Paul Pletka

Paul Pletka painting in his home studio in Santa Fe, NM

It’s been ages since I wrote a proper blog post (about 3 months) and even longer since I did a proper art post. I’ve been wanting to talk about the Our Lord, The One Who Is Flayed painting for ages, ever since I first saw it a year or so ago in the Phoenix Art Museum. I had never heard of the artist until I saw the three-paneled work below. Paul Pletka was born in 1946 in San Diego, California and has made his name painting Native Americans, especially those from the American Southwest.  His style is neo-surrealistic and has been described as “both realistic and deeply spiritual, being highly sensitive to the inner thoughts of Native Americans.” Paul has a local connection to Phoenix by going to nearby AZ State University. “Interestingly enough, Pletka has never taken a painting course. His focus in college was printmaking. Through an extensive process of experimentation, his heroic-sized visions of Indian mysticism are distinguished by exacting details that can only be achieved when technique is coupled with dedicated research.” He currently lives in New Mexico. 

I am always curious when someone outside of one cultural group decides to concentrate on something different (like Children’s author/illustrator Ezra Jack Keats being a white Jewish guy creating amazing books about African American and Hispanic children in the 1960-80s) , as I want to know why they have chosen to do this and is his work accepted by the group he is trying to interpret. The artist himself said this about his decision to paint predominantly Native Americans: “When I was a youngster and first became enchanted with Indian costume, lore and artifacts, I would sometimes pretend I was an Indian. I soon realized that was not intellectually reasonable. I am not an Indian. I am simply an interpreter.” He is considered one of the best painters on the subject and his work has been in exhibitions since 1964.

The painting below, While the Ravens Laughed, is one of his earlier works. It depicts the human form of the Hopi Crow Bride/Mother Kachina, aka Angwushahai-i. “Dolls and dancers representing the Crow Mother generally wear masks with ears of huge crow wings.” She is connected to the renewal/growth of corn crops in the spring. 

Paul Pletka - While the Ravens Laughed, 1976

While the Ravens Laughed, 1976

The piece below (here is the larger version) is probably one of my favorite ones from Phx Art Museum. It just draws your eye with the bright reds, oranges, blues and greens and makes you want to study it to find out what all the little details mean. The painting depicts a re-enactment of the Passion of Christ, which is done by Mexicans during Lent (the liturgical season leading up to Easter in the Catholic and Protestant calendars). The Passion of Jesus refers to the suffering enduring by Jesus starting at his entrance to Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the trial in front of Pilate and finishing with his crucifixion The difference here between traditional representations is the mixing of Catholic and pre-Hispanic elements, i.e.the inclusion of the Olmec/Toltec/Aztec god of fertility, seeds, metalsmith/goldworkers, maize and spring. Xipe Totec was typically depicted wearing the flayed skin of his enemy’s and you can see that on the face of Christ on the cross and possibly the rest of the skin showing on his body. The flayed skin was supposed to renew or grow crops, which goes in well with the idea that Christ on the cross is there to give us salvation/renewal. The title refers to both the flayed body of Jesus and the flayed skin of Xipe Totec’s mask is scene on the far right panel underneath the banner of Jesus/John the Baptist. 

Xipe Totec

Xipe Totec – The Flayed God

The altar in the back of the painting is taken directly from the artist’s studio, as seen in the first picture above. Complementary colors play an important part in moving your eyes around the picture. The greens complement the red (ex.the dark green of the cross vs the bright red of the drapes), as well as the blues and oranges (ex. the turquoise of the ladder with the orange of the woman’s shawl in the center of the painting). The red symbolizes the blood of martyrs, in this case the ultimate martyr – Jesus. It is also specifically used on Palm Sunday in anticipation of the death of Jesus. As the author of the post on Yo So Art has commented on her blog post, in the center of the painting is one of the most interesting juxtaposition of images. The priest standing on the ladder has purple vestments which “depict missionaries preaching to the Native [Mexicans]  from a book in front of a giant cross, on top of a scene of some conquistadors on horseback stabbing [these same Aztecs].” 

Paul Pletka - Our Lord, The One Who is Flayed - 2004

Nuestro Senor el Desollado (Our Lord, The One Who is Flayed), 2004


Bratcher, Deborah. CRI, 2013:   

askArt, 2000-2017.

