Artist Christian Bigwater—El Malpais Community Art Program
Christian Bigwater is Diné (Navajo), and of the Kinlicheeni Clan (Red House-Zia) and born for the Totsonii Clan (Big Water). He hails from Canyon De Chelly, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation. His family’s Canyon De Chelly ranch impressed upon Bigwater the scenes of horses, the rich, red landscapes of the red canyon walls, the curves in the cedar tree form, and the clear, blue sky of the Navajo Nation. These elements of Navajo day-to-day life are the essentials in Bigwater’s art.
“I wanted to create a painting that captured everything that I thought was representative of El Malpais National Conservation Area and the surrounding area. This included the lava and volcanic activities, the beautiful landscape, the wildlife I.e., horses, petroglyphs, and the vibrant colors that are unique of the area. None of this can be captured in a small square canvas 36 x 36 so I decided to create a triptych using three 36 x 36 canvas to capture a wide landscape that highlights distance, dimensions, and incorporates all the aforementioned elements to create a cohesive composition,” Bigwater states.
El Malpais Triptych, Christian Bigwater, 2022.
Christian Bigwater was introduced to creating art by watching his father make clay torres, a traditional small figurine or fetish, and as a child he would play with them. They would only last a day or two, but his father was continuously creating. As all kids do in learning the world around them, Bigwater would draw in the dirt with sticks, play with sticks as swords and his creative mind was always aware of his surroundings, the colors, the textures, the architecture, all of which nurtured his artistic sense of being.
Bigwater’s first art class was in middle school where his teacher taught him to draw with doodles using pencils, pens, and colored pencils. This was his first personal experience with art.
In high school, Merlin Yazzie Sr., Bigwater’s art teacher, was an enormous influence on him, which continued throughout his high school career. Mr. Yazzie's participation in craft fairs and art shows was an example to Bigwater that he could sell his art.
Bigwater’s friends were also a considerable artistic influence, as they would practice drawing portraits of their classmates; his work was influenced by a formal and more personal perspective: his relationships with his friends.
His artistic development continued in his creative adventures through making jewelry, music, and art, all the way through his young adulthood; and as Bigwater grew older, his art progressed and evolved into new skillsets. Christian works in acrylics, oils and has started silversmithing, he is also exploring more music creation. Bigwater has also illustrated a book, “Navajo Scrapbook” by Rutherford Ashley, a scrap book of 102 poems that take snapshots of what is the Navajo experience, from being too young for pre-school age in the 1970s, to dealing with aspects of Navajo identity.
During COVID-19 restrictions, Bigwater produced a 3D art show called 365 Days Worth, a digital collection that was created over the three years of the COVID-19 crisis was on display at ART123 Gallery. Through this project, he touched on new formats of virtual and augmented reality.
365 Days Worth, Christian Bigwater, 2022.
Bigwater is always thinking of his next work and expanding on his artistic knowledge. At ARTS 123 in Gallup, NM, he does this by teaching youth and striving to create a community of art expression. Bigwater's goal is to give back to his community, and in the true evolution of an artist, to share in that joy that was given to him as a young artist. When asked what drives his creativity, Bigwater noted that one of the biggest things in his evolution as an artist is seeing the expressions on individuals' faces when they see his creations. Seeing others enjoyment is what helps to push his creativity.
Christian Bigwater’s art has been shown at the Navajo Nation Museum, the Gallup Indian Ceremonial, and featured at the Gallup Arts Crawl in late 2012. Bigwater holds a B.S. in Marketing Administration from Northern Arizona. He lives in Gallup, New Mexico and works for a non-profit organization on the Navajo Nation.
Christian Bigwater's art was chosen for the first El Malpais Community Art Program and can be seen at the Ranger Station at El Malpais National Conservation Area Ranger Station throughout 2023.
El Malpais is located 80 miles west of Albuquerque and just south of Grants, New Mexico. The Bureau of Land Management Ranger Station is located 9 miles south of I-40 Exit 89 on NM Highway 117. El Malpais Ranger Station is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.