John Suazo.Pueblo Artist

Taos News (Taos, NM).  Sept 11, 2008, ©2008 The Santa Fe New Mexican

By Susan Lahey

Outside John Suazo’s studio stands an old limestone fence post that once protected the boundaries of a ranch or farm in Oklahoma. On one side, he’s carved half the face and figure of an American Indian. On the adjacent stone face, the rest of the image emerges, only this time rougher — less polished. On the back side of the pillar, it is only rough stone and moss that Suazo nurtures by watering it from time to time.

It seems like a metaphor for the way Suazo likes to approach his art: Creating a sculpture that respects the ancient stone, its own natural beauty, its story. But at the same time, it tells his story: The story of his uncle Ralph, who taught him to sculpt; of his grandfather; of his people at Taos Pueblo.

“I just love stone,” said Suazo. “It took so many years to form. It was from Mother Earth. — you bless the place where you get it from and you get to work on it.”
Suazo’s work has been shown as far away as Paris and Moscow. But it is created in and around a tumbledown Dine Hogan. Here, in the sun or the snow, he brings out a piece of stone and introduces himself to it by pouring water over it until it reveals its colors. The stone tells him about itself. He never draws on it before he begins to sculpt.
“I look at the stone and sometimes I see already something in it. Sometimes it makes you work on it. I have to struggle with it, because I want me to be in charge. The stone is talking to me.”

What Suazo wants is a marriage between the stone’s story and all that has been poured into Suazo by his life at the pueblo: The history of his people, Taos mountain, the clouds, the sky, the birds and trees. He depicts pueblo families as in old times, when there was more community, family, respect and staying inside the “circle,” the protective pueblo wall that protects from bad energy.

“I have known the beauty of life back then,” he said, “and I try to stay in touch, stay in balance within the circle: Eating well, talking to nature, hiking. Living on an Indian reservation is a beautiful life, but it is a hard life. You have to make an extra effort to make it work.”

Suazo watched his uncle Ralph carve hundreds of traditional wooden pieces, but never thought that was his future. Then, in his senior year of college, he picked up a piece of cedar and began to carve, and he found his life. That was 33 years and roughly 3,800 pieces ago.

“When I first started sculpting I was trying to find my identity in my Indian heritage,” he said, “what it means to live. The clouds, the sky, the mountains all came inside me and inspired me to find my own direction. When I found my style, I found I had found myself.”

Now he wants to focus on bigger pieces and abstract works. At 58, he’s guessing his time for huge outdoor pieces is running out.

Whenever he sells one, he feels an emptiness. But that, he knows, is necessary for momentum, for the continual flow of energy.

“Abstract pieces are mystical, just like Indian pieces,” he said. “All it needs is one little suggestion to bring it out.”

“I don’t want to torture the stone,” he added. “It took too many years to form.”

©2010 Susan Lahey, All Rights Reserved.

 

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