First American Art Magazine No. 1, Fall 2013 - Page 18

PROFILE Diné-Xicana Painter Nanibah “Nani” Chacon Interview by Suzanne Newman Fricke was done with the owner’s approval, she painted much of it surreptitiously. Though she now wonders, “What was I doing?” when considering her exploits, as a teenager, the unusual hours and the risks were part of the work. For Nani, graffiti is a social activity done in groups with friends. She keeps up with other street artists and still has a strong appreciation for the form, and she describes that she is “still in awe of the things people create.” Though she no longer paints street art regularly, she still has street credibility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A S AN ARTIST, Nanibah “Nani” Chacon is fearless. Faced with a 100-foot-wide, 20-foot-high wall, Nani has no problem filling the large space—creating images that are as personal as they are immense, combining beautiful, archetypal women with abstract patterns based on Diné weaving. Her life, both her education and her personal experiences, has uniquely prepared her to create such large-scale work. When Nani was only 15, she began her artistic career as a graffiti artist on the street, and for almost a decade she spray-painted images on trains, billboards, and walls under the name “QPID.” In her work on the streets, Nani approached each area fresh, with no preconceptions; she painted words and designs specifically related to the site. Though she now works as a professional artist, the lessons she learned as a graffiti artist still apply. Regardless of the space, Nani considers the features of the environment rather than the size. She does not have a set of images already planned out; instead, she considers the existing buildings, vegetation, vantage point, and lighting when designing each piece. As a young street artist, she worked late at night and quickly by necessity. Though some of her work 16 | W W W.F IR S TAM E RI C AN ARTMAGAZI N E.C OM Early in her career she was mentored by Carlos “Went” Rodriguez, an established and prolific street writer and tattoo artist. Working with Rodriguez became a sort of apprenticeship for Nani, and she enjoyed learning about materials, composition, and design. Rodriguez helped to shape the local scene, and he not only taught Nani ideas about creating images but also about the history of graffiti art in the area. The graffiti art in Albuquerque has influences from both New York–and Los Angeles–based artists, to create something unique to the area. Nani’s ambitions changed when she turned 25 and became pregnant with her son Nakai. She found she no longer had the desire to go out at night but still wanted to create art. As her friends moved into graphic art and illustrations, she began drawing more and painting with oil on canvas. She decided to pursue a degree in art education at the University of New Mexico, so she could teach, though she also took many studio courses. The study of art helped Nani in her own work. She believes that when “you learn the history of a mark, the history of a stroke, and how all of these things built up through the ages ... you may not see it when you are painting it, but even in contemporary art, the history is present.” After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Chacon worked as a teacher for about six years—teaching elementary, middle, and high school students. She enjoyed her work at all levels in the classroom, but she was continually distracted by the desire to paint.