Sunday, May 29, 2011

goodbye to the land of enchantment

Last night I watched my final sunset in New Mexico. I think I'll be back someday, one way or another. Just as I'd been told, this place gets inside your soul. I got in one last Mexican dinner, one last sweet piece of caramel-drenched flan and one last hot-spring soak, and am now off to the airport, with an art-filled suitcase and a idea-filled mind, eastward bound.

Friday, May 27, 2011

five painters walk into a bar..

Some paintings I've done recently; there are more of course, but they didn't photograph well (such as one from White Sands). As before, I can't rotate the prickly pear painting (12"x16", acrylic). I've tried everything I can think of. Eventually someone will help me out. Please tilt head accordingly to view. The lizard & license plate (from, obviously, the photo I posted last week) are among a group of 2"x3" watercolors. The other painting (16"x20" acrylic) is called "The Necessary Burden of Starlight", a concept I liked and appropriated from Dyer's The Ongoing Moment, the phrase itself a reference, but can be informally known as Starry Sky.
The title of this post comes from a dream I had last night (yawn) in which I was hanging out with 2 women, also painters, and we ran into, specifically, Robert Rauschenberg & Jasper Johns. Apparently we all went out drinking. Then I dreamed I came home and blogged about it, and that was the title, which my dream-self clearly modeled after the classic "___ walks into a bar.." setup (a piece of string, a rabbi, etc). Now, while I've been thinking about plenty of artists lately, none of them were these two. I'm wondering why they popped up instead of, say, O' Keeffe or Hopper or someone. I actually have a theory but, since I'm new to the blogging, I hesitate to delve too deeply into my creative subconscious in such a platform. Then again, I can't always be on the top of a mountain somewhere.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

to be high

Way up & out in the middle of the desert, I had no internet for a couple days, and then it took some time to process this experience- although I'd done some writing the old-fashioned way, in my journal, surrounded by huge rocks and utter quiet. On Monday we'd driven to Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu, from Santa Fe. Georgia O'Keeffe had first stayed here in 1934 and, finding boundless inspiration and peace in this landscape, continued to return regularly until 1946 when Stieglitz died & she moved here, to a house on the ranch and later procuring a house in the nearby village as well. By the time I'd hiked up to Chimney Rock and surveyed the desert spread all around me far below and stretching out in all directions to the horizon (I must be repeating myself in these posts, in my attempts to describe these places), my mind was thoroughly blown, scattered to pieces. Was that the cause of my lightheadedness? It was probably the thinner air I wasn't used to breathing, but I felt free and elated and high. The red and yellow rocks, their surface afire in the sun, I watched the light move across the cliffs over the afternoon until dusk. You slip easily into a meditative state, the quiet, except for birds, all around you.
We'd arranged to stay overnight in lodgings at the top of a mesa, nobody else around. I woke at 2 am and crept outside. The moon shone brightly behind some wispy clouds, the sky really did look like a massive dome arching overhead and, at 8000 ft above sea level, I actually did feel closer to the stars. The Big Dipper seemed so absurdly large to me, as if there was a 3rd one called the Humongous Dipper. The morning dawned gray and windy, and as I turned around from making coffee, there was a sudden rainbow arching through the dark clouds and appearing to end near the pale gold Chimney Rock, lit up by early sunlight. A nice touch.
Later, after another hike through Box Canyon, I walked a labyrinth nestled near the canyon (something I haven't done before) and observed that one can't comprehend the potential effect of a labyrinth until one walks it. You are walking towards the center, slowly and mindfully, without having to decide where you're going, just following the path and trusting it'll lead you gradually within to the place you want to be. In the middle I lay on my back for a moment and closed my eyes, the warm sun on my face. A few minutes after I exited the labyrinth, the wind kicked up, clouds obscured the sky again and a there was a brief spatter of rain. Driving through the village of Abiquiu, I stopped & talked to a resident who, as a young man, had assisted O'Keeffe with her house and garden. He had a lot to say, and most of it was probably true.
I only have 3 days left, I admittedly haven't made much besides some Santa Fe watercolors & a small White Sands painting, but I have a lot of new ideas floating around (whatever I managed to gather up after my mind got blown away), both from my journey and as a result of that museum show & all that photo/painting stuff. In addition to communicating through my representation of objects, I'm considering an attempt to include mySELF in these environments/ landscapes I've experienced, maybe more of a "self-image" (I got this phrase from Robert Bechtle, an artist I learned of last year and who had work in the show) than a self-portrait. For now, I'm happy to have photos; here is a small selection.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

