In today’s America, we have the pleasure of being home to many outstanding Native American painters. Many, if not most, perhaps even all, of these painters are influenced by Native American paintings made by artists long gone.
The elements of historic Native American paintings can be seen in the more contemporary works of today. A quick review of the symbols, elements, even some of the materials used today takes us all the way back to the days of the first Native American painters. These painters had no canvas or paper on which to paint. They painted on rock walls.
The Native American paintings found on rock walls are technically called pictographs. Some of them appear on canyon walls, rock outcrops, and in caves. They are considered crude by today’s standards but are fascinating, nevertheless.
The subjects of these fascinating works of art are frequently animals and geometric symbols. The human form is another common subject of these first Native American paintings, represented as a whole person in many cases but as mere foot or handprints in other cases. The handprint is the most common element depicted in ancient rock art throughout the world.
The Native American paintings representing handprints are interesting in that they are depicted from both the positive and the negative aspects. The positive aspect was probably made by applying pigment to the palm of the hand and fingers then pressing the hand against the rock, leaving a colorful print.
Pressing the hand on the rock wall and spraying the pigment around it most likely created the negative aspect of the human hand represented in other Native American paintings. This technique leaves a colorful area surrounding an impression of the hand in bare rock.
Some of the coloring agents used were colorful rocks and minerals ground into a powder. Malachite, manganese, hematite, gypsum, and limonite were some of the minerals used. Colorful clays and various oxides were also included in the ancient artist’s palette.
To create these earliest Native American paintings, the artist had to rely on raw materials found in nature as his or her pigments and binding agents. The skill and creativity it must have taken to create these paints is quite an art form in itself. After all, we’re still enjoying their work thousands and thousands of years after the paints were applied.