Sledgehammers and Spray-Paint Now Dominate the Art Scene at Cow Springs, Arizona
In September 2013, I wrote about the state of the art at Cow Springs, Arizona. The term “Cow Springs” has a triple meaning. It stands first for the elusive springs once used to water cattle. Second, it stands for the small Navajo community that occupies a space between Cow Springs Lake and U.S. Highway 160, thirty miles south of Kayenta, Arizona. Third, the name is synonymous with the long defunct Cow Springs Trading Post and service station, which once stood across the highway from the settlement.
Being too small to rate its own U.S. Census district, no one knows how many Navajo actually live in Cow Springs. There are no discernible commercial services available in the settlement. With that, the “Cow Springs Head Start” nursery school appears to be the most prominent enterprise in town. To see for myself, in October 2013 I took a quick driving tour of Cow Springs. After looking around, I would guess the place has a few hundred residents.
After inspecting the ruin of the former Cow Springs Trading Post, I then drove across the highway, over a railroad grade crossing and into a tiny hamlet of mostly well-kept frame houses. Turning south on what appeared to be the major road in town, my path paralleled the highway. With my travel trailer in tow, I could not locate Cow Springs Lake, which I knew lay to my southwest. Although I could see the growth of a tree line upstream of the dwindling lake, I could not risk becoming stuck on some dead end road.
Despite the fact that the Cow Springs Trading Post closed over forty-five years ago, human activity in and around the ghost-building remains high. The two artistic implements of choice remain spray-paint and the sledgehammer. Almost equal in their usage, paint covers old art as the hammers continue deconstructing what little remains of the building. Since my previous visit, in the spring of 2013, the rate of destruction was astonishing. Even the paint on the old Standard Oil Products pole-sign appeared more flaked and baked in the sun.
When observing public art, most humans tend to like older, more traditional works. Although portraits of warriors and braves once adorned the concrete block walls of the ruin, most are now gone or covered with many layers of seemingly random words and images. If we can surmise any underlying theme within recent art at Cow Springs, it is that those in power will fall some day. Apocalyptic art and poetry, accented by the hammers of destruction create accidental cubist works.
Perhaps the best example of "sledgehammer cubism" is the Prophet, seen here in a time-lapse animated GIF image. Not many years ago, the Prophet appeared on a prominent wall of the ruin. Evocatively painted with both brushstrokes and spray-paint stencils, destructionist wrecking crews soon targeted the work. On my 2009 visit to the ruin, the concrete slab that held the Prophet’s image no longer stood. Although the image of the Prophet remained largely intact, it was now lying on the concrete floor. During my most recent visit, I noted that the visage of the Prophet had become a jumble of unrecognizable fragments. After an extensive sledgehammer attack, portions of one haunting eye and a bit of a skullcap were all that I could recognize. although rotated or tumbled into a chaotic pattern, most of the fragments remained in their places.
The dramatic spray-paint profile titled “Navajo Warrior” had suffered a similar fate. Over the course of a decade or so, the female warrior mythos had suffered various graffiti-induced indignities. On this visit, I found her image obliterated by elaborate graffiti monikers. In the afternoon sun, only her red-accented left eye shone through to me.
As recently as 2012, local artist Jetsonorama’s photo-mural depicting a young Navajo girl graced a prominent south-facing wall of the ruin. Resplendent in her finery, but with one eye torn mostly away, her youthful energy and optimism still shone through. A year later, beneath a welter of angry words and misogynistic art, her visage now hides from the world.
As I indicated at the beginning of this story, most people opine for the day when art was beautiful and easy to appreciate. A century ago, the likes of Pablo Picasso deconstructed beautiful images into their cubic components. Likewise, unseen hands continue to deconstruct the remaining walls and art at the Cow Springs Trading Post. Those works not yet obliterated, are festooned with colorful fragments of the deconstructionists' aching souls.