In 2004, when the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian opened in Washington D.C. it was a Tony Abeyta painting that served as the official illustration of the new museum's opening. The specially commissioned mixed-media work on wood panels, called “Anthem,” is now part of the museum’s permanent collection. This commission alone was a prestigious accomplishment for an artist but it was not first by Tony Abeyta: the widely successful Navajo artist had been commissioned six years earlier to create "The Four Directions" as the signature image of the groundbreaking.
W. Richard West, the museum’s founding director, has written of Abeyta’s work: “His art is never static or complacent and is, instead, fearless, always changing, always moving; constantly pushing to new places of artistic creativity and resolution.” The Turquoise Tortoise Gallery’s owner, Peggy Lanning, still remembers the first time Tony Abeyta walked into her gallery nearly thirty years ago. “He was seventeen years old and . . . he laid all his work out right on the floor for me to take a look at. I’ve been representing him ever since.”
Tony Abeyta, who grew up in Gallup, New Mexico, began his artistic path early studying at Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts; he went on to receive a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and has also studied in France, Italy and the Chicago Institute of Art. The work of Tony Abeyta combines vision and intuition with the colors and textures of his homeland; though his pieces draw on his Navajo (Diné) heritage, they have a universal feel. The artist finds it is often a combination of acrylic and oil paints, gold leafing, encaustic wax and collage elements that best translates his ideas onto canvas. He uses sand to build his paint into richly textured layers achieving a dramatic sculptural dimension.
“I want my work to reinforce the ideology of Indian religion, its strength, its beauty and semblance,” Tony Abeyta says. “I work to create an interpretation of deities translated through myself and given an identity devoid of their actual documented existence. . . . This system of ritual belief is the most important basis in Indian culture and ensures its infinite existence.” The distinctive work of Tony Abeyta is in constant transition. "Painting for me leaves no stone unturned within its context,” he says. “I experiment with images, techniques and mediums, translating paint into an image both personal and spiritual."
Today paintings by Tony Abeyta hang in museums and private collections throughout North America, Europe and Japan bringing this singular Native American art to the world.