When the artist Haley Greenfeather English speaks, the first thing you notice is her vibrancy — she exudes it. Her mannerisms are playful. Every question she answers is given with a laugh, a smile, or a joke.
“I really think it’s important to encourage people to act like children and be really goofy,” says Greenfeather English on a short break from painting her fourteen foot tall mural in the blacklight hallway at Meow Wolf. “We have this idea we have to act certain ways in our society and I don’t think any of them are true.”
She is vivid, hilarious, spunky and wild. Her art is driven largely by her own personal experiences and how she, the playful and still very serious artist, interprets the world and events around her. Experiences that might not stand out to most throttle her into deep inspiration and her creative process.
“He came from a memory that I had of making one of my friend’s pasta and I put in mayonnaise in the marinara because I was just like, ‘This is a great idea. Let’s just do that.’ We laughed about it later because I looked so serious and at the time, I thought it was good and would be a great idea!”
She goes on to say that she sees herself in all the characters in these pieces, that it becomes a contemporary form of storytelling with humor and the absurd. “It tells a lot about people and our nature of being weirdos, even if we are expected to be normal,” she says with a laugh.
“Party Wiz” is lit with black light. When Greenfeather English arrived to find that, the idea of working with blacklight was at first overwhelming. She brought a whole palate of colors without considering blacklight, but serendipitously she’d brought a “huge gallon of pink fluorescent paint.” She strategized. “The coolest thing about art is that, I feel like I’m not the best at what I do. I’m not the best painter. I’m not the best muralist. Like I’m just not. . . But I feel like I am really good at like making things work on the fly and figuring it out.”
Neon pink angels pop off the black background, bringing the playful characters to life – to an even greater degree when Meow Wolf becomes a concert venue at night.
Playing with bright neon colors and free-form organic lines, her content may be inspired from her adult life, but the playful aesthetic appeals to all ages. “. . . Meow Wolf does that,” Greenfeather English makes the comparison. “You could walk into the space and be really serious and take it seriously and not enjoy it or you can do what your body wants you to do and touch everything and have a really good time – and I hope my work does that, too.”
A native New Mexican and graduate of IAIA, Greenfeather English now has her own studio in Albuquerque, which she calls her “happy place.” If she’s not there, she’s teaching children – another source of inspiration. “Art [by nature] is really child-like and kids experience it that way. They [kids] have a unique way to make art flawlessly and I try to do that. My line work is natural and I try not to give it too much of a sharp feel, keeping it organic.” English adds that teaching children keeps her sharp.
Her work often draws themes from her indigenous heritage. “It’s my narrative! That’s how I think of it,” says Greenfeather English. “[My art is] not recognizable as being indigenous and, to me, I think that is really important because there are so many repetitive images [in indigenous art] and when you go outside of that, people question it and are confused.” She’s expanding the definition of what indigenous art is by being true to herself and her vision. “I don’t want people to look at my art and think this is a cowboy and this–” she pauses for a moment and reconsiders “Although, I do want to make trippy cowboys one day.”
In addition to her new work at Meow Wolf, Greenfeather English has upcoming shows at Zendo Coffee and Culture Club, both in Albuquerque. She is also working on a mural project with other female muralists at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge opening this summer. Follow her on Instagram.