by Tamra Testerman | August 19, 2021 Updated August 25, 2021
Michelle Tsosie Sisneros at Chimayo Trading Del Norte
Award-winning artist, Michelle Tsosie Sisneros of Santa Clara, Navajo and Laguna tribes, paints traditional Native American themes with bold abstract elements and surrealist influences. She is the niece of Pablita Velarde – the grandmother of flat Navajo painting who may be the most famous female painter in Navajo history.
Tempo asked Michelle about her creative process, her early influences, and more.
What is your daily routine and how does it support your creative process?
It can vary at times depending on what events I am working on. I am an early riser. Generally I am up around 4 a.m. I love the stillness and calmness of the early morning. I can settle into a place where I meditate a bit, enjoy my coffee, work on computer stuff, and get ready to go for my walk. I walk every day. I am fortunate.
My tribe of Santa Clara constructed a beautiful path for all of us to use. I love walking in our field lands near the Río Grande River. I find inspiration there. Often I think of what I will create when I am alone with my thoughts and Mother Earth. And of course I am a normal person with chores, dogs, family and everything that goes into a busy day.
I realized years ago, my art life is also my profession. This requires discipline on a daily basis. I do work in my studio every day, generally for 9-10 hours. I can find myself lost in whatever I am doing, and this I find is my daily creative process.
Who, what and where inspires you?
I think I see myself as blood tied to the land where I come from. I look to my culture as an Indigenous person; I feel emotion from the music I hear, the people that move me with their words and actions. Right now Native women especially have found movement in finding our strength, our voices and independence. A primary source of imagery is Native women; in particular Pueblo women and I do not have to look very far for inspiration. My Mother, my Grandmother gave me the tools, the strength, and the will to carry on. I have learned immense emotion from them.
Describe the journey to the moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?
I knew very early in my life I was an artist. I began finding a style in my 20s, experimenting with imagery, technique; mediums which I find benefit me now. I have journeyed to the depths of almost losing my gift because of addictions to the normalcy of sobriety for 25 years. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but I had to stabilize my life first. I needed the structure of an education, steady employment and confidence in myself. I found I could do both and realized many years ago I wanted to create on a full-time basis. Since then I have grown into a versatile artist.
What are you most proud of?
The word pride is tough for me, coming from a background of dysfunction from an early age to creating my own chaos in my life. I realized that pride got me into lots of trouble. So I guess I am grateful for the accomplishments I have been granted thus far. A very successful music mogul once described his success in this simple quote – be humble in your creativity and grateful for your success. I have found this is how I feel for the accomplishments I have been allowed to hold -whether it is a personal achievement or an artistic one.
What would you like to do if you were not an artist?
Finding stability was key to me. I pursued an education in Criminal Justice and held a position as a police officer. One of my greatest accomplishments was graduating from the Federal Police Academy. I went on to college and worked as an advocate for victims of domestic violence.
Anything else you think is important for our readers to know?
It is important to me to recognize two women who mentored me. My Mother, Carol Naranjo. Had she not supported me throughout my life I would not have pursued my passion. She fished paintings from the trash when I was a teen, framed them and took them to a prominent gallery in Gallup, NM (near our home). The owner felt I had potential and the rest is history. She is an ever-present source of wisdom for me to learn from.
The other is my Great Aunt Pablita Velarde. She fought hard to gain international notoriety as one of the few female Pueblo painters in the early 1940s. I was very close to her from the time I was an infant and throughout my life. She taught me grit, originality and discipline as an artist. I honor both women in my journey in life.
Michelle Tsosie Sisneros is represented by Chimayo Trading Del Norte on Saint Francis Plaza in Ranchos. You can view her work online at chimayotrading.com.