SANTA FE, N.M. — When viewing an artwork, a viewer brings much of his or her own experiences and emotions in reacting to a piece.
But think of the richness and depth that can be added when you can learn what the artist herself was thinking or feeling or experiencing in creating the work:
That Dara Mark was mourning the death of her husband and working out her grief in her Elegy watercolor series.
That Shaun Gilmore was once a dancer and incorporates the ideas of movement through space in creating her work.
Or that Kelly Eckel studied Zen Buddhism many years ago, contributing to her appreciation for empty space.
All these things and more were revealed through the most recent gallery talk for the current Alcoves exhibition – a series that concentrates on current work by contemporary New Mexico artists – at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Museum director Mary Kershaw told the Journal that she has found the talks often evolve into conversations among artists that teach her new things about art trends and techniques, as well as the actual pieces hanging on the walls.
On a recent rainy Friday night, insights abounded from a five-artist exhibit that was curated by Katherine Ware, the museum’s curator of photography, who had stepped in for the usual Alcoves curator, Merry Scully. And that substitution might have explained the almost ethereal lightness of the entire space, where many of the artworks included a lot of white, with some black and grays, and only occasional subtle additional hues.
“You may notice the restricted palette in all the work in the show,” Ware said, also noting the preponderance of paper or plastic that looks like paper. She said that may reflect her own love for black and white photography.
Albuquerque resident Eckel actually does incorporate photography into her Morphogenic series, taking images of specimens from nature, cutting them into pieces and shifting those pieces over and over again until something satisfying emerges. One of the collages includes images of her grandmother’s skin, which evoked thoughts of layers of sediment and the history that lies buried there. “We have all our history in our genes,” she said.
Her goal is not to tear things apart, but to bring disparate things together. “I wanted to move toward something instead of against something,” she said, in explaining that her works address the environment, but in a positive way.
“I like seeds and organic shapes,” she said, adding, “I like black and white because you focus on the actual image itself.”
Mark’s works have a flow of transparent layers, created by allowing watercolors to pool and meander across the surface of synthetic paper. Her Elegies series, she said, was done in the wake of her husband’s death. One onlooker observed that it was as if she incorporated her tears into her artwork.
“I was grieving and these paintings were a way for me to keep going on with my life,” the Lamy resident said. Noting that they started with only black and white, then slowly took on some washes of pale browns and blues, Mark said, “I really couldn’t face color when I was so deranged.”
“My work is very intuitive,” she added. “I have very little idea of what it’s going to look like. It’s really about letting the process happen.”
Galisteo mixed-media artist Gilmore had both sculptures and paintings on display. “The overall theme of my work,” she said, “is a sense of discovery. It’s about looking at and observing the world.”
Whenever she is traveling, she said, she makes brief “notations” of horizons that interest her. She then takes those markings home, copies the line onto paper, then adds additional lines along the shape, which then may curve and swirl upon itself, with other shapes and elements, and even colors interpreting the horizon into an abstraction. “It’s almost a geological kind of process,” she said.
She also had sculptures of small linked pieces inspired by the weather, including a “snow curtain,” and wire wrapped in papier-mâché for her Branching Out series. Of her work with papier-mâché, she added, “I’ve gone back to my 3rd grade roots and having so much fun with it! It has a tactile, sensory quality I love.”
Other artists included in the current Alcove Series are Mira Burack, who lives in the Ortiz Mountains, and Signe Stuart of Santa Fe.
Stuart’s work in the show involves strips of translucent paper laid over and under each other, showing both connections and voids. “She’s subtracted more than she’s added,” Ware said, of the works.
Burack’s Bed series starts with photographs of mussed bedclothes or a pile of