The Sandia Mountains have long beckoned and bedazzled New Mexico artists.
The New Mexico Art League is following that tradition with the opening of “High Desert,” running through Oct. 16.
The works range from oil on canvas to colored pencil to photography. Some artists captured the mountains and mesas; others depicted the terrain surrounding them.
Judy Clark moved to Albuquerque 15 years ago after working in Washington, D.C. and living in Virginia. A retired association meeting planner, she used her new schedule to concentrate on her art through classes and workshops.
To create “Sandia Glow,” she worked from her own photograph in colored pencil on sanded paper. The teacher in her pastel class had used sanded paper as a canvas. She liked the resulting softness.
The artist created stylized shapes from the shadows of the foothills, slopes and vegetation.
The multiple layers and different colors give it more character, she said.
When she was working, Clark always pushed her art to the side.
“In Virginia, I did baskets with natural materials,” she said. “In New Mexico, I started doing gourds. But I always liked the painting part of it better than anything.”
Albuquerque landscape artist David Welch painted his oil on canvas “Sandia Verbena” in the Elena Gallegos Open Space in June.
“I’ve been doing a whole series of Sandia landscapes,” he said. “I’m trying to capture different seasons, different times of day.
“Color is very important to me,” Welch continued. “I use it as a vehicle to express a life force I feel in nature. Whenever you’re painting a place, you’re conveying an experience to a flat sheet of paper. There’s no warm sun, no breeze.”
Welch underpaints his work with bright colors and layers over the base.
“So often there’s a glow of the color underneath and that heightens the color effect,” he said. “The Impressionists did something similar by painting dots next to color and making it shimmer.”
Welch says he has been an artist “forever.” He’s a former art teacher who worked in Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia. He and his wife moved here in 1997.
“We’re still in love with New Mexico,” he said.
“I can’t imagine not painting. When I have a paintbrush in my hand is when I feel most whole and complete and at peace. Creating something that has never existed before is a powerful act.”
Kari Bell captured the shadows of New Mexico’s pueblos in her abstracted “Shelter,” painted in oil and cold wax on canvas.
Bell lived in Taos for six months before shifting to the lower altitudes of Rio Rancho.
“I didn’t want to paint the pueblo,” she said, “because everybody paints the pueblo. I wanted to paint the essence of the building. When I paint, I don’t really have a plan. The painting tells me where it wants to go.”
Like most painters, Bell began as a realist. She has been an abstract painter for about 10 years.
“First, I don’t draw very well, to be honest,” she said. “I feel these things that I paint now. I never paint what everybody sees. I paint what I feel out of what I see.”
Bell moved to New Mexico a year ago from outside Philadelphia, where she worked as a university professor of both French and Spanish. Her job allowed her to live in both countries, where she visited the museums.
“I was turning this into a mental file cabinet,” she said.
About five years ago, Bell discovered the cold wax technique on a painting in a Telluride, Colorado, gallery.
Made of beeswax and a turpentine-like product, the buttery process adds body, transparency and texture to oil. Bell mixes the wax with her paint.
“You can scrape it, pull it back,” she said. “I use credit cards, spatulas. It gives it hundreds of layers of texture. There’s a translucence underneath.”
Retirement allows her to paint full-time.
“In being here, I realized that was what I was searching for.”