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‘Unspoiled wilderness’ – artist Fatima Ronquillo plays with classical styles

SANTA FE, N.M. — Creating paintings that use techniques resembling centuries-old, historical styles, local artist Fatima Ronquillo doesn’t want her work to be taken too seriously.

“Painting with this type of style, referencing old masterpieces, it can get very precious,” said the self-taught artist, whose work has been shown worldwide and in such famous publications as Marie Claire and New York Magazine.

“And I don’t want that. I want it to be current. When I paint, there’s something that’s amusing me. So it’s something delightful to me.”

“Masked Apollo” by Fatima Ronquillo.

Ronquillo is known for taking inspiration from literature for her painting subjects. Right now, that literature happens to be Greek mythology. In her solo show opening tonight at Santa Fe’s Meyer Gallery, she’s tapped into the Greek island of Arcadia to create both traditional and contemporary interpretations of what, in the myths, was an “unattainable, unspoiled land.”

“It was this mythical place of unspoiled wilderness this idea of, not a utopia, but a land that is … untouched by civilization,” she said. In mythology, Arcadia was the home of Pan, god of many things, including nature and the wild.

“It’s more like an escapist fantasy of this ideal land where there’s happiness and innocence and revelry,” she added. “Just something, a paradise, sort of.”

Her paintings include interpretations of both Greek gods and goddesses, and her own ideas of what a place like Arcadia would be. She noted that in one of her works, “Homecoming,” she takes a more traditional approach by painting Hebe, the goddess of youth, standing in front of a beautiful landscape. She is holding an eagle that is supposed to represent Zeus, and the eagle is sipping from her cup of ambrosia. In mythology, Hebe was known for serving ambrosia to the gods on Mount Olympus.

But Ronquillo said she intentionally also included more modern interpretations of what this idyllic land could represent. In another painting she’s titled “The Wanderers,” a young girl is sitting on the back of a buffalo with a peregrine falcon mounted on her arm. Both animals were once endangered, she mentioned, but have since been saved through conservation efforts.

“There’s an optimistic idea of saving wildlife and the Earth, and I think of that as Arcadia, because there’s probably very, very few places that are still untouched and safe,” said Ronquillo. She symbolizes the importance of wildlife in other works, such as “Hand with Crowned Marmoset,” in which a monkey is wearing a small crown.

In “The Wanderers,” the mountainous landscape she painted is meant to resemble New Mexico.

“Then I had to Google, is there bison and buffalo (in New Mexico)?” she said with a laugh. She later decided, “Who cares? We’ll just put them in.”

Other works are loose interpretations of who may have been in Arcadia and what may have been going on. On Pan’s island, “all this partying was going on,” she mentioned. In her large painting “Baby Dionysus Riding A Cheetah,” she created the scene of the god of wine as an infant newly arriving on the island.

There was no particular reason she made him a baby other than she personally found it humorous, she said, but she had him arriving on a cheetah to represent the stories of Dionysus going places in chariots drawn by wild animals.

“That was this hedonistic happiness that’s another association with that place, Arcadia,” said Ronquillo.

“Arcadia” will be at Meyer Gallery until Sept. 27. The gallery is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

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