Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
As the thunderheads muscle in over the foothills, Cecilia Kirby Binkley captures their roar with the swipe of a palette knife.
The Santa Fe and Chama-based painter encapsulates natural scenes as she stands at her easel in the trees. Open at Santa Fe’s New Concept Gallery through Nov. 7, “Seasons” is Binkley’s one-woman fall show.
A devout plein air painter, Binkley hikes up the Santa Fe Ski Basin and around the mountains near Chama in search of scenes that exhilarate her. She spent 11 years teaching art history at the Santa Fe Girls’ School before retiring to pursue her own art in 2012.
“I discovered you need a lot of time to think about what you want to paint and how you want to paint,” she said.
Binkley prefers to paint the afternoon light pouring through the trees like butterscotch, especially when she plants herself within the aspens.
“You have to be very flexible” outdoors, she said. “You have to deal with the wind and the weather and the bugs. But you get that true color, that true light.”
Once, when she was painting by a lake, eight mayflies stuck to her canvas.
“I picked them off with a palette knife,” she said.
Another time, she looked up from her painting to spot a deer a few yards away.
“It made me chuckle,” she said.
Binkley begins with a small canvas; then, if she likes it, takes the work home to revisit it as a larger studio painting.
“I want to capture the passion of what I’m looking at,” she said. “It’s very intuitive.”
She developed her Impressionist-Expressionist hybrid that sometimes tilts toward abstraction on her own. When she retired, she took a handful of private lessons to learn technique. Studios were too confining; photographs could not duplicate the colors she saw.
She headed for the forests and mountains.
A student once asked her why she painted.
“Because it’s fun,” she said.
“It’s the memory that is so important,” she continued. “You have to remember what drew (you) there; what was so important about it? What was unique? I want to capture that moment.”
Never a photo-realist, Binkley usually avoids small details in favor of thick, painterly strokes from her steel blade.
“I’m immersed in the location, whether it’s a mountain or the snow at the Santa Fe Ski Basin,” she said. “You have to pull all your stuff up on a sled.”
Standing while she paints imbues her with the visceral power she needs to create.
“You’re using your whole body to strike at the canvas with your arm,” she said.
Binkley searches for unusual perspectives; she’s painted canvasses from a bird’s eye view peering through changing leaves and branches.
She drew inspiration from the Russian landscape painter Nikolai Timkov, as well as the New York artist Wolf Kahn.
Art has lured her since she was a child copying her parents’ Christmas cards.
“It’s kind of an accident that it became a profession,” she said. “Finding myself in a gallery is just accidental. It’s out of a real passion inside of me.”
Binkley grew up in Lima, Peru, and in Chile and Argentina. She was drawn to Santa Fe when her father retired here. She and her husband own a working cattle ranch in Chama.