Life with Singers: An exhibit at The Farm showcases the family’s artistry

Clockwise from top left: Detail of hand-made leather chinks chaps by Marvin Singer; painting of a woman spinning wool, by Jeremy Singer, “Two Sheeps,” pen and ink, by Ed Singer. All are included in “Singer and Family,” which is on display at the Farm Bistro through Aug. 18. The Farm is at 34 W. Main in downtown Cortez, Colo.

Sometimes a genome just gets stronger, better and bolder as it passes into the next generation. So it is with the artistic skill emerging in three generations of the Singer family who are native to Gray Mountain, a vast monocline spreading across the western side of the Navajo Reservation between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. There, in the skirts of the rocky escarpment, is where Isabelle Singer, now 94, raised nine artistic children and a large flock of churro sheep.

She stills lives at home, and takes commissions for the weavings she has done since childhood. Many of her children and grandchidren have inherited her artistic talent, exhibiting throughout the United States and Europe. An avid fan of her family of artists, she often shows up at their feature art events and exhibits in border towns around the reservation.

Regional art patrons recognize Ed Singer, father, brother and uncle to the other artists in the exhibit. He shows frequently in the Four Corners region. His paintings and drawings grace many galleries and collections in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, throughout the U.S., and in France and Spain.

“My parents always encouraged me to draw and paint,” says Singer. “When I wasn’t drawing on the large flat rocks by my home, my father would take me to the construction site with him and let me use left-over sheet rock. There was no limit to the size I wanted to draw when I was young.”

That fearless approach to subject matter allows him the freedom to paint large muralscale work when it fits his subject. One of the largest he’s done recently hangs in Pepperhead Restaurant on Main Street in Cortez. The commissioned portrait of his home, Gray Mountain, is on temporary loan for the benefit of the people of Cortez, where he lives and works part-time.

Monty Singer, Ed’s son, lives in Los Lunas, N.M. He is nationally recognized, an awardwinning figurative and landscape artist. His realist technique challenges the viewer to get close, consider how he, or any artist, can articulate surfaces as diverse as slick rock and supple skin with the delicate nuance of a medium as loose as dry pastel. For the family exhibit he sends a recent New Mexico plein-air landscape and drawings from a master class he attends every week. They will be hung in the second three weeks of the show.

A fine arts graduate of the University of Arizona, Jeremy Singer, Monty’s cousin, lives and paints in Tucson, Ariz. He has exhibited in numerous galleries in Santa Fe and Albuquerque and most summers you will find him in a booth at the Santa Fe Indian Market. He submitted a portrait of a woman spinning wool. Her hands, the spindle and the raw fiber beside her whirl before the canvas where he deconstructs the passive gaze of the viewer by offering, instead, a refreshing plastic visual energy in place of stagnant stereotypes. His constructivist approach breaks away from conventional treatment of traditional subject matter.

Marvin Singer, Ed’s brother, is a master leather-worker and a working cowboy. He understands the value of functional design and aesthetic construction. He worked more than a year building, by hand, the traditional chink chaps on exhibit in the family show. The combination of hand sewing, rawhide lacing, stamped and carved leather, silver conchos, fringe and rich quality of two-tone leather makes this a singular work of exceptional traditional Western art premiering in the exhibit.

Employing the vitality of bold colors and high contrast increases the visual movement in Michelle Tanaka’s oil painting, “Kurunda Falls.” She began the study for it while on a train ride into the rainforest near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The region is sister city to Flagstaff, where Tanaka lives. She describes her approach to painting as a fusion of cultural styles reflecting her Navajo, Japanese and European heritage. She is niece to Ed and Marvin Singer and a fine arts graduate of Coconino Community College. Her cousin, Jerrel Singer, paints at the forefront of weather patterns and earth elements, the rhythm of time and influence of natural color in the reservation landscape. He renders a deep sense of place, and the human fitness in the world he knows so well. A prolific painter and exhibitor, his work is showcased in many contemporary gallery exhibits. He lives in Flagstaff near his home on the rez.

There are nine more painters currently preparing for summer exhibits. They are scheduled to contribute work to the Singer Family show during the two-month exhibit period.

From July 2012.