Adrian Wall Explores the Soul of Rocks
Stone sculpture doesn’t much come to mind in your average conversation about Native
American arts and crafts. It’s just not a medium Native Americans traditionally have used very much, except perhaps in the carving of fetishes.
For Jemez Pueblo artist Adrian Wall and his fellow sculptors, that’s precisely the point.
“It’s a medium that is not traditional to Native American art,” Wall said. “What we bring is a new voice to traditional art.”
Wall is bringing about a dozen of his works to the Autry’s American Indian Arts Marketplace this weekend, and just as he prepared to drive the 13 hours from New Mexic0 to Los Angeles, he stopped to chat with Trading Posts.
“I’ve always been attracted to sculpture, stone in particular,” Wall said. “There’s just something about picking up a stone and carving something beautiful into it. There’s a physical and technical challenge to carving stone.”
Wall and some of his colleagues in 2000 formed the Indigenous Sculptors Society, to promote and foster what is considered a relatively new art form among tribal peoples. They meet at least once a year and are active in their communities sponsoring workshops, seminars and networking mixers.
Wall grew up in a family of artists: his little sister, Kathleen Wall, is a ceramics artist known for her storyteller figures who is also scheduled to participate in the Marketplace.
As a teenager, Wall had an opportunity to learn to carve and, he says, he never looked back.
“I’m a very hands-on person,” he said. “I like the physicality of carving.”
Like many sculptors, most famously, the Renaissance’s Michaelangelo Buonarroti, Wall believes the stone itself lets him know whether he can go ahead with a planned sculpture. He may have a form in mind, but it has to permit him to carve it.
“The stone has a mind of its own,” he said. “You might think you’re going to carve a particular image, but then the stone disagrees with you and it breaks. So you may have to change your idea or abandon it . Sometimes you see images within the stones. Other times, you have an idea and then you search for the stone that fits it.”
Wall works in marble, granite, limestone, and alabaster. Lately, he’s been inspired by the Impressionist painters of the latter part of the 19th Century, men like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, whose aim was to capture on canvas the transient moment and moving light of the day with quick brushstrokes and sketchy figures. Translating that into the permanence of stone may seem like a fool’s errand, but Wall says he focuses on surface and expression, allowing his human figures to assume unstudied gestures and letting the tool marks and texture of the stone show, rather than polishing it smooth.
“Carving is a subtractive art form,” he said. “Always, the hard part is knowing when to stop.”
Like many artists, Wall carves pieces of all sizes, including fetishes. But he says he prefers to work with monumental pieces, and he tries to focus on them as much as possible.
The family’s artistic tradition appears to be taking hold with a new generation. Wall says his ten-year-old son, Hunter, has started expressing his own vision on canvas. How does Wall feel about it?
“I really want him to pursue an education,” he says. “I want to have art be part of who he is, but not necessarily what he does for work. I want to let him know there are other things available to him.”
As a father, Wall wants to save his son from the downside of life as an artist: the financial insecurity, the lack of health benefits, the long hours. And he is practicing what he preaches: recently, Wall began working toward a bachelor’s degree in business at the American Indian Arts Institute in Santa Fe.
And yet, even with all that, Wall does get a kick out of watching his son follow his path. He says Hunter is bringing some of his canvasses to Marketplace.
“He paints pretty well,” Wall says. “He’s developed a style of his own and he knows a little bit of color theory.”