‘Finding Home’ through oil painting


Second part of shared exhibit at ART123

The Sun ran a story on a shared exhibit at the ART123 gallery in its Oct. 16 issue. After learning about one medium and subject in one exhibit, the gallery chose to inform visitors of more techniques through the second part of that exhibit, entitled Finding Home.

In Finding Home, painter Dana Aldis captures the Gallup landscape and the various textures, characters and charm she has found there. Aldis has been exploring the region’s back roads for unfamiliar vistas and to document abandoned buildings, historic mine shafts, and more hidden gems which reveal the complexity of the landscape’s beauty.

Gallup Arts Executive Director Rose Eason hosted a virtual artist talk with Aldis on Oct. 20 about the exhibit, which runs through Nov. 7.


Aldis showed viewers of the virtual talk several of her paintings on display at ART123, the first of which was of a decrepit building on Highway 264 between Window Rock and Gallup. She said she heard some people call the building the “Old Gentleman’s Club.” The painting was posted for a show last year, and one viewer at the time commented that the building was an eyesore.

But Aldis did not agree with this viewpoint.

“And I thought, ‘well that depends on how you look at it,’” Aldis said. “It’s something we can consider as a work that changes and evolves over time. One day, the structure will eventually be gone, so this [painting] is a way to document something that is visible through our eyes, and to view it as a conceptual art piece.”

The second piece Aldis shared was called Hogan on the Range, which showed a lone hogan off the beaten path that Aldis saw when she was driving a friend to Mariano Lake last year. The pair drove closer to the hogan and found no one lived there.

“This is one of the quintessential structures we can see out here,” Aldis said. “The hogan is one of the more traditional ways of living here.”

She noted even though the structure, as her friend pointed out, was not actually a hogan because it had a porch, Aldis was still intent on painting it.

What struck her about the home was the juxtaposition between it and the rocks that were visible behind it. That juxtaposition also existed with the Old Gentleman’s Club, she added.

“I just thought it was so interesting to see two things that work quite well together [be close to each other],” she said.


Aldis said she aims to work on multiple sets of paintings at a time, each with different subjects and settings. Several paintings she showed also had various buildings in states of decay across the terrain.

“I wanted to showcase a variety of relics, which all have that juxtaposition of a manmade structure against nature,” she said. “Nature is functioning as, what we call in art, the sublime, which is the idea that nature is this fantastic thing that is so big and grand, but can kill you at the same time.”

The idea that nature is reclaiming the land where these structures were made fascinates Aldis, which she calls a beautiful harshness.

That theme carries into a set of tree portraits that Aldis showed off.

“These paintings are based on shrub junipers that are beaten up by the weather and winds, and yet they’re resilient,” she said. “It’s a metaphor about the culture out here, which is they’re strong, they have deep roots, and they manage to bend and still survive.”

The last painting Aldis shared was a larger piece of several chickens, which she said is not technically finished, but is a study of her skills and figuring out her next move.

“What I like to do with paintings is have a reference photograph, and then I paint it,” Aldis said, adding it is quick and dirty.

But the large chicken portrait required several photos for each chicken and the background.

“It’s trying to encompass a bunch of different elements that make up my life in New Mexico versus just my observations in New Mexico,” Aldis said.

A question viewers might have about the painting, Aldis noted, is “Why chickens?” She said she has a friend who had a dozen chickens she got to meet, and noted one that was always by itself. Her friend said the chicken was named Henrietta, and she had come from a different flock and so was not keen on gathering with the others.

“The lone chicken against a group that usually stays together was an interesting idea,” she said.

Unfortunately, that would be the only time she saw her friend’s chickens as most of them were killed some time later by a pack of dogs.

“This painting was something I’d been thinking about for a long time, making a monumental painting about a chicken who stood on her own,” Aldis said.

Aldis also touched on the subject of the Southwest in her paintings, and how the environments can be more striking than a viewer may think at first glance. She mentioned how parts of the United States are known for terrain like forests and large fields, but then the various desert landscapes of the Southwest are unique in their own way.

“The Pacific Northwest and east coast, you think about them and it’s all green. What we have in the Southwest is the other side of the balance, the red rocks and various browns. You may think it takes an artist’s eye to see the colors, but it actually takes just a moment of looking. You’ll see there are all kinds of browns and greens [out here], and it is really worth visiting and looking at,” Aldis said.

ART123 is open by appointment Tuesday through Saturday from 1 - 5 pm each day. Call (505) 488-2136 to schedule.

To see more of Dana Aldis’ work, visit https://www.instagram.com/danaaldisstudio/.

By Cody Begaye
Sun Correspondent