The Eddie Basha Collection, Paul Pletka, taken from Art Fortune, 2016: 

Yo Soy Art, Dec 2012.Paul Pletka, Our Lord, The One Who is Flayed, 2004: 


Kids Cafe Art Lectures: Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinksy was my fifth art lecture for Kids Cafe. As I’ve said in this previous post, Kids Cafe is a program that the library does and partners with a local food bank, St. Mary’s and the USDA. It provides a snack or meal to local area kids who might not get one and adding an enrichment activity. The activity doesn’t have to be fancy, just vaguely educational. I have an undergraduate degree in Art History, so I like to do little art/history lectures and then a craft/activity afterwards. It can be quite challenging at times, trying to squeeze an entire artists life or a time period into 20 or less slides, and 10-15 minutes. I enjoy the challenge though. Most of the time I pick an artist based off the activity, or personal interest. Here is my first post on the Color Wheel and Pop Art, the second on Australian Aboriginal Art, the third on Shapes and Henri Matisse, and the fourth on Dale Chihuly.

Kandinsky was another artist I knew next to nothing about, so I was fascinated to know more. I usually don’t like modern art, but there are exceptions. I prefer Kandinsky’s early work before he went all abstract. I had a lot of fun doing the activity, and it was harder than it would seem to not repeat colors and find colors that you wouldn’t normally use with each other.

Kid’s Café: Wassily Kandinsky – Feb 6

  • Introduction: Welcome to Kid’s Café. My name is Miss Rachel and we’re going to learn a little about art. Today we’re going to be talking about painter Wassily Kandinsky (pronounced Va-SEE-lee Kan-din-skee)
  • Today we’re going to learn a little about the artist himself
    • Born in Russia 1866 – died in France 1944
    • Discovered he had the ability of see sounds and hearing colors. According to him, “Color is a power that directly influences the soul…Color is the keyboard…The artist is the hand that plays.”
    • Kandinsky took drawing and music lessons from an early age
    • He became a law professor in Germany and then decided he wanted to be an artist at age 30, after seeing an exhibit on Claude Monet, the French Impressionist painter
      • The Impressionists used color and light to show their subjects rather than painting in fine details.
    • He was also influenced by the Pointillism movment, which use small dots of color to make up the final artwork.
      • Examples of Impressionism and Pointillism
        • Impressionism: Monet – Haystacks at Giverny, in evening sun, 1888
        • Monet - Haystacks at Giverny, the evening sun - 1888
          • Pointillism: Luce – Morning Interior, 1890
          • Maximilien Luce - Morning Interior, 1890
      • Examples of his work during this time period
        • Colorful Life, 1907.
        • Colorful Life, 1907
        • Cemetary and Vicarage in Kochel, 1909
        • Cemetary and Vicarage in Kochel, 1909
      • The Blue Rider, 1903 – was one of the first of his paintings to use emotion to express color rather than going completely from nature
      • The Blue Rider, 1903
      • About 1909 Kandinsky began to think that painting didn’t need a particular subject, but that shapes and colors alone could be art. Over the next several years he would start to paint what would become known as Abstract Art; he became one of the founders of this art movement (aka Abstract Expressionism)
      • Kandinsky felt that he could express feelings and music through line, colors and geometric shapes in his paintings.
        • For example, he thought that yellow had the crisp sound of a brass trumpet and that certain colors placed together could harmonize like chords on a piano.
        • The shapes he was most interested in were the circle, triangle, and the square. He thought the triangle would cause aggressive feelings, the square calm feelings, and the circle spiritual feelings.
        • Example
          • Composition VII, 1913 – Many of his paintings used names as if they were songs or musical works like Composition and Improvisation – this was also so people didn’t read too much into the meaning of the titles. He named the paintings he considered the most accomplished “Composition”. He only named ten of his paintings this way.

Composition VII, 1913

  • Activities: Kandinsky Concentric Circles
    • Supplies: white/black construction paper folded into eighths, crayons/oil pastels – could also use rough cut paper circles in many different colors [I ended up folding a regular piece of white paper into fourths and using crayons to make the circles]
    • We will create our own versions of Kandinsky Concentric Circles – My version below

My Kandinsky Circles