On-line ARTlines Archive

April 26, 2012

In 1980, Nancy Pantaleoni and I started ARTlines, a monthly black- and-white tabloid-sized publication that profiled local artists and previewed and reviewed gallery exhibitions, plays and concerts. After a year or so, ARTlines expanded to Santa and eventually Denver, a move that ultimately spelled doom for the underfinanced venture. But for nearly five years, ARTlines was a lively, sometimes controversial journal of the northern New Mexico cultural scene. Old-timers remember the indepth interviews with local luminaries and international superstars, from Bill Acheff and Lily Fenichel, to Bea Mandelman,  Bruce Nauman, and Harold Joe Waldrum.

Many of those interviews are now available online at www.artlinesarchive.blogspot.com , a site that I’ve been working on for the past six months. It occurred to me last year that ARTlines might prove to be the best single source of information on a very vital period of Taos art history. We were all relatively young then, excited,  working and playing hard. But excellent art was being created in virtually every medium, and it was selling! What a concept.

The site currently has some 26 ARTlines interviews, with more to be added as I’m able to digitize them. There’s a nostalgic quality to some of the material, especially hearing again the voices of those who have died, inimitable characters like Bill Gersh, Doel Reed, Tally Richards and our own Melissa Zink. But there’s also much  joy and even insight in reading passionate exchanges with  those who are still around, such as Larry Bell John Nichols, Jim Wagner — the survivors.


Glad to the Brink of Fear

December 14, 2011

ImageLook at a painting and you can see how the artist sees, feel how and what he or she feels. According to my own theory of judging quality, the best art is that in which the deepest, most intense, sublime, and occasionally alien feelings are communicated. When I stand in front of Van Gogh’s “Wheat Field with Crows” (and it has to be the real thing, photos just won’t do it), I believe that I feel what the artist felt as he painted it, and it’s an ecstatic feeling so powerful that I’m left simultaneously breathless and teary.

I had a similar experience the other day on a visit to the late Melissa Zink’s home, evoked in part by her work but primarily by the setting in which it was placed. The house, the living room in particular, is filled with objects of rare beauty and power, things that she loved to look at, that filled her eyes with feeling: a framed page from an ancient Arabic manuscript; African dolls, one mother and child made of cloth with sticks for limbs; a grouping of clay figurines, round mouths, possessed of voodoo-like authority;  an Anasazi pot;  a pair of immaculately beaded Plains Indian moccasins; and, of course, walls of shelved books. I imagine she read every one of them. A few examples of her own work hang here and there, small things, perfectly composed,  ghostly in their ability to conjure her presence.

There’s a small leather sofa in the room where she often sat, reading, watching TV, talking with Nelson, her husband. In her last years when she hadn’t the energy to work in the studio, she’d paint there – tiny, jewel-like oil glaze paintings of oddly beautiful abstract-surreal subject matter.

On the shelf just above the sofa, there’s a 12 or 14 inch ceramic sculpture that’s among the most gripping, unflinchingly terrible figures I’ve ever seen. It’s a black-robed male with a twisted white face and head – evil incarnate. Protruding from the bottom of his robe are two angular elements, suggestions of an armature that supports and intrinsically defines the figure. It is a swastika. To the left of the figure are three perfected modeled pears and a gourd, delicately colored, fragile but somehow indomitable, like nature’s fruit. On the other side is an arrangement of ancient books, their exposed bindings slowly crumbling. The composition works like visual poetry, the effect nearly overwhelming, redolent with potential meanings that are only to be guessed at. The power of the composition reveals the aesthetic and intellectual courage that made her such a singular artist.

A blog reader recently sent me the following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that matches the feeling: “I was glad to the brink of fear.”

Stephen Parks

Taos Views

November 11, 2011

There’s much to love about Taos – the cultural richness, the strong, often eccentric nature of its people, and, perhaps foremost for me, the landscape:  the forest-lush mountains that border the eastern half of the valley, the plain that marches  for fifty miles to the west, interrupted by the gash of the Rio Grande gorge, and beyond it the distinctive silhouettes of the Pedernal, Tres Orejas, Kiowa Peak and at the northern edge hump-backed San Antonio. Over the years these have become visual essentials for me, landmarks that somehow orient my psyche. When I’m away from the valley for any extended period of time I get a vague sense of rootlessness.

I try once a week to get into the woods, hike a familiar trail or bushwack  up an unexplored slope. A few days ago in need of some elevation (literally and figuratively) I headed up the South Boundary Trail, which begins just as Hwy. 64 enters Taos Canyon and loops up the top of mountain guarding the east side of the valley.  I hadn’t been to the top in several years and vaguely remembered that it took about an hour and a half to get there. By that point my thighs were burning, I was having to stop occasionally to catch my breath and the summit looked to be at least another half hour away. But the day was beautiful and I was determined, spurred, as I often am by the thought that something was waiting to be discovered.