santa fe

I actually wrote this 1st part yesterday. It's now just before sunset and I'm on the roof of a hotel to survey the view. I went to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and a great new show had just opened, "Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph", and it clicked with some things I have been thinking about lately in connection to my work and the idea of painters working from photographs in general. This, right on the heels of a book I just finished, "The Ongoing Moment" by Geoff Dyer, which journeyed through the history of photography by way of connections over time between different photographers, from Evans to Stieglitz to Weston to Lange, and occasionally discussed paintings as they related to the subject (Hopper, for example). In my own practice, I often work from my photos, and lately I am starting to feel somewhat tense about it, and have begun to consider putting them aside and working from my imagination, impressions and memories (and sketches) only. Being out here has contributed to this turn of my thoughts, as I absorb what is around me and talk to other artists more than I have in a while. I love taking photos and will continue to, but I don't want to feel locked into them for my inspiration. I feel things so intensely, I have a vivid memory, I want to utilize these tools and trust those impressions. This exhibition reassured and encouraged me anew. One artist called his camera a "mechanical sketchbook", the photograph a "stepping-stone for where you want to go", making the painting process more accurate, a reflection of what you want to see. Another feels that "invention, innovation and variation lie within reality." On one hand, I'm vigorously nodding my head in agreement and recognition, feeling validated in my use of photos. On the other, I'm feeling the liberating satisfaction of returning to the studio after a day out and painting what I remember seeing. I suspect I could go on like this for some time, but this is a blog, not a dissertation. I also visited and enjoyed the New Mexico Museum of Art, and was impressed, as I knew I'd be, by Lee's paintings at the Evoke gallery, and daydreamed pleasantly about future prospects for my own work.
After the sun set, I found a bar called Cowgirl and downed a beer and excellent fish tacos while listening to live rockin' blues/country music. As for today: I've barely taken any photos in Santa Fe, but I am noting the particular colors of the city, or at least the downtown, which by now I've thoroughly walked. They may be the colors of the entire southwest: the turquoise, of course, in varying green-blue shades; warm beige, the color of adobe; burnt orange; with cream and black accents. Went to Loretto Chapel to see the miraculous wood spiral staircase, constructed without nails. I walked the length of Canyon Road, home of over 100 galleries and far more lovely than trudging through NYC's Chelsea, if not as diverse. Drifted into several and discovered some new artists.. nearly all here are new to me. I stop at a teahouse for lunch and do some watercolors, during which, initially unbeknown to me, a tourist takes my picture. Later, I end up at the Railyard in the middle of an outdoor reggae concert. Blue and orange are two of my favorite colors anyway; now I really want to slather them over large canvases, with the southwest's influence as my excuse.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I couldn't post yesterday for lack of connection, and was probably too overstimulated to write anyway. And where am I? Well, on Thursday, during a soak in an outdoor pool in T or C overlooking the Rio Grande, I struck up a conversation with a woman who, as it unfolded, was driving up to Santa Fe for the weekend (for her son's college graduation) and offered to take me along. Not only that, but there would be somewhere for me to stay for free. And, she was planning to stop at Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O' Keeffe lived and painted for many years, on Monday. Road trip! I would miss a few days of studio time, but I'd get to see some new places, take photos to work from, and bring my watercolors and drawing pad. On the road north, I mentioned Cerrillos, an old western turquoise mining town 20 miles outside of Santa Fe, where a Beacon friend of mine had suggested I go. So we drove there, strolled around the small, dusty town and visited the Casa Grande turquoise mining museum and trading post. The museum was full of excavated old objects (score!) including hundreds of glass bottles, typewriters, signs and relics from a couple of movies that were filmed there (Young Guns in '88- full of fine-looking actors, long before they started running amok) and cases of rocks, gems and minerals. I introduced myself, wandered around happily and bought a shard of real Cerrillos turquoise, valuable because the area is not much mined anymore. Another highlight was the gallery/studio of an artist (Tom Morin) who creates attractive desert-like landscapes and nature abstractions from used sanding belts veneered onto wood armatures. Who'd think?
The former 'ghost town' of Madrid was nearby, full of shops and more old things, so we stopped there too. Throughout the whole journey I could barely tear my eyes away from the scenery, and the sky was an appropriately turquoise blue, studded with puffy clouds. After arriving in Santa Fe we dropped into the NM History Museum, free admission Fri nights. It was a quick visit, just enough to begin to comprehend the overwhelming history of this state and its people over the past two centuries. Naturally, much of it was as sobering as it was thrilling. Another show was "Ranch Women of New Mexico", a selection of photographs of extremely kick-ass women.
Today, I'm walking around Santa Fe, after seeking out wifi in exchange for a massive green chile burrito. I already bought my within-budget cowboy boots in a T or C secondhand store, but I suspect the bead/rock shops here may tempt me. There are galleries, of course, to race through. One has an exhibition by a Beacon-based artist, Lee Price, so I will certainly visit (hometown pride, plus she is a superior painter).
A few days before this traveling opportunity arose, another super thing happened- I found out that I received the NYFA grant I'd applied for last month! It was a small Strategic Opportunity Stipend I'd requested for my Better Farm residency next month. It's the first grant I've applied for, and maybe it'll help me obtain future ones. It certainly put a spring in my step.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

