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Artists show power of pastels

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Artists have turned to the vibrant colors and soft smudging of pastels since the Renaissance.

Next month, more than 700 pastel artists will gather at the Hotel Albuquerque for the biennial convention and exhibition by the International Association of Pastel Societies.

More than 1,000 entrees bombarded jurists for this 34th exhibit. They accepted just 126, including works by six New Mexico artists. Seventy qualified as members of the Masters Circle by demonstrating expert skills and abilities through inclusion in past exhibits.

The exhibition draws artists from as far away as China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Belgium, Malta, France, Egypt, Taiwan, Malaysia and Canada.

La Cienega’s Paul Murray created an aquatic perspective in “Calm Morning,” a pastel based on a photograph taken in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“I really like odd composition,” he said, “when you have all that water in the foreground. It’s kind of ethereal because it’s backlit.”

Murray turned to pastels in the mid-’90s when he was working as a graphic artist.

He didn’t need a palette, brushes or tools.

“It was a way of painting and drawing that didn’t need a lot to get started in,” he said. “I didn’t have to worry about them drying out. It’s a very convenient medium for me. I don’t have to spend a lot of time mixing paint.

“It’s rather unforgiving,” he added. “You can’t fix your mistakes.”

Murray calls himself a representational artist.

“I’m getting more and more obsessed with color,” he said. “I’ve been painting long enough and been an artist long enough that it’s time for me to ignore the rules.”

Albuquerque’s Denali Brooke produced her portrait “Musings” from a photograph taken by a friend.

“It was someone in Switzerland at a cafĂ©,” she said. “It was a beautiful photograph with the lighting and I thought how can I not do that, especially the color?”

This marks Brooke’s third time in the show. Her artistic talent surfaced early; her mother sent her to art classes when she was 6. But her art career took a circuitous route. She first studied physics at the University of Arizona. Next she transferred into to ecology and evolutionary biology.

“To my father’s dismay, I took one figure drawing class as an elective and I was hooked,” she said. She switched to graphic design and illustration. After being injured in a car accident, she earned her master’s degree in social work.

Today she has come full circle by teaching art in her own workshops.

“It’s the thing that was calling me all along,” she said. “I just had to find my own voice.”

Accustomed to illustration work using pen and ink and graphite, pastel was a revelation.

“As soon as I picked up a pastel in 2005 I realized I was drawing in color,” she said. “What I love is it’s given me a chance to explore color and be gestural with it.”

Today she produces plein air landscapes as well as portraits.

“I always seem to gravitate back to portraits because I love people,” she said. “I feel like I’m sculpting their face.”

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