Like the painter, Beatrice Mandelman, the famous Taos Modernist, coming to New Mexico dramatically changed my art. Prior to arriving here my career had been spent as a realist painter, primarily figurative and genre work.
When I first visited Truchas, I was in something of a transition with my work. I was abstracting the backgrounds and playing with loosening up the figures. I remember thinking about a large canvas I was in the midst of as I made the drive from Utah to New Mexico. I’d had so much fun with the background but had left all the figure areas unpainted and was dreading filling them in on my return. Then I had an epiphany: I could make paintings without people in them!
Upon arrival in Truchas I stayed up until 3 in the morning sketching abstracts. I went back to Utah and painted my first nonrepresentational show. I think most of you know that life changes usually happen over time and in ways we don’t always see while we’re in the middle of them. My art was changing but I couldn’t see exactly how or why yet.
Shortly after making the move to New Mexico I took six canvasses to a Canyon Road gallery. The owner generously gave me his time and critiqued the paintings. He said he didn’t feel invited into them—that he found them flat. I thought about this all day and into the night. As I got in bed, I realized there was no shadow and light in my work. This was a rather shocking revelation because intense contrast had always been the driving force of my art. In that moment, I saw that dark tonalities and their bright counterparts had been absent from my paintings for some time.
In considering this, I came to understand that when I paint shadow, I am actually painting my own dark side. As odd as this may sound, even when I painted realistically, there was a connection for me between painting dark tones and delving into my darker psyche. I used to be very conscious, in my work, that shadow defined light and light defined shadow—one, literally, can’t exist without the other. Like life. But it was more than a metaphor for me. It was energetically real in the act of painting. I think I instinctively quit painting shadow because I had suffered so much loss in Utah that I just couldn’t tolerate it. Have any of you experienced that kind of self protection where you don’t even know you’re doing it? That’s what I’d done with my work without realizing it.
But moving to New Mexico changed that. It made me aware. It was as if Spirit brought me to this place to get reconnected. I was now required to “go there.” My initial explorations into shadow, after that, created a series I called the Dark Horse Series and the very first piece was titled “Going There.”
Living on this land, my work continues to shift and develop. Color holds very little meaning for me right now. As I delve into the high contrast of this bright mountain light, I continue to strip away all but dark against light—llano fences on the snow, burned out aspens stark in winter skies or standing like black lines against summer’s sun bleached pastures.
I have entered into a time of intense painting which I’ve shared, some, with you on this blog. I feel new work brewing in me, along with a desire to re-look at some of the series that went before. I don’t yet know what is germinating but of one thing I am certain: shadow and light once again form the foundation of my work. I am driven by stark contrast. Color may or may not be a visitor to my canvasses again, but black and white are the bones my soul will hang itself on. Can’t wait to see what happens. Are you with me?
Love to you all,