JayCee Beyale Speaks Out

Between Art and Tradition

fanny aishaa 1I am a Navajo artist from New Mexico. I grew up in a small town called Farmington. I currently reside in Colorado Springs and have been here for the last 2 years.  My identity and background have always been present in my work and it’s because I am proud of who I am and where I come from.  My connection to aboriginal culture is heavily influenced by my involvement in the arts.

Flora Lassalle  File Graffiti, Culture, Native

Flora Lassalle: What makes you relate to native culture so strongly?

JayCee Beyale: My paternal grandfather was a medicine man who dedicated his life to helping others with his services and abilities.  He would conduct singsongs and produce sand paintings to heal and restore balance for his patients.  Since that is a part of who I am and where I come from.

I feel that it’s only right for me to stay connected with my past and share my talents with others in the same manner.  Being a lot further away from home (the reservation) has given me an opportunity to share my culture with non-natives and help educate them with what I know about it.  In this way, culture is a part of my life on a daily basis, whether it be sharing it with others or expressing it through my work.

Overall, my total involvement with my artwork keeps me connected to my indigenous culture. I seem to always add that native vibe to a majority of pieces. I guess that’s my signature. It’s hard to ignore that connection because to me it’s very powerful and spiritual. When I paint, I am in my zone. I create with grace and gratitude. I am very fortunate to possess talents that I am passionate about.

I’m not creating for “art’s sake”, but for my survival. It is in my blood. That’s the all encompassing factor. As aboriginal peoples we used nature to help us maintain existence. That is no different than what I am doing today.

FL: How did you discover urban art?

JB: I discovered street art and graffiti from my older brother.  He would come home and practice writing styles he had learned from a few of his Mexican friends. We grew up in a border town not too far from the reservation. We grew up with a mixture of ethnicities.  Since he was learning from his friends he was creating alphabets that were inspired by small town street gangs.  What we had at the time in New Mexico was very similar to what gangs were using on the west coast of the United States.

I liked how it looked. I began to look at his drawings and would ask him to create alphabets for me.  From what he had given me I started to copy and develop my own style of letters and such.  When we would visit family in cities such as Albuquerque, New Mexico and Phoenix, Arizona, I would look out for graffiti and murals on the walls.  I knew that it was there and would always keep an eye out for it.

My sister didn’t do graffiti but she’d write in bubble letters on her school text books and notes written to friends.  She was super creative. She developed a “throw-style” that I liked, so I took that and ran with it.

Once they’d given me a good base in graffiti, I started to draw a lot more and add my own flavor to what they had shown me.  I didn’t really start painting on walls until I got to high school, which was the late nineties.  Before then I would mostly just do a lot of it on paper.  Being that I was from a small town and learning most of the art form on my own it took awhile for me to acquire the right tools and supplies to successfully pull off good pieces.

In 2012, a lot of my first pieces back on the reservation were erased. It was kinda disheartening because I thought they would be there for a lot longer.

FL: How did you develop your creative talents?

JB: When I graduated from high school, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life!  I was very fortunate to have landed an opportunity to go to college due to a family friend who helped me get enrolled.

At this point, no one in my family had attended a university or even graduated from college.  When I attended the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, I started to realize that I was unique not only because of my artistic abilities, but because I was native American.

As I was growing up, I learned a lot about other tribes and their leaders on my own by reading books and paying attention to what was going on around me, but when I got to college that intensified!

I took some classes through the native American studies program, got involved with a native student organization and surrounded myself with other indigenous peoples from various tribes.  They became my new family, taught me a lot about myself and encouraged me to harness my talent and utilize it as a tool to better our futures.

Albuquerque is not that big of a city, but to me it was, because of where I came from!  Being that I was living in a city I was spoiled with electricity and all the modern amenities, I wanted to combine that with traditional native culture and traditions.

Today I am still trying to find a voice to speak this language with my art. This is where all the flashy colors and movement expressed in my work stem from.

It’s not only my involvement with graffiti, but using a computer to generate art and breathing as native American in today’s technological world.

FL: Graffiti is often created by a crew. Have you experimented in group art?

JB: I was never really down with a crew. When I was a kid and in high school I exchanged drawings/sketches with friends. We kind of were like a crew at the time, but that just lasted then and stayed there.  Today, I have been asked to be down with crews and such, but prefer to just keep doing what I need to do and create. I have always painted and done graff on my own, so I guess I like it that way.  I do think there are benefits to being a part of a crew, maybe one day I will join one and be okay with it.  As for now, I just paint and get up for all my indigenous peoples!

FL: Your work combines modern styles with native culture. What do the native community and the graffiti art community think of your work?

JB: From what I have experienced, I think for the most part the native community are slowly coming around.  Of course they like the more structured-traditional fine art stuff I do, like my watercolor paintings. They love that style and approach!

It’s a lot easier to understand and accept because of the strong native presence with the subtle characteristics of graffiti.

With the more graphic and bold colors and movement in my latest pieces, I think it will take some time for them to fully come around.  It’s a new look that they are not used to, but I am not too worried about it.

I think for myself it’s something that I want to refine and develop to present in a clearer voice.  I am currently in transition from watercolors to oil painting for a more technical approach with a richer palette.

The Graff Heads like what I do and create!  It’s funny because I was known as the fine artist who studied art while I grew up drawing and doing graffiti. It was the whole reason I stuck with art and continue to study and to learn more styles and mediums.

It was a surprise to most when they realized that I can get down with the graff and paint like I do with brushes!  They like that southwest native style and design, so when they see it in my graff it gets them real hype!

FL: What message do you want to send through your art?

JB: With my work I want others to see that graffiti and street art are only a part of who I am.  I love art so much that I continue to push and express myself in various mediums.

Of course, my background and culture are at the forefront of all that I do because I want people to take notice that as aboriginal peoples we are still here and expressing ourselves in contemporary styles.

Although my pieces may look pretty and convey beauty, as a native person and persons we are here and still dealing with the grit of colonization and modernity.

Though it may be a struggle and hard to accept at times we are adapting and moving right along just like anybody else.  The push and pull of fine art and street art within in my work is symbolic of all of this and it’s my way of helping people heal through art.

Fanny Aïshaa Presents JayCee Beyale

I discovered JayCee Beyale in a publication called SNAG (Seventh Native American Generation, snagmagazine.com). The magazine’s mission is to let young diverse Native voices shine. It empowers Native youth through the creative process. It gives them autonomy, freedom, independence.

SNAG provides First Nations youth the opportunity to resolve the conflict between the modern and the traditional. SNAG lets them explore their creative gifts so they can better serve their communities.

This communication tool brings together spirituality and multimedia techniques to help create the next generation of community leadership. And it’s all free online. I found JayCee here. Our paintings illustrate articles on our fears and the immense power of dreams. There are some magnificent paintings by Angela Sterritt and various other artists. I was really deeply moved by JayCee’s watercolors. He communicates the soft beauty of his people through the use of traditional elements in his art, including his graffiti murals.

When I saw his watercolour People of the Sun, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. There’s something powerful there. There’s a lot of cheap fakery of Native traditions these days.  People steal sacred Native symbols and take all the meaning out of them when they use them in what they call “art.” It’s a plague. When someone who knows the culture uses these symbols correctly, it’s magic. People who just copy these symbols to make money have no soul.

JayCee also creates works in wood. He incorporates elements of Navajo culture on 3-dimensional figures in a unique way.

When I see his art I’m transported back through time. Painting is an ancient as humanity itself. Our ancestors projected their view of the world onto the environment around them, thorough petroglyphs, rock paintings. Nothing is new under the sun.

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