There is a movie which takes place in New Mexico I love called “Off the Map.” In it Joan Allen tells a visitor, “New Mexico is a powerful place. Often when people first get here it’s a little overwhelming.” And that’s been true for me.
I had never been to New Mexico before coming to Truchas on a road trip with a friend. Despite the fact I bought land, sight unseen, on that first visit, my relationship with Truchas has never been warm and fuzzy. From the very first night I felt an odd combination of discomfort and peace. This land demands something of me. I’m not allowed to live on it passively. I am required to go deep.
I own two acres about 3/4 of a mile out of town, backed up against several thousand acres of wooded Spanish Land Grant. I have never lived in such isolation and wasn’t sure I’d like it. But something kept driving this project, by that I mean the cutting of a road out here, bringing in water, a septic system and electricity; building my house.
I experienced this space before it was built. I didn’t consciously tell myself to visualize being here but, regularly, often, I imagined I was sitting at the table having coffee, watching the sun come up over Truchas Peaks. I sat on my deck with a glass of wine at sunset. I entertained friends. I painted in my studio. It was all very real. I believe, now, this is the reason my home was built. I ”felt” it into creation.
It is stunningly beautiful where I live, silent and dark. I have never felt one moment of fear out here, even though friends and my contractor told me to get a big dog and a gun. I walk on my land in the pitch black; I stand in the snow, embraced by the stars. I wander the Land Grant in my jammies. This land is mine and I belong to this land. I am safe.
The first couple of years here I lived “skinless.” I felt stripped bare, vulnerable. I experienced a kind of shattering, a total deconstruction of everything I had come to know as me. I am in the process, now, of examining all those pieces and deciding which I want to keep. I have just begun, very slowly, to assemble them into a new self.
Therapy came from an unexpected source: A herd of six horses that fell into hard times my first winter. With permission, I cared for them through the spring and they have been caring for me ever since. Horses are prey animals with intense instincts for danger. If anything is out of whack, even slightly, they’re going to see/sense it and respond. If I ever approached them falsely, if my exterior did not reflect my interior, I was greeted with distrust. They became a sort of barometer for keeping me real. The herd is calming and grounding for me and I am more connected and conscious because of them.
My art has shifted dramatically since arriving here. While shadow and light had always been my driving force, in Utah my abstracts changed to shape and color. I came to understand, once I was here, that I’d abandoned shadow because I was only willing to paint on the surface. I’d suffered too much loss and I didn’t want to “go there.” But New Mexico provided a safe place from which to, once again, examine shadow, to explore the dark. Black and white came back into my paintings and my Llano Series were born.
The Llano Quemado which, loosely translated, means burned or cleared area, is an older, wilder part of Truchas. It’s where my horses live. I walk out through the Land Grant to the Llano everyday. There are old stick fences that have been repaired over and over through the decades to become their own art form. The wildness of the place, its history and culture, the animals, the beauty, have infused my work.
I am a serious working artist. I believe the universe has told me to paint. But in guiding me to paint it’s also telling me to heal. It is no accident I’m here in this tiny Spanish Land Grant village delving into the core of me. We don’t get to make meaningful art until we’ve made meaningful lives. My work (both my paintings and my life) are unfinished. I am in process and I am, finally, listening and responding to the messages.