The powerful yet sensitive portraits by celebrated artist David Johns are created following the artist’s strict cultural “rules” as a Diné (Navajo): David Johns never portrays an actual person, rather he draws from his imagination and strong spiritual ties with his fellow Diné.
David Johns, a spiritual leader in his tribe, has been an internationally celebrated artist for decades: A 1987 all-Indian exhibition in Helsinki, Finland brought the work of David Johns to European art collectors. Johns was then commissioned to paint the 1600 square foot domed ceiling of the Concord Place building in Phoenix, a project that consumed two years of his life; the result, an intricate portrayal of Native American history, is a breathtaking masterwork. In 1999 a one-man exhibition for David Johns opened on the French Riviera; this exhibition traveled to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland and on to Grenoble, France. His works continue to be featured in museum exhibitions such as “Six Navajo Masters” at the Booth Western Art Museum in 2019.
In the foreword to “David Johns: On the Trail of Beauty," the book produced in conjunction with the dome project, Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday writes: “David Johns is a seer, and he comes very honestly by that gift. In his remarkable artwork, he enables us to see as well. His gift becomes our gift. Here is the essential spirit of creation."
For David Johns, creation springs from a bare canvas with little preconceived ideas. Revealing the unrevealed is his process. Even color, for David Johns, becomes more than a medium to create light, form and emotion; Diné symbolism informs each choice: In Navajo culture, white, blue, yellow, and black are the four “original” colors and represent the four cardinal directions, times of day, paths of life, the four seasons, and more. For David Johns, being a Navajo, being a spiritual being, is always the core of who he is – and it is this that he strives to present on canvas.
David Johns earned a BFA from Northern Arizona University School of Fine Arts and was awarded an honorary Doctorate from that university in 1997.
I am of the Tk aashchi I Clan (maternal), Kinyaa aanii Clan (paternal), and I am a Diné – “the People.” To know the creation of my clan as told by my elders is very sacred and very personal. Just the acknowledgment of my clan is like saying a prayer. And I was brought up with very rich and strong Diné traditional and spiritual values.
My artwork captures and portrays who I am, the oral traditional Diné philosophical teachings and the beauty of the land I live. - David Johns