Rhett Lynch is a renowned Navajo artist who has worked with a wide variety of mediums and subject matter. For over forty years, Rhett has created art with deep multifaceted intent that holds powerful symbols of his Native heritage. From dog portraits to abstract paintings, Rhett Lynch is a truly diverse artist. Recently, Rhett has made a major transition from artist to gallery owner, curator, and artist. After being approached by Heritage Hotels to open an art gallery correlating with Hotel Chaco's vision of honoring Indigenous cultures, the artist began to consider the idea of opening Gallery Chaco.
At first, Rhett wasn't too sure about the concept. "I fought the idea of opening the gallery. Synchronicity kept showing up. It was so noticeable that I felt like I needed to get out of the way and see what this was that seemed to be trying to create itself despite my apprehension about it," explains Rhett. The owner and curator felt like the gallery was fated to be. Any time he thought about backing out, something else just short of feeling miraculous would happen and he realized he couldn't deny that the universe was at work. Rhett explains, "I’ve learned through success and mishap when I don’t listen to my intuition things really kind of became more challenging, so I just kept going."
Once the gallery had shifted from an idea to a reality, Rhett began selecting artists. He started with artists that were commissioned to help create Hotel Chaco. Having been an artist for the past four decades, Rhett knew many of these people already. After approaching the commissioned artists, the search expanded to other Indigenous artists. Rhett explains his selection process, saying, "I wanted to find artists that were serious about their careers and serious about their message and what they were trying to do. People that I thought really have a voice that move Native, Indigenous work forward." There are currently sixteen outstanding Indigenous artists represented in Gallery Chaco, including Rhett Lynch himself.
The transition for Rhett was never meant to be from artist to curator, but rather a combination of both. The artist decided to put his studio within the walls of Gallery Chaco. Over the years Rhett has had a variety of different studio spaces, but never in a public space like this. "It’s taking some getting used to, having my studio here. I’m just starting to paint here. I’m really just seeing and feeling out how it’s going to work. When I get here early in the morning and paint everything goes smoothly. I haven’t tried to work when they gallery is open yet. So we’ll see what that’s like," says Rhett. Bringing Gallery Chaco to life required a lot of the artist, who is just starting to paint again for the first time since the gallery came into fruition.
Rhett sees Gallery Chaco as an exciting edition to Albuquerque. "There's not a gallery like this here in our city," he says. With his primary background as an artist, Rhett chooses to focus more on the story telling aspect of the artwork than anything else. "This allows us to bring people the voices of the artists. We want people to become acquainted with them not just by coming in and looking at their artwork, but also meeting them and getting to know them as people," says Rhett. By focusing on the artists and their stories, Rhett believes that this brings a level of cultural richness to Albuquerque. "When people start to have an understanding of other cultures, pre-judgements start disappearing and you end up with a stronger community," he says.
Being an indigenous fine art gallery provides a unique opportunity to represent different Native peoples and Indigenous work. Rhett recognizes that Indigenous peoples have a strong connection to their ancient cultures, which means their stories go back a very long time in a deep and meaningful way. He explains, "Those stories work their way into the imagery of indigenous artists. It’s essentially visual record keeping. Even when you do something, for example when I do a painting that is completely abstract, it is still deeply rooted in who I am as a human being, but also that is shaped by my experience of being an indigenous person." There is a connection between the artists and their heritage that directly relates to these stories.
Rhett believes that having the opportunity to relate these powerful stories to the public is vital to the preservation of Native cultures. He explains, "Telling these stories adds a richness to the layering of Indigenous history that I think is essential for any community to thrive. Diversity is paramount. When people are harmonious with diversity, and with nature, you have a thriving system. To be able to create that, to play a role in that, is really exciting." Gallery Chaco was built on a foundation of Indigenous cultural awareness, exploration, and story telling.