white sands

Yesterday was so extraordinary an experience that I couldn't even write about it right away. We (Susan, Megan and I) hit the road out of town and headed south. Our destination was White Sands National Monument, which I'd read about and was eager to see. We stopped in Hatch to see the chiles ("Stop the car!" I bellowed, when I spied the statue of a 20-foot man holding a chile pepper) and to photograph old signs, and to have lunch. It felt good to be cruising, watching the desert landscape unfurl endlessly into the distance, with stretches of green here and there amid the beige, the vast blue sky and hazy mountains far beyond. Driving through the White Sands Missile Range we craned our heads around but all seemed uneventful up above. After checking out the visitor's center at the National Monument we slowly rolled out into the dunes, and all at once we were surrounded by a billowing, brilliantly white world of sand. Blindingly bright without sunglasses, and even with them you're still squinting. We drove to the furthest trail and parked. Immediately, someone's straw hat rolled past me bouncing merrily in the wind over the sand and without thinking, I took off. I felt like a cartoon chasing after this hat, always just a step behind. Finally the hat slowed down and I lunged for it. Waving it triumphantly aloft I returned to the parking lot and returned it to the woman off whose head it had blown. I secured my own hat firmly on my head and with one hand holding it securely, I scrambled after my friends up the steep dunes, laughing and slipping through the sand. Some people were sledding down the dunes, with a black and white dalmatian chasing after them. While Megan waved from the top, Susan made a sand angel and against the white they looked like stars. Looking around, all I could see was softly drifting dunes of pure white, blown by the wind into the blazing pale sky. We hiked around the first trail, wind whipping the sand against our limbs. Our cameras seemed to register only a blinding white blankness, as if the outside rules of land and sky didn't apply here. Surely they had ceased to exist, and we were left to wander blindly through this fantastic dream landscape. In an unguarded moment, my own hat blew off my head and after a decent pursuit I collapsed upon it breathlessly.
Another trail led along an elevated boardwalk around which grew many of the fiercely determined plants, such as verbena and rosemarymint, that adapt to survive here. Lizards and mice evolve pale colorations; yuccas and cottonwoods anchor their roots and push up to keep just above the gently shifting dunes. Our third hike was a mile-long nature trail. Closing my eyes now, I call forth clearly the sensation of running down one of these steep dunes, feet sinking into the fine warm sand to feel the coolness beneath, landing in an exhilarated pile at the bottom. Even though I understand how these dunes formed-- a huge shallow basin with no river to drain it, filled 2000 feet deep with gypsum from the eroding mountains, creating the finest white sand blown around by strong winds-- I still found it incredible and otherworldly; truly, as a friend had called it, a surreal, delicate yet harsh place.
After piling our sun-burnished selves into the car and rehydrating, we drove back west and stopped in Old Mesilla, near Las Cruces, at a restaurant recommended by two women who'd come by the studio. There were parrots, fish tanks and waterfalls, and terrific Mexican food. I enjoyed the ride home as the pink sky darkened and the full yellow moon slowly faded to silvery white as it rose. Today I tried to do some moon and sand watercolors, my mind full of these images, and used up the rest of my white paint trying to evoke what I'd seen, though the paint seems too heavy and drippy a substance to capture something so ethereally beautiful.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

art hop

Last night was the Art Hop in town, we exhibited our paintings and people came round to take a look, and I was able to walk down Broadway and drop into many of the open galleries and shops (which as I've mentioned, are practically one and the same), meet some new people, and unexpectedly try on a pair of vintage western boots. But more on that later. By we, I mean myself and another artist in residence, Megan, who arrived on Friday. We'll be sharing the studio for the next couple of weeks. We each sold some work, laughed and talked with visitors for a few hours and agreed that the night had gone well. This is the first gallery opening I've had which was preceded by a 2-hour soak in the backyard with everyone. Being mellowed by mineral absorption is probably a good way to start such an evening.
Pictured is one of the two tiny (2"-3") paintings I sold (7-Up.. this one is paint & collage, and inspired the Art Guitar I made for Beacon last month), neither of which I made here but brought because they were small and led to some more small pieces. But there was some fun comments on some of the local things I've painted. Also another painting of the Trail Motel sign, 16"x20", a bright and luscious celebration of cadmium red, idea being to create something in which the negative shape is as much a part of the composition as the sign itself, but still integrated. I am unable to rotate it, but you get the idea.

Friday, May 13, 2011

four sights

A few of my favorite photos from the past couple of days. Elephant Butte Lake, the largest lake in New Mexico, clear and cold. Sunset with water tower (at least I believe it to be such). View from the top of a small hill on a beautiful evening. A fisherman's old Dodge truck parked by the riverside with that same setting sun shining through.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

riding around

This morning I found myself in a dangerous part of town... the Exotic Cactus Ranch. Not a place you want to be carelessly stumbling around, but an impressive sight to behold-- a greenhouse full of beautiful cacti and succulents, most of which I'd never seen the likes of. I was tempted to buy myself a whole gardenful but remembered I have to get on a plane at the end of the month. I couldn't resist one small cactus, easily packable, a squat chubby thing called a Turkish Temple. I may return to draw but in the meantime took some pictures as I wandered through, and petted a large and friendly dog.
Not so much to report when I spend the majority of each day painting in the studio, but I get restless after a while and go for little rides. I have a limited threshold for HOT foods, but being here and all, I want to increase this tolerance, so for a treat I sped over to Big-A Burger( a nearby joint wallpapered with old album covers) to put away a green chile cheeseburger, washed down with a vanilla milkshake. Green chiles are considered the milder ones, and I may be gently mocked, but for me it's just about right, and I'm beginning to appreciate that flushed, eyes-watering sensation. Nearby is the agricultural village of Hatch, where the majority of chiles for the area are grown.
To work that off, yesterday before sunset I took a long bike ride along dusty dirt roads by the Rio Grande. If I were in Beacon now I'd be riding along the Hudson in the evenings on the river trail and circling Denning's Point, breathing in the green scent of spring. But after four years of regularly savoring that experience, it's nice to be pedaling through a completely different terrain.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

windows and chairs

Here is some new work I've just done. Two are 6"x6" acrylic on wood paintings of local facades with windows. I was already working on them when I saw the Waldrum paintings (see below) and felt a connection. I am still unable to arrange the photos in the order I intend. Anyway, I am looking forward to venturing further afield to see more buildings (such as the old churches and storefronts in nearby historic towns) and especially more of the landscape.
There is also a 9"x12" canvas of a storefront (closed) that I liked the look of, bright in the midday sun. Though the photo, bafflingly, seems to have flattened and distorted it.
The others are 6"x8" gouaches on paper, one of a red chair in the bright morning sun (a theme here, to be sure) and one from a photo I took back home that I wanted to do a painting of, I liked the orange and blue seats and I'm sure some Beacon folks will recognize them. I did bring some reference photos with me, including a few from my Feb trip to New Orleans, when I had time only to snap pics. It's nice being able to work from them, and I will post some of those paintings at some point.
It's also nice that I received the "local" rate when I visited the baths again last night. I'm a local! At least for a month. There is nothing quite like soaking for half an hour, then slowly bicycling home under the huge starry sky.
In other news, I am pleased to have just sold my Cityscape with Water Tower painting to someone in CA who had viewed my website through another's link. This is certainly fortuitous timing!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Firstly, happy Mother's Day, Mom. I'm sure I'll speak with you before you read this (though I am, in fact, pleased that I've finally devised a reason for my mother to go on the Internet). I love you. What can I say? I welled up even while I was making the card. Was sorry that we can't go wandering through a garden today as we've done before, but we'll get to that in a month or so. I am missing all the things that flower in the spring at this time in NY- will I truly go another full year without sniffing lilacs?- but I did see flowering cacti for the first time, and the vibrant sunsets are beyond description.
So, the Fiesta was, I must admit, a milder affair than I'd thought. I caught the parade and strolled through the fair, and in the evening I danced in a drumming circle, but the rest of the day I spent partly in the studio and partly visiting the two bookstores. I discovered a New Mexico artist, Joe Waldrum, whom I hadn't known, whose work really got to me. He's not around anymore but reading about him and seeing his paintings (one is pictured above) excited me. I love when that happens. It was his approach to light and shadow on buildings, to really getting the lush quality of color and sunlight that so evokes the feeling of this place. Also a book on Taos modernist painters, and some books on Georgia O' Keeffe I was happy to leaf through. I can see how here in particular, abstraction and representation could blur into each other, something about the landscape and the shape of things. Such as, abstracting the surfaces of familiar objects. I have approached this at times in my painting and it pleases me, softening the angles and laying in broad swaths of color to evoke what the eye sees. This may only make sense inside my head for now, my thoughts are brimming.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

easy going

Each day has been warmer than the last, with yesterday reaching 90 degrees. An excellent day to float lazily down the Rio Grande. After painting for a couple of hours, I met the others (Monika, the artist who runs Starry Night, and Susan, the other resident here, who is a writer) and we set off on a rubber boat down the river, with a stocked cooler in its own little tube floating behind, and the gentle current easing us along. Dutifully slathered with sunscreen, leaning back into the breeze drinking- what else?- Tecate with lime, we occasionally paddled to keep ourselves on course, with two short drops to lend a bit of excitement to the journey. Along one bank, modest houses, trailers and decks. On the other, salt cedars drooping over the water, and beyond, mountainous desert dotted with scrubby green. Two hours or so later, we were met by the congenial guy who'd rented us the raft and would drive us back to the car.
Although I was pretty mellowed by the sun (uh, and the beer) I wanted to finish up the 2 paintings I was working on, so I rode back to the studio in the late afternoon's hazy light with a gallon of water hooked on my thumb. Most of the stores and galleries were open. In fact, nearly every business is also a gallery- as in, cafe/gallery, bookstore/gallery, and, in the case of the store I screeched to a halt in front of, gift shop/gallery/ice cream counter. "Ice cream?" I asked doubtfully, peering in the dark windows. "In the back," said a grizzled man in a cowboy hat, beckoning me in. Sure enough, past the handmade jewelry and various southwestern items, there was the ice cream bar. I ate my scoop of butter pecan sitting at a gorgeous wooden table while looking at dozens of paintings on the walls, and chatting with the cowboy. As I left, he was sitting up on a bench outside, eating a cone and gazing off into the sunset. I couldn't resist. "May I take your picture?" I said politely. He agreed.
Clearly I haven't yet mastered how to arrange or caption the photos, hence the random appearance, but no matter. The blue truck is just the finished painting I began the other day. The colors of NM are already permeating my palette, if I was in NY the background would have been my favored murky white. Hello to cobalt green, cadmium orange, vivid pink!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

soaking it in

I was reminded by someone at home that today is Cinco de Mayo, which I thought might be a wild day here, given its proximity to Mexico. But it was relatively quiet, as it's been all week. However, this Saturday is the big Fiesta! This is a grand annual event held in Truth or Consequences every May and I am lucky enough to be here for it. The town is plastered with fliers, and I had learned about the Fiesta's history, as well as the story behind the town's name, at So I may not get much work done this weekend, but I have been rather productive this first week. In addition to a couple of gouaches, I finished a few very small collage-paintings (2-3 inches mostly), I've been messing around with these for a while and now have enough for a milk-crate gallery show. Transportable and affordable.
I'm now working on two 9x12" canvases of what I've seen while riding around, including this one, nearly finished. My first New Mexico truck painting, a baby-blue International with the plates to prove it. Still feels like a luxury to be able to paint/draw for hours with no distractions, I may be overstating this extraordinary sensation, but I'm not taking a single moment for granted. Plus I expect that when fall comes I'll be exchanging my paintbrushes for work gloves once more. Then I will be posting photos of my wood stacks (stay tuned!), which should seal the deal on this being the most fascinating blog out there. The Log Blog. But for now, I get to do polar-opposite things like submerge my entire self in a pool of hot artesian mineral water, resting on smooth stones.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I am still learning the ropes of blogging. There must be a way to put captions under each photo, right? Anyway, here's a few things I've seen around town so far. The orange building's the studio, and this last one's a group of recent small works (except the older Super) that I put in the window.