Navajo artist Michael Billie opening new show

Mike Easterling
'Four Strands of Beauty' by Michael Billie will be included in a showing of the artist's work this weekend at a gallery in Albuquerque.

FARMINGTON – Navajo artist Michael Billie says no matter how hard he works on the pieces he plans on featuring in a new show, by the time the opening reception comes around, he’s already turned his attention to something else.

But that’s not the case with his “The Element of Surprise/We Are All Connected exhibition opening this weekend at a gallery in Albuquerque.

“I’m very excited,” he said last week. “Usually, when I’m through putting a collection together, I’m over it. But I’m very happy with (this collection), which is unusual for me.”

Billie said he submitted 20 pieces for the show, though he was unsure last week how many would be displayed. The collection includes just one old piece, and everything else is new. It includes encaustic works, sandpaintings and bundles that have buffalo hair, wolf hair and horse hair.

This will be Billie’s first show at Albuquerque’s Weyrich Gallery, which is owned by Valerie and Gary Tibbetts. Billie said Valerie Tibbetts has been representing him for close to a year and had asked him about doing a show there on several occasions. Billie said he always felt like he was too busy to commit to that, but this time, the timing seemed right. He said Tibbetts is very selective about the art she displays and favors a more contemporary take on Southwestern art, which Billie appreciates, given the abstract style in which he works.

The pieces in this show are particularly focused on bundles. Billie said the idea to include them in his work came during a moment he experienced while teaching a workshop in eco-printing at artist Harriette Tsosie’s studio in Albuquerque. They were wrapping silk, plant material and rusty bits into tight bundles to extract the pigments from them and imprint them into the silk, Billie said. That effect was enhanced by steaming the bundles. After each batch was steamed, it would be placed on a large white canvas to cool before it was unwrapped.

Billie said when he saw the dark bundles on the white background, he was struck by how much they looked like a newborn child wrapped in a blanket. In his artist’s statement, he compares them to a gift waiting to be revealed or a medicine bag and a secret never to be exposed.

“It was a powerful moment of inspiration that I’ll never forget,” he writes.

Billie said his use of bundles has opened more connections in his life, and that has further influenced his work, causing it to evolve and reminding him how much power art can have.

'Nite Sky People' by Michael Billie will be featured in 'The Element of Surprise/We Are All Connected' show in Albuquerque this weekend.

Even as he anticipates Friday’s opening, Billie is preparing for a show he’s helping to organize at San Juan College in April, “Between the Earth and Sky.” He’s also been invited to curate a show at the Durango Arts Center in Durango, Colo., in 2017.

“It just gets crazier and crazier,” he said of the pace at which he works. “I love being busy, but at times it gets overwhelming.”

But he much prefers that to the alternative.

“If I don’t work, that drives me nuts,” he said. “I’d rather be busy than not.”

The exhibition, which remains on display through Jan. 29, also includes the work of Pilar potter Carl Gray Witkop.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Opening reception for “The Element of Surprise/We Are All Connected” art show featuring the work of Michael Billie and Carl Gray Witkop

When: 5 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8

Where: The Weyrich Gallery, 2935 D Louisiana Blvd NE in Albuquerque

For more information: Call 505-883-7410