I have just finished reading River of Traps–A New Mexico Mountain Life, by William deBuys, and I am becoming aware that this work has found its way into my work.
I’ve been painting a couple of series for about a year and a half now—much longer than any series I’ve ever done. They are my Llano Series and my Truchas Moderns. I’ve mentioned them to you before. I guess the Truchas Moderns came first. They were inspired by my walks through the land grant and out to the llano. Without intending it, the land started showing up in my work—age old fences of stick and wire that have been repaired over the decades until they’ve become their own art form; burnt out trees on distant hills from the fire of 2000 when the village of Truchas had to be evacuated; willow, juniper, cottonwood and aspen—all of this viewed against fields of white snow, or buckskin colored grasses flooded with mountain sunlight, creating bright contrast—and me walking through it.
I remember when the first Truchas Modern came into being. I was at the easel experiencing a stunning out of body experience. I literally thought, as I watched my hand and its brush playing on the canvas, “Hmm, will you look at that? I wonder where this is going?” I called it The Journey.
From the Truchas Moderns, once the horses and cattle started finding their way into the work, abstracted within suggestions of fences, the Llano Series was born. Now it is giving way to a new body of work: my Horse Series. And from them all, a new version of the Truchas Moderns is being born. This is where William deBuys enters.
In his writing he speaks powerfully about water and the land—specifically about irrigating this land through a system of ancient ditches dug by the Spanish colonists, when these villages were first settled, called acequias. I am not finding the passage right now but in his book, The Walk, he talks about irrigating his field for the first time each spring and, I swear, it brought tears to my eyes. It made me recall my first spring in the village when locals filled their fields with water. I’d never seen anything like it. The sky reflected blue and white in the plowed lines of the land, now shallow lakes, and it took my breath away. I stopped what I was doing to respectfully pay homage to an ancient rite of spring that has allowed man to live on this land for over 250 years. The visual alone, like diamonds dancing in the fields, never ceases to give me pause, but the first waters of spring are the most moving.
In River of Traps, deBuys tells the story of Jacobo Romero, an old man and neighbor who befriended him when he first moved to one of these small land grant villages in the mountains of northern New Mexico, with his wife and a friend. Jacobo “…initiates them into knowledge of land, water, and a way of life long rooted in the mountain valley that became their common home.”
I have acequia rights to my land but I haven’t even taken the time to go down to Santa Fe to register them. My gates on the ditch have been long unused and are in need of repair, so I’ve left them lying fallow. Reading about deBuys’s and his companions’ immersion in the land upon their arrival, I feel a sense of remorse for being on this land but doing nothing with it. It seems a violation and I am not proud. Perhaps something is awakening and I will take steps to change this?
But setting all guilt aside, deBuys’s writing has inspired a new series of Truchas Moderns. The first of these are titled Irrigated Pastureland, Ode to the Peaks, What Each Water Will Do and Let the Water Show, all inspired by a combination of deBuys’s expression of learning how to irrigate and work his land and my experiences of living in this place where irrigation is key.
I personally think it is a beautiful thing: One artist inspiring another, and it happens all the time through literature, music, movies and plays, as well as other visual arts. It’s just such a blessing when it does and I wanted to share this experience with you. And, obviously, I highly recommend his books, River of Traps—A New Mexico Mountain Life, The Walk, and another I’ve mentioned before on the blog, Enchantment and Exploitation—The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range. I’ve started reading his Valles Caldera: A Vision for New Mexico’s National Preserve, so I expect you’ll be hearing from that sometime soon.
All photos in today’s post were shot by Kevin Hulett.
Love to you all,