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Sophisticated street art

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Artist Ernest Doty on Friday carries a cutout of a sparrow that is part of the work he is creating at the Albuquerque Museum. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Artist Ernest Doty on Friday carries a cutout of a sparrow that is part of the work he is creating at the Albuquerque Museum. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

When passers-by spotted Ernest Doty spray-painting a bluebird on an Albuquerque Museum wall this week, some asked if he had permission.

“Usually I tell them, ‘Of course not!’ ” he said, flashing a grin. “It has them kind of guessing.”

The question isn’t off-base. The one-time graffiti artist was arrested for spraying the Anasazi Building in Downtown Albuquerque four years ago. Now he’s getting paid for painting both inside and outside a New Mexico institution. The project is being funded by private donations.

The artist, born and reared in Albuquerque, is the fourth to be commissioned to create a site-specific work of art at the city museum. Now based in Oakland, Calif., Doty works primarily in aerosol paint, creating large-scale outdoor works on everything from walls to trucks. He most recently completed a 287-foot-long, 37-foot-tall mural with two fellow artists at the Oakland Museum.

“Every square inch of the wall is painted,” he said.

His work straddles street art, graffiti and pop art.

In Albuquerque, he’s adding birds to the museum entrance facade, the south side and the courtyard. He spent two weeks completing the paintings, scrambling atop scaffolding to reach the top.

Ernest Doty appears with some of the cutouts that will be part of his Albuquerque Museum art piece. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Ernest Doty appears with some of the cutouts that will be part of his Albuquerque Museum art piece. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

In the courtyard, a hummingbird, a swirling, S-shaped raven and a sparrow soar across a 25-foot wall above a jawbone pierced by an arrow. Doty says the piece was inspired by the Hopi prophecy “The Warrior of the Rainbow.”

“Each color of the rainbow represents different people,” he said. “The raven has multiple eyes. The eyes represent strength. It represents my ancestors. The hummingbird is a messenger.

“There will be a time when all nations and tribes will come together to take back what’s ours,” he said.

A bird watcher and photographer, Doty researches each species he depicts.

“They show up in my dreams a lot,” he said. “I’m fascinated by them. They go where they want. Who doesn’t love that freedom?”

Minimalist work in an urban setting, Doty’s painting is clean and uncluttered, with ample use of white space. A bluebird lies on its back on the building’s facade facing 19th Street NW, as multicolored ghost birds rise, then soar from its breast.

“It’s dead,” Doty said. “It’s rebirth; the circle of life. We’re all going to be there someday, and that’s the beauty of it.”

Museum curator Andrew Connors chose Doty both because of his gregarious character and the beauty of his work.

“Ernest is from here, so we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to bring him home,” Connors said. “His work is very provocative and beautiful. It’s sort of seductively intriguing. It’s absolutely street art and it’s very sophisticated.

“And we knew he would be very willing to talk to people,” Connors added. “Very few people in our society have the opportunity to engage with an artist. It’s to challenge people to think more expansively. A lot of people don’t appreciate street art. It’s free.”

The as-yet-untitled work will remain on view through the fall.

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