John Nieto: An American Spirit Walk


An American Spirit Walk explores the life and work of American painter JOHN NIETO, who brought new vitality and depth to the timeless themes of the American Southwest. With bold strokes and intense colors, Nieto painted animals, landscapes, and people with eloquence rooted in deep time.

Taking the form of a spirit walk, the film tells the story of John’s journey between worlds. Each of the four elements—EARTH, WATER, FIRE, AND WIND—frames a chapter in Nieto’s life and his evolution as an artist. Interviews with family, friends, teachers, and collectors tell a story of an artist finding his voice.

In all the stages, it is the art itself that speaks most eloquently about Nieto’s journey.         

The first element, EARTH, introduces a young John Nieto, one of a dozen children born to a Colorado minister and his wife. Family nourishes John as he is drawn towards expressing himself through art.

Like all youngsters, Nieto is impatient, eager to find his own style and inspiration. He separates himself from the influences of youth, traveling to Paris and connecting with the city’s tradition and artists.

After John returns from Europe, his grandmother asks him to create art that honors their Native American heritage. His inspiration had always been close to home and bound to family.

Refining his style while working as a graphic artist in Texas, John finds a willing muse to stand by him, and his work blossoms like the desert after a thunderstorm.

WATER, the second element finds John entering his most productive years. Moving to Santa Fe, the art flows from his brushes with passion and meaning as Nieto and his family enjoy the fame and rewards that follow a skilled artist.

John’s mastery and his vision produce one great work after another as his fame reaches across the globe. But at the very apex of his powers, all of it is taken from Nieto when he is felled by a stroke. His senses are muted; his gifts seemingly gone forever.

The FIRE element portrays John suspended between the inner and outer worlds. Weakened, he tells his loved ones to give away his beloved brushes and paints. But upon becoming empty, John is transfigured. Filled with new strength, he rises like a Phoenix from the ashes of the past. Back from another world, Nieto mines a rich new vein that defines his legacy

For almost two decades after his stroke, Nieto produced some of his most mature and powerful art--masterworks that are a testament to his spirit.

WIND, the final element, sees the later stages of Nieto’s life unfold. Content with his accomplishments, John Nieto finally stands before the great chief who will guide him to the spirit world, the place where all men must go.

Life is a circle. Each ending is also a new beginning.










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