Printmakers You Should Know: Emmi Whitehorse

Over the past few months we've been taking a closer look at Native American printmakers, many of whom use their art to challenge persisting stereotypes regarding American Indian identity. Contemporary American Indian art, however, isn't always necessarily political in content, as is the case with today's artist, Emmi Whitehorse (1958-)

Image courtesy of

A New Mexico native,Whitehorse is a member of the Navajo Nation, and received her B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the University of New Mexico. She grew up northeast of Gallup in a rural area, with the Navajo language being the only one spoken at home.

Based in Santa Fe, her primary gallery is Chiaroscuro Contemporary, located on Canyon Road. Working in abstraction, Whitehorse uses a personal vocabulary of line, color, and shape to create her ethereal paintings and prints. Taking cues from plants and other organic forms, Whitehorse's abstractions are based in landscape, with her symbols referencing specific people, places, and memories. On a purely visual level, her work recalls the Surrealist abstractions of Joan Miro, though these two artists hail from very different cultural backgrounds and experiences.

Sea Water, 2016, oil, chalk, pencil on paper on canvas, image courtesy of
Water Gauge, 2014, oil and chalk mounted on canvas, image courtesy of
Throughout her career, Whitehorse has avoided overtly political content or imagery, striving instead to achieve a microcosm of overall universal harmony in her work. She sums up her artistic philosophy in the following quote:

"As an artist I have intentionally avoided politically-oriented subject matter and angst-ridden or physical wrestling with the act of painting itself. To make art, the act of making art must stay true to a harmonious balance of beauty, nature, humanity, and the whole universe. This is in accordance with Navajo philosophy. I have chosen to focus on nature, on landscape. My paintings tell the story of knowing land over time--of being completely, micro-cosmically within a place."

Sea Grape, 2012, oil and chalk on paper mounted on canvas, image courtesy of

Water Gum, 2013, oil and chalk on paper, mounted on canvas, image courtesy of

While probably best known as a painter, Whitehorse has also created prints, including monotypes, monoprints, and etchings. In 2013, she created a series of monotypes at Tamarind Institute. Like her paintings, her prints intertwine fields of color with line and shape to create highly personal, yet universal, interpretations of the land itself.

Needle and Thread Grass III, monotype with chine colle, image courtesy of

Ice Plant XIV, 2013, monotype with chine-colle, image courtesy of

Pollination (ZE08), 2011, monotype with handwork and collage, image courtesy of
Untitled, 2015, intaglio/etching, image courtesy of

As someone who similarly has created semi-abstract, layered works in my own experimental prints, I can appreciate Whitehorse's distinct aesthetic and apolitical content. What she is endeavoring to do is transcend the ongoing strife of the moment to focus on the mechanisms, the organic harmony, taking place behind it, the glue that holds this world together in the first place. Personally, I think we as a species would all benefit if we followed her cue and took a closer look at the earth itself.

Crown Stems, 2008, oil and chalk on paper, mounted on paper, image courtesy of

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