At the top I sat on a rock, drank some water, and looked over the valley. My heart sank, for stretched out to the west, nearly to the gorge, was what I can only call Taos Sprawl, roads slashed through the sage, clumps of houses like cultures of bacteria growing on the mesa. I’m being unfair, I’ve seen this sight many times before, never happy with it but never quite so disturbed, either. What had happened to MY gorgeous little town, the place I’d fallen in love with 38 years ago? Sitting up there the other day, I thought of a conversation I’d had in the late 1970s with the great writer Frank Waters, who back then was ruing how Taos was growing and changing. “But,” he said sadly, “we can’t put up a wall around the place and turn it into a museum.”

With that thought in mind, I turned my back on the sprawl, walked over the rim to the east side of the slope. Fifty yards away I was suddenly in the most heart-stoppingly gorgeous aspen grove I’d ever seen. The leaves were at their glowing golden peak, the sky was perfect blue and the scene sent me to my knees. I was reminded that I never have to go very far from the sprawl to find a place as beautiful as it was 38 years ago, or probably 3,800 years ago. No picture can quite do the experience justice. You just have to close your eyes . . .

Currier’s “Taos Fiesta Queens”

November 10, 2011

Erin Currier, Taos Fiesta Queens VI, mixed media, 36 x 48 inches. Left to right: Jenni Alyssa Medina, Bianca Claire Silva, Anna Eloisa Vasquez (La Reina), and Andrea Bibiana Mondragon.

Erin Currier moved to Santa Fe a year or so ago, but a large part of her heart remains in Taos. She recently completed a love song to the town, Taos Fiesta Queens VI, and delivered it to Parks Gallery, her long-time local representative.

“I moved to New Mexico from New England nearly twenty years ago,” she says, “and almost immediately was deeply impressed by Taos’s Hispanic culture with its traditions, particularly its respect for its ancestors, elders, and family, for its sense of community.  It seems to me that the Fiesta Princesas and Reina reflect and embody these values.  As a socio-political artist, it was, and is, important to me to support and pay homage to these values and to these young women. And I love Fiestas!  I go most every year, and every year I find that the Reina and Princesas are stunningly beautiful. This is the sixth year I’ve painted them and it always feels like an  honor.”

“Erin has been important to me, to the gallery and to Taos art in general since I first discovered her — scores of people make the same claim — at the Southside Bean more than a decade ago,” says gallery owner Steve Parks.  “Since our down-sizing earlier this year, we’re unable to stage her major exhibitions, as we did for so long, and she’s gone on to exhibit in the wider art universe. But she’s extremely loyal and continues to get us new work as she’s able, and this new piece is as strong and beautiful as anything she’s ever done.”

Taos Fiesta Queens is on view through the end of November at Parks Gallery, 110-A Paseo del Pueblo Norte. A portion of the sale of Taos Fiesta Queens VI will be donated to the Fiesta Council’s scholarship fund. For more information call 575-751-0343.

Marvels, Terrors and Delights

October 8, 2011

Last Winter Diary, January 2009

The gallery is currently gathering material for a book of the letters Melissa Zink and Eva Brann, a distinguished author and educator at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, exchanged between 2006 and 2009. Going through the artist’s papers recently, I came across the following. It’s not from a letter but rather from the short address she delivered upon receiving the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts, in Santa Fe in 2001. It’s a moving statement that reminded me what an extraordinary artist she was, and how blessed I am to represent her work.
     “To the observer, mine appears an ordinary enough existence with little to distinguish it from uncountable others. But an observer cannot know the journeys I’ve made, the lives I’ve lived, the intensities of joy and anguish I have experienced. Nor can that observer know how the everyday complexity of life shines with unfathomable beauty or how the difficulty of expressing that experience becomes overwhelming. That same observer has no way of knowing that I have found permanent shelter in a world constructed from the experience of words and pictures, a world full of marvels, terrors and delights that becomes more real from one day to the next. A world I hope to vanish into someday.”

Melissa Zink, 2007

Melissa died in July, 2009. We miss her terribly but count ourselves among the lucky ones who glimpsed the richness of her interior world, the world into which she peacefully vanished.

Martin and Wagner: An Odd Couple

July 15, 2011

Jim Wagner, mid-1960s

Thinking the other day about Agnes Martin and her big exhibition next year at the Harwood Museum, I remembered that Jim Wagner had known her in Taos in the 1960s. It seemed like a most unlikely pairing – Martin who became famous for her spare, nearly monochromatic grid paintings, and Wagner, the master of loose expressionism whose principal subject has long been the off-beat, funky charm of Taos. I asked Wagner to recall his early meetings with Martin:

“When I was growing up in Monmouth, Oregon, we had a family friend, Mildred Kane, who came by the house a lot. She’d  been  my sister’s kindergarten teacher, and she was a close friend of Agnes Martin.   I think they’d gone to college together in Canada. Mildred often visited Agnes when she lived in Taos, it must have been the late 40s and early 50s, I was in the 4th or 5th grade, and she would always tell us these stories about Taos, what a great place it was for an artist, and she’d show us drawings and watercolors that she’d gotten from Agnes. Nothing like the grids she became famous for – these were like nymphs or fairies running through graveyards, that sort of thing.  They’re probably still around someplace. I think the Fine Arts Museum in Santa Fe has some.

Agnes Marin, 1954

“Because of Mildred’s stories, I knew Taos was the place to go when I decided to become an artist in the early 1960s. A few years later, in about 1965, I was going into a liquor store,  Mundos — it used to be at the edge of that steep hill at the south end of Placitas Road. Anyway, I remember the day exactly because I’d just had a vasectomy, the pain pills were beginning to wear off and I was getting a bottle of bourbon to take home. So Agnes was in there and I recognized her, she was buying a bottle of Campari, and I introduced myself and told her about Mildred. Well, for whatever reason, she didn’t want to talk about Mildred but she invited me into the back room at Mundos where we sat and drank Campari.

“A few weeks later I was having cocktails at Louis Ribak and Bea Mandelman’s house, and Agnes was there. They were old friends. Agnes got pretty loose. We were all going to dinner at the old Casa Cordova restaurant in Seco, and I’ll never forget it, I had to carry Agnes into the dining room on my back. The owner, Godie Schuetz, was so mad at me . . .

“After dinner Agnes and I sat in the car for an hour and talked about art. It wasn’t technical stuff at all, not how to paint or anything but about how art made you feel. It was almost like religion. Listening to her talk was like music just flowing over me. Like liquid gold. I took it all in.”

Jim Wagner, "The Committee," etching

After hearing Wagner’s story, I looked up a half-remembered quote of Martin’s that pointed toward a possible connection between the two: “If you live intellectually, you live with facts,” Martin said. “If you learn to surrender, you can go to bed, sleep, and then wake up with the answer. You have to surrender to inspiration . . . you have to put the intellect to sleep.”

“She was the first one to drive that home for me,” Wagner said. “Stop thinking. Let your subconscious do the work. You have to shut out the critics, the voices that want to tell you what you can do, what you can’t do. I call those voices  The Committee.” — Stephen Parks

Pronouncing the Beautiful

June 8, 2011

Just how does one begin to describe beauty without lapsing into hackneyed cliché and anemic metaphor?

Good question.   Working in the art world for some years now, I am constantly driven to describe the expansive, life-affirming space surrounding that which we define as being “beautiful,” but I also hesitate for a moment knowing that words are seldom the domain of the heart.    While I think we all have been moved by this mysterious quality,  the task of explaining beauty to someone who may never have  experienced it—now, stay with me here— is akin to summarizing a Tom Robbins novel:  “It’s like pointing to a snowflake and expecting someone to grasp the concept of downhill skiing.”

Well, maybe not quite.  But the point is that no matter how we struggle with descriptors, the essence of all great art and natural beauty is about the dialogue, the unique experience we bring to its various forms.  Without the interaction—without being present to read the book, or to gaze at the painting, or to sit amidst a perfect sunset—an essential element is lost.    We can’t just say that something is beautiful, period, end of story.  There is such richness in our presence that art and the poetic qualities of nature merely remind us of who we are already;   the places we have ventured to in our lives, the people we have loved, the stray cat that found its way to our doorstep—beauty conjures up everything that resides within us.

Beauty also comes to us when we are ready for it.  I think of poetry I read as a teenager, the tender words of Whitman, and how they were just words for me at one time.  With each trip around the sun, my journey has taken me deeper into a place of reverence for the natural world.  Now, after having a child and hearing him express wonderment for things like clouds and dirt, and relocating to New Mexico where the parched mountain landscape reminds me of our human ability to endure the more jagged parts of life (and to do so gracefully),  I can say that I finally get Whitman.  I get him!  Oh, the beauty of his words, reading Leaves of Grass again many years later:

(excerpted from “A Song of the Rolling Earth”)

A song of the rolling earth, and of the words according,
Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?
those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the ground
and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you (…)


Jim Wagner "3 Koi in a Pond" oil on canvas

And so it goes for the art here at the Parks Gallery.  Not everybody is expected to “get” Melissa Zink’s work,  nor does everyone share the same experiences that make Jim Wagner’s paintings come to life—we clearly can’t define beauty in the same ways.  But, when the connection is made, it is something beyond words:    I can point to snowflakes all day long and still never convey to you the beauty that I find in witnessing someone connecting, really truly connecting, with a piece of art.  I am so grateful.

–Melissa Glarner