Joe Ben, Jr. has long been recognized as one of the finest Navajo sand painters, with highly spiritual designs finely crafted from hand prepared natural materials. His works are displayed worldwide in museums including the Smithsonian and the Pompidou Center in Paris.
As a child in Shiprock, New Mexico, Joe Ben, Jr. began taking part in Navajo ceremonies involving traditional sand painting, an ephemeral art form that embodies deeply held spiritual values. Unlike traditional sand paintings that vanish at the conclusion of the ceremonies, Ben’s paintings are mounted and fixed to give them permanence. In his exceptional paintings, even the finest details are created by applying just the right amount of pulverized pigment from between his curved index finger and thumb to a neutral base of sand below. The degree of control exercised in his movement and distribution of the pigments determines the lines, shapes and effects created. Hand gestures that mimic the distribution of cornmeal in prayer result in color blending that is just short of miraculous.
Joe Ben’s sand paintings are distinguished by their intensity of color created by using natural materials from throughout the world rather than commercial sands pigmented with color. In addition, he uses finely pulverized mineral colors – turquoise and chrysocolla blue, gypsum white, sulfur yellow, as well as copper and bits of coal.
Sand painting exemplifies Navajo principles of balance and order. Complementary pairing represents balance between earth and sky, dusk and dawn, air and water. The symmetry of Ben’s sand paintings focuses attention on those fundamental principals, bringing the viewer a true sense of order in both the physical and spiritual worlds.