Saturday, December 5, 2015

Orbiting New Mexico

A driving tour of New Mexico with friends took us through boom towns and ruins, surface and subterranean phenomena and fields of petroglyphs long abandoned. New Mexico’s artists past and present have opened their creative hearts and minds to the magnificent emptiness, vast skies and distinct color palate of the hardscrabble landscape. A small measure of danger inherent in the high desert with its venomous snakes, flash floods, ghosts and rogue humans heighten the experience, because who can truly feel alive without a whisper of mortality.
The environment required for artwork to emerge involves a complex web woven from tangible objects, a rich inner world, dedication and time. Financial and emotional stability are optional. 

Wild animals in the desert survive the harsh environment with a balancing act of mysterious skills and the iron clad fortitude mandatory for climactic extremes. My artist friends in New Mexico are the same.
I’ve known Victoria for nearly thirty years and recently met Ricky. It was instantly apparent why they were such good friends. Their meeting must have been magnetic because they are somewhat unusual in a similar way. They each possess the ability to see alternate worlds in the gravel most of us step on to get somewhere else. A random spot on the ground reveals evidence of long extinct creatures and crumbs of civilization meaningless to most of us. They have patience, on the scale of geologic erosion, to ferret out such mysteries.
There is much to be learned given time. Naturally occurring mud balls, bits of turquoise on railroad beds, arrow heads on hillsides and burnt corn cobs in fire rings from centuries passed are everyday ordinary for slow walking explorers with refined perspicacity.  

It could be that observation and imagination stand apart, but I had the distinct feeling that Victoria and Ricky’s similarity in character was a clue to how their respective artwork evolves. Victoria paints her dreams. Ricky builds worlds that are like walking into dreams.
Orbs randomly scattered in the brush along the dirt road to Ricky and Alex’s place on closer inspection turned out to be decaying bowling balls. Great balls of wire, an elegant globe of garden hoses and unidentified plastic spheres also adorn the grounds. A number of florescent papier-mâché balloons hung on a laundry rack inside the front door, but they were not immediately apparent in the creative chaos. 

I had to quietly take in the surroundings before elegant patterns of order emerged. How was it possible? There was no direction that did not bring a smile. The house is underground, lit by a glass wall on one face and skylights through to the earth above. We eventually wandered to the back of the house to tables full of round polished stones. Ricky placed one in my hand. It was heavy and felt weird, like it might talk. An image of a sci-fi wormhole came to mind. Ricky told me how long it had taken him to acquire the beautifully polished meteor. Most people save up for cars or televisions, but in New Mexico it’s not wholly unusual to find someone who longs for rocks from outer space.

In Victoria and Virginia’s house an ascending row of perfectly formed mud balls collected from a nearby dry wash adorn the fireplace mantle. Their artwork fills the walls with thought provoking images. The yard is a haven for coyote, raptors, rabbits, ravens and more. Plentiful holes in the ground house lord knows what. The cat must stay inside or be carried off by wild dogs.
Victoria’s artwork inspires artists. She encourages old and new painters to open their minds. I love her work, although writing critically about art is a skill I will leave to experts.
What I can attest to are the moments of wonder that I experienced when Victoria handed me a potshard from a pile of rubble or an exquisite piece of petrified wood that was mostly buried in sand, because I would never have seen them if not for my friend. I left convinced that highly tuned powers of observation honed by long hours bent to the task reward the viewer tenfold, although much patience and curiosity are required. We visited Ricky and Alex’s wonderful place because Victoria knew I would love them and their work. And possibly because I stood a decent chance of being spoken to by a vision enhancing, magical meteor.
Shortly before I left New Mexico we went to a nearby riverbed after a flood to look for mud balls. I doubt I would have found them on my own because they look just like dirt until plucked from the surrounding debris.
How do they do it? Apparently, with the long stare of a stalking coyote, raptor like vision and the serenity of a hibernating snake.


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