Our gallery has represented the work of gifted sculptor Lance Yazzie since he was sixteen years old and still in high school. He’d begun carving traditional fetish designs at thirteen and by sixteen had advanced to “table fetishes” – stone sculptures up to 20” long. These would become sleeker with surfaces remarkably refined, carved from stones such as orange alabaster, marble or limestone. While still a teenager Yazzie’s work was featured in Arizona Highways magazine and, since 1997 he has won awards for his sculptures including at the Museum of Western Colorado, Phippen Museum, 1st place in Sculpture at the Santa Fe Indian Market, the Museum of Northern Arizona and Best in Class at the annual Heard Museum Indian Fair and Market.
Clearly growing up with the influence of his award-winning father, sculptor Larry Yazzie, allowed him to recognize at an early age that stone sculpting could provide a means of expressing himself. It also afforded him the perspective that it would take devotion and a great deal of hard work. “The relationship that I have with my father has helped me to try to do the best work that I can and maintain a high standard of quality,” Yazzie explains. “Sculpture has become my way of life.”
In 2005 Yazzie had his first installation – a 6’ limestone sculpture installed in the courtyard of the New Mexico Education Board in Santa Fe. The piece, a Hopi maiden with child, shows the artist’s early contemporary influences as well as his traditional style.
Yazzie’s evolution as a fine artist has seen him not only refining the traditional forms of his Navajo (Diné) culture but also creating contemporary pieces with a modern art feel. These more abstracted styles allow for the reflection of a very personal and cultural sensibility to come through; a sensibility that goes directly to the soul of what Yazzie wishes to express. “The symbolism is not only meaningful to Native people but to all of us. I try to leave it open so people can find their own meaning. … When I use negative space in my sculptures, I feel like it allows room for the viewer to get inside the piece,” he explains. “My goals are to reflect society, culture, growth, spirituality and enlightenment. All of those through stone.”
Recent years have seen Yazzie bring more textures, images and symbolism to his contemporary pieces. Concepts explored include re-interpreting into three dimensions designs that originated in traditional Dinè rug patterns or cliff-side pictographs. Negative space could become a cloud or lightning; carved limestone may become the mountain before it. Or, its mere suggestion.
“I enjoy the challenge of trying new forms,” Yazzie says, “[although] through current experiences and past lessons, I am only now beginning to create my true artistic goals. This really is an exciting time for me artistically.” Working on his own, with music blasting, and multiple pieces going at once, Yazzie can take two weeks to two months and sometimes years to complete a piece. And he always ends up going above and beyond with his efforts. “I learned that from my dad . . . he taught me that it is like a gift you send with your work. … I humbly offer my sculpture. Trying to create a modern design from an ancient idea is what I strive for.”
The sculpture of Lance Yazzie has appeared in “Enduring Traditions: Art of the Navajo” by Jerry & Lois Jacka, 1994.