New Mexico: New Art – Part I

The following is excerpted from an accepted article that never reached print. . .so I’m reworking here and condensing into a series of posts. . .voilà Part 1:

Land of Enchantment

A summer ago, I had the time and resourcefulness to arrange an extended stay in New Mexico.  I’d just wrapped up a gig in LA, mostly working with urban artists and a certain afro-frizzing associate (that’s my afro he didn’t have much hair to frizz), and was in need of a break from the hectic and demanding stride of the city of Los Angeles (a pace I usually start to miss when I’ve been away for too long).  A good friend from my early university days offered me a shared residency of sorts (that is as her appreciative houseguest) in her friendly Albuquerque abode, so I packed up my faithful red cabrio and hit the epiphanous Route 66 and its less glamourous replacement path, West 40.

Absolutely Neon, Albuquerque
(I love how it looks like/there is? a bullet-hole in the window)

New Mexico’s appeal goes far beyond its bad-boy (think Breaking Bad), hot-rod, personae.  It is the sort of place that you don’t want too many people to find out about lest it become overrun by a crowd of hooligans or harried tourists.  Unforgivably, hot during the summer months with temperamental skies just as prone to hail and monsoon-style downpours as scorching sun, its terrain is scattered with hidden geological gems.  The landscape alone evokes that certain awe they like to call the sublime just beyond every other hill and valley, and if one can escape the never-ending heat and the crime-inducing madness (the city of Albuquerque was a favoured backdrop for the long-running crowd-pleaser “Cops”) it is the sort of place where creativity is just as likely to strike as is lightning.

I found New Mexico a fascinating state as much for its beautiful natural wonders as its manmade conundrums and I’m certainly not the only one entranced by its mysterious appeal.  The National Endowment for the Arts lists the state, and the city of Santa Fe, as home to some of the largest percentages of artists per capita with a historical roll call confirming this fascination.  Artists living and past who’ve called New Mexico home include such luminaries as Georgia O’Keefe, Willa Cather, DH Lawrence, Fritz Scholder, Bruce Naumann, and Judy Chicago.

195? Chevy, Route 66/Central Ave, Albuquerque

Route 66 runs through Albuquerque’s main drag and like many US city centers displaced by the freeway major sections have an abandoned ghost-town-like feel to them.

I had the pleasure of speaking with art historian, curator, critic, Libby Lumpkin, at the time Professor of Contemporary Art, University of New Mexico, about the state’s secret recipe for enchantment and in her easy-going conversational tone (Taoist like Taos one imagines) she was quick to point out the special ingredient:  Artists are aesthetes and New Mexico is an aesthetic place to live.  Under the sky’s glaring heat, artists thrive, perhaps gravitating towards the land’s energy that includes a spiritual resonance that dates back to the area’s first inhabitants, the Pueblo Indians.

Acoma Pueblo/Sky City
Rock formations dotting the valley entrance to the Acoma Pueblo.
The city built atop a 357′ mesa is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited settlements in North America.

Artwork pops up amongst the landscape like the desert plants revived after a flash rain.  As to be expected, such enchanted visions nurture a good deal of romantic modernist work depicting nostalgic pastel-washed landscapes, Native portraiture, and abstracted color fields swirling into the distance.

Yet beneath the surface of this mystical terrain, New Mexico is also a land of deep contradictions ranked as the poorest state in the union, while paradoxically one of its city’s, Los Alamos, purports the highest percentage of millionaires and PhDs in the nation.  It is a place where casinos are as numerous as the rock formations dotting the lands of the 22 native Indian tribes that now live side by side with its colonial vanquishers.   And though nature has outdone herself in beatific spectacles like the desert plains of White Sands, a 275 square mile formation of gleaming, pristine beach, no ocean in sight, the national park is also nestled against one of the nation’s most illustrious military bases.  In 1945 this eerie setting was the detonation grounds for the world’s first nuclear bomb, the prototype for the atomic bombs that would explode over Japan at the end of the Second World War.

White Sands, NM
Eerie, magical, haunting, footprints disappear to the wind

Originally posted 2014

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top