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,
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."
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
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.