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By John O'Hern


Growing up on the South Shore of Boston, we always joked that there was no culture west of the Berkshires. After all, Boston was "The Hub of the Universe." And then I lived in upstate New York for 30 years and worked in art museums. And now, Santa Fe! A later preconception was that the Santa Fe art scene is all about cowboys, Indians, mountains, and deserts. Wrong again. One of the fascinating things about the visual arts in this art‑rich city is that there is a healthy portion of it that has nothing to do with my and others' preconceptions.

Grant Hayunga has a cool collection of Western hats, but he says, "Santa Fe itself has less and less influence over my work as the years go by New Mexico at large, though, is a mythic frontier that still haunts. The land, the animals and the people exist on another plane in my imagination." When I asked him about his "returning" to his Peyote paintings after a recent series of landscapes, he replied: "I think of my work as cyclical, allowing both the linear and circular expressions to coexist in a wave. I arguably have three or four bodies of work simultaneously vying for attention, stealing, defiling and inspiring one another. Without the 'recent' landscapes you could not have the 'new' Peyote works and vice versa..." Although there is a Turquoise Trail leading into (and out of) Santa Fe,

Jeanette Pasin Sloan's luminous watercolor of the same name has more to do with her longtime interest in reflective and transparent objects and their distortion of patterned fields. As a young mother in Chicago, Sloan sat in her kitchen and studied the simple domestic objects around her and began to teach herself to draw. As she honed her skills she worried about the mundane objects she drew and painted and if, perhaps, they were too mundane. She realized, though, that artists draw from their experience and her experience was that of a mother in a kitchen and that even those simple objects had a history‑of the people who made them and the people who used them. As her growth as an artist continues, she notices the reflections becoming more abstract. When an object takes up almost the entire field of one of her paintings, the abstraction appears first and the object later.

When I visited Geoffrey Laurence in his studio, he was working on a very large canvas in which John Wayne and his angel confront each other with guns drawn (in a supermarket). Western characters are rare in his work, however. Laurence moved to New Mexico in 1996. As he worked on the surface that would become John Wayne's gun, he talked about the role of photography in contemporary realist painting and some people's desire for photographic realism. "When I paint a portrait of someone who is sitting for me," Laurence observed, "it is not just a matter of perceiving the effects of the light falling on them. I also know what they sound like, what their skin feels like, how they smell and usually many aspects of their current life that they choose to share with me... My pictorial memory is constantly running in the back of my mind, comparing the many paintings I have experienced viewing and the paintings I myself have made in the past. All these things are important for me to try and communicate through my brush and to which I respond, often subconsciously, whilst painting. These are things a camera cannot do."

Michael Bergi is known primarily as an egg tempera painter and a sculptor. He draws from the live model as often as possible and, in the process, becomes more adept at seeing and rendering. The drawings are made as works of art in themselves. Bergt and his model Dante Valore's collaboration on multiple figure compositions has resulted in simple and elegant ink drawings. "After years of literally using millions of cross‑hatched lines to define form in my paintings and drawings," Bergt writes, "I gave myself a new assignment: use one line, drawn directly in ink from life, using poses that can't be held for long. The result: it's like writing a sentence about the pose, and the line becomes like calligraphy representing the body... Fun!"

Carol Mothner came to Santa Fe to paint the landscape but found it too masculine. She had been used to the soft feminine curves of the landscape in New England and New York. She turned to drawing and egg tempera and to a series of graphite portraits of women. When she was diagnosed with a serious illness, Mothner began making tiny notebooks of her thoughts on her life, her husband, daughter, and friends as well as observations on current events. The tiny notebook pages, often illustrated with tempera paintings, evolved into separate works of art and monotypes Today, Mothner is working on graphite portrait commissions, and her practice of writing observations carries on with markings on the backgrounds of the portraits. As we stood at the window of her studio streaming with the clear light of Northern New Mexico she mused, "How could you not want to live here?"•

John O'Hern, who has retired after 30 years in the museum business, specifically as the Executive Director and Curator of the Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, N. Y. is the originator of the internationally acclaimed Re‑ presenting Representation exhibitions which promote realism in its many guises. John was chair of the Artists Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts. He writes for gallery publications around the world, including regular monthly features on Art Market Insights and on Sculpture in Western Art Collector magazine.  



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