• Emily Van Cleve

Reflections on Ancient and Contemporary Structures


John Vokoun, NM Sky Structure, 2017, Acrylic on canvas over panel, 24" x 18" Copyright © John Vokoun

Santa Fe Arts Journal

April 10, 2017

by Emily Van Cleve

John Vokoun's Chaco Canyon-inspired paintings on display at David Richard Gallery

Although he is a technologically savvy artist who enjoys designing on the computer, John Vokoun wanted a National Parks Arts Foundation residency in New Mexico’s remote Chaco Canyon last fall.

“Technology doesn’t work out there,” he explains, “so it gave me the opportunity to examine the concepts of overstimulation and multi-tasking in our contemporary society in contrast to the way of life for the ancient people who lived in Chaco Canyon.”

Vokoun’s observations of sunrises and sunsets over the canyon and reflections on the architecture, mark-making and symbolism of the ancient Chacoans are explored in his latest body of paintings on exhibit in his solo show “horizons/structures” at David Richard Gallery.

Up close and from one perspective, some of Vokoun’s acrylic on laser-cut panel paintings appear to show aerial floor plans of ancient structures that often had kivas built on top of previously-constructed kivas. Technologically-inclined viewers, however, may look at the same works and interpret them as esoteric computer language. Vokoun likes the ambiguity.

Horizontal lines of color in the show’s acrylic and oil works remind Vokoun of the Southwestern landscapes he has appreciated for years. “The horizons I see in this work are the New Mexico vistas I’ve been living with for a long time,” he says.

Most of the pieces in the show were created in Vokoun’s studio, out of his imagination with photos as reference material. A few paintings were started in the field and completed at home.

“When I was at Chaco, I thought about ancient cultures, their rituals and structures, and I thought about how our lives are constructed now,” explains Vokoun. “At Chaco, I was influenced by the way the Earth comes up and meets the sky. It seems their structure and civilization was built that way, reflecting geography and topography, like those buildings were meant to reach the sky.”

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