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Opened by Limits

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Lady Minimalists Tea Society gathers monthly to worship at the grid of Agnes Martin.

The name is a bit of a tease. This is not the prim-and-proper meeting of ladies who lunch.

Actually, these seven professional artists sometimes sip water or Cokes, sharing ideas on minimalist aesthetics and talking about how and where to exhibit their work. Their group debut will come at this weekend’s Art Santa Fe. The female collective includes Shaun Gilmore, Dara Mark, Diane McGregor, Paula Roland, Danielle Shelley, Signe Stuart and Janice Wall.

If you go
WHAT: Art Santa Fe
WHERE: Santa Fe Community Convention Center, 201 W. Marcy St.
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Today-Sunday
Opening night gala “Vernissage” from 5-8 p.m. today.
COST: $10 one day ticket; gala opening $100; VIP pass $125.
CONTACT: 988-1234, 988-8883 or

They’re also the first group of Santa Fe area artists to rent a space at Art Santa Fe.

When it first opened in 1999, the fair drew no more than a few hundred visitors. Last year, it lured more than 5,000.

Now in its 12th year, Art Santa Fe features 30 exhibitors showcasing contemporary art from across the globe, including Afghanistan, Kathmandu and Japan, as well as Buenos Aires, Toronto and Wisconsin, in the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. The fair’s popular “How Things Are Made” demonstration will return, exploring the process of Korean handmade paper-making (Han-Ji).

The fair’s broad scope appealed to the fledgling collective.

The Santa Fe group’s somewhat delicate name came at the suggestion of artist Dara Mark’s son. Buoyed by the inherent humor, the seven artists threw together a party complete with teapot, cups and a cake.

“It was sort of a joke,” Mark said. “We pretty much all knew each other. And we knew each other’s work.”

“We’re all somewhat unusual women,” Gilmore added. “We’re not crazy artists trying to turn somersaults in sewers. We have a bent toward subversive ideas in a sort of unusual way. I like the idea of going out in the world being sedately subversive.”

The group evolved from friendships among the women who live in Santa Fe, Galisteo, Eldorado and Tesuque. Each came to New Mexico from somewhere else: the East and West coasts, the Midwest and the South.

Each artist developed an individual minimalist aesthetic, but they retain a shared sense of pared-down processes, materials or colors. The space left out is as crucial as what is allowed in. Most of all, their art seeks to invite contemplation.

All boast resumes that include exhibitions at local and regional galleries. They rattle off names like Eight Modern, William Siegel, the late Tadu Contemporary, Costello-Childs in Scottsdale, and Linda Durham’s old space.

For them, the late, great Martin, who lived in Taos, exemplified subtlety, repetition, formlessness and, for some, spirituality.

Gilmore’s work has shifted from an abstract, gestural base to one rooted in ideas. “I’ve been working with landscapes and horizontal lines,” she said.

Fascinated by simplicity and limitation, she allows her hand to follow a topographical pattern, pasting in paper shapes sliced from art opening invitations to create unpredictable patterns. She finds infinite variations in limitation.

“It draws me back to a time when I was dancing and doing choreography” in Chicago, she said. Her dance aesthetic mirrored her artwork – she edited and pared down movement.

Forced to turn to watercolor because of an environmental illness, Mark uses layers arranged in transparent grids. The use of transparent paint on translucent paper allows sheets of repeated shapes to add depth and mystery to a simple process.

“I can’t work with oil or acrylics,” she explained. “It turned out to be a great boon because (watercolor) is gorgeous, and I love working with it; it’s so ethereal.”

The flow of the watercolor directs her composition.

“I don’t really control it at all,” she said. “I get repeated shapes and the watercolor flows through these shapes on its own. I’m looking for a certain spiritual quality — a feeling of wholeness and serenity.”

McGregor calls her pieces minimalist meditations on the Southwestern landscape.

“Art has always been this passion, but my expression has been one of peace and serenity,” she said.

She begins with the whole canvas patterned with subtle texturing. She then draws the faint pencil outline of a grid, filling in each square as though it were an individual painting.

“It’s very devotional,” McGregor said. “They’re meditative, minimalist paintings. Each block is like a prayer. It’s very similar to chanting or meditation.

“Each little (block) is like a little abstract painting and they’re all related to each other.”

Signe Stuart relies on close observation of nature, experimenting with materials and inquiry to shape and reshape her work.

“I think all my work, even though it is totally abstract, comes from how I experience nature,” she said. “It’s about how everything is interconnected.”

Those interconnections lead to endless shape-shifting, combining and re-combining.

Stuart cites both Martin and abstractionist Ad Reinhardt – best known for his so-called “black” paintings and his devotion to simplicity, as well as his concise wit – as key influences.

“The simplicity is very important,” she said.

On the surface, Martin’s work appeared very direct, she said.

“But I think that directness is camouflaging a complexity of thought. For me, they’re like passkeys into thinking.”

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