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Artist takes new path for exhibit

With the opening of her exhibit Thursday, J. Nicole Hatfield is taking "A New Path From an Old Direction," both as the name of the showing and for her personal journey. For her, art is the best medicine.

The self-taught Comanche/Kiowa artist will be on hand to visit and discuss her work during the opening reception of her exhibition at the Southwestern Medical Center Pride Gallery, 5602 W. Lee. The reception is from 5-6:30 p.m. The exhibit will be on display through Jan. 20. 

Hatfield (Nahmi-A-Pish), 34, said she is expressing her personal evolution and self-discovery through contemporary culture with her life and art steeped in Native American values and traditions. Her heritage, coupled with artistic creativity, helped save her life as a 15-year-old girl growing up in Apache, she said. 

"The whole reason why I started painting is because I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts when I was a teenager," Hatfield said. "Painting was a way for me to express myself and get that out."

"I started painting and that helped heal me," she said. "Painting is medicine to me."

Not hindered by convention, Hatfield said she finds freedom with brush in hand. Pestle and mortar create elixirs of healing, medicines applied by paint and canvas.

"I paint what I want to and I paint how I want to because it's so good deep down in my soul," Hatfield said. "That's my first and foremost concern, to be able to get that out."

There's rich subtext in Hatfield's exhibiting her art in a gallery called Pride, housed inside a place for healing. After using her art to heal herself, she is finding that sharing her story and her avenue of expression is helping to heal others. She had a recent workshop in Anadarko for the Wichita Tribe's Suicide Prevention Program and she is in talks with Riverside Indian School to do one for the girls attending.

"Lately, I've been doing a lot of workshops," Hatfield said. "I'm a big advocate for suicide prevention, and that's what I've been really trying to work towards. I like to show them another tool for expressing themselves in a good way."

Because painting helped her so much when she was a teenager, Hatfield said, she tries to inspire younger artists by showing them a modern aesthetic through demonstrations and workshops.

"I want to keep art traditions alive," Hatfield said. "I am attracted to graffiti and street styles, and those are the styles kids are attracted to." 

Hatfield's earlier works involved large, bold paintings based on historic Native American photographs of proud tribal women  but with a modern, almost punk rock aesthetic. The Comanche primary colors of royal blue, rich red and yellow have been a hallmark of her past work. She's incorporating modern Indian women's faces and color choices into her artistic progression that are "a lot more expressive," but said she's not taking anything away, only adding to her palette.

"I'm always probably going to go back to my original style or technique or whatever," Hatfield said. "I still go to those colors (primaries), but now I'm experimenting with brighter colors, neon colors, things that will catch your eye."

Heritage is as prevalent in a Hatfield original as its color or style. It's something that began with her cultural journey to find her connection to her ancestors. She uses it to connect others to theirs.

"Sometimes I try to incorporate words in the Comanche and Kiowa languages into my pieces," Hatfield said. "I originally did that so that I could learn and remember a word, but it went from there to wanting to encourage the youth to learn a language."

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