s talk at the IAIA MoCNA’s Project Lab and Artist Studio, on the 2nd floor of the museum, on Saturday, March 4, 2017, from 12:00 - 4:00pm. This presentation will focus on what motivates David to make artwork and his process for creating. See more of David’s work on his website.
L.E. Brown: Tell me about the residency you’re doing at the IAIA MoCNA.
David Sloan: This residency takes place at the museum, and runs from November, 2016 to March, 2017. It gives me a lot of time and space to focus on my work. This residency is given to local artists in the Santa Fe area and allows for an artist to work during open museum hours. Over the last 10 years, I’ve accumulated a few paintings that I’ve never been able to finish, and with this residency I was able to bring them into the space to work on completing them. Recently I’ve focused more on silkscreening and silversmithing, so it’s nice to get back into the practice of painting.
LEB: What is your background in art?
DS: I graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in two-dimensional studio arts, and a minor in environmental science, but growing up in Santa Fe is really how I got into art. I was always surrounded by it. After college, I came back to Santa Fe, and didn’t know the logistics of how to hang a painting or the practical marketing side of selling art. About 10 years ago, an old family friend, Michael McCabe, invited me to the printing shop where he worked and started teaching me about printmaking. I decided to take a few classes at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and Santa Fe Community College, where I learned more printmaking techniques. It was an important discovery as it helped me create art at a price most people could afford, compared to how expensive paintings can be. Printmaking requires a whole realm of techniques, such as copper plate etching, dry etching, cyanotype, monoprinting, different kinds of transfers, and different exposure techniques. Eventually I got into combining them in different ways to produce a single print. For example, in my Endangered Species series, I used gum arabic paper litho technique to transfer images, and silkscreened on top of that. Each piece was completely unique and individual, with layers of different backgrounds and different colors and animals.
LEB: What would you say is the difference between your process of creating a print versus a painting?
DS: For me, painting takes much longer. Depending on how much detail a painting has and what size brush I’m using, it can take over 40 hours to complete, which can be drawn out over years. I think printing is a quicker process because it’s more accepting of mistakes and there’s a looser flow of inks and composition. It takes time to conceptualize something and figure out techniques, but when you go into the studio you can finish a print in a couple hours. I usually make smaller prints than I do paintings. You have more room to experiment with printing because the process isn’t as intensive or time-consuming as painting. With printing, you’re able to draw an image and use transfer techniques to recreate it, rather than having to spend the time to recreate that image over and over. But, of course, you can put time into a print too.
LEB: What is your first step when creating a new piece of work, either a print or painting?
DS: When I begin a new piece of work, I'll usually have an idea of what I want to make. I have a library of images in my mind. When I'm doing a drawing for silk screening, I try to make it as detailed as possible. The whole silkscreening process takes so much time and effort that you have to be totally happy with the drawing or it’s not worth making. With painting, I haven't started too many new pieces lately because I realized that I'm bad at finishing them. I decided about a year ago that I needed to finish what I had already started before making new work. I've had big paintings sitting around for 8 years, but in that time I've figured out what I want to add to complete them.
LEB: How do you think your identity as a Native American artist plays into your work?
DS: Now that I’m an adult, I’m realizing more and more what it meant to have grown up as a Native American in an urban setting, very assimilated. When I was young, I never thought about making a particular style of art. I was influenced by European-style painting because that’s what I learned in school. Now we’re able to learn about artists like Fritz Scholder and Rick Bartow—information that wasn’t so available when I was growing up. Since Santa Fe is a big market for Native arts, I realized that I might be able to fit into that market by creating work that looked “Native” or by using Native “themes.” Growing up, I’d go to pueblo dances but I didn’t know much about my Diné culture. Making art helps me learn about being Diné. In my art, I incorporate a language aspect by drawing an object or animal, then writing its name in Navajo. It’s mimicking Loteria Cards and language flash cards, and was influenced by seeing work by Native American artists like America Meredith and Bob Haozous. It was really incredible to do, it was like: here’s how you relearn what has been lost, here’s how you can learn Diné Bizaad (Navajo language). I took the idea and ran with it.
LEB: Would you say that juxtaposition between what people see as traditionally Native art forms and contemporary culture play a big role in your art?
DS: Yeah, I think so. There’s a big movement for using art as a revitalization of culture, and a way to learn about your history. This is where I draw a big influence from street art, which often focuses on expressing one’s culture and ideas, and opposing the main dominant narrative. I think some of the most successful Native artists, like Cannupa Hanska Lager and Jason Garcia, do a great job of combining traditional styles and contemporary designs like pop art.
LEB: What artists are you inspired by?
DS: I was fortunate enough to have a dad who loved dragging the family around to museums when we were on vacation around the U.S., so I've seen a lot of art. Going to museums and seeing some of the most popular "famous" artists—Dali, Picasso, Caravaggio, Bosch, Da Vinci—was very influential. One thing I don't think art majors like myself get enough credit for is taking art history classes and seeing a lot of art projected in lectures. As for current artists, I'm always inspired by the teachers I’ve learned from, and other Native artists with similar messages to my own. These include Michael McCabe, Bob Haozous, Jason Garcia, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Frank Buffalo Hyde, America Meredith, Mica Wesley, Melissa Cody, Mike Two Bulls, Marty Two Bulls Jr., Jamison Chas Banks, Eliza Naranjo Morse, Jolene Yazzie, Patricia Pearce, Melanie Yazzie, Shonto Begay, Dan Lujan, and more. I'd say the two contemporary painters that I admire most are Alexis Rockman and Stephen Bush. Both of their painting techniques are top notch.
LEB: Why do you often focus on natural subject matter in your work, like plants and animals?
DS: I've always been inspired by nature. I minored in environmental science and had a great education in ecology, both here in New Mexico and in Australia. Scuba diving on the great barrier reef definitely influenced me to portray the wonder of aquatic life. I think everybody is concerned with the environment. Nobody wants to hurt the environment, but through our everyday actions, we are complicit in its destruction. Education, as well as countless hours of PBS documentaries, have given me the visual influence that drives me to create scenes to capture some of the color, wonder, and beauty that exists in the world.
LEB: What are some projects you’re looking forward to working on in the future?
DS: Currently I’m really enjoying this residency. I have more time and space to work. I’m printing a new shirt design with Jamison Chase Banks as well. It’s a design I’ve been thinking about for a while. It plays with ideas that Native people are seen as stereotypes, as something that can’t be controlled like a wild animal, to be tamed. It’s a play off how alcohol isn’t allowed on the reservation, but how that’s not the root of the problem; Native Americans are chastised for drinking, but resources should be available to help create sustainable living situations, focus on treatment rather than imprisoning people, build better infrastructure, and create better education resources. This shirt shows how Native Americans are treated as the other, so in this design, Native American characters are standing right next to fictional characters from Star Wars and Disney movies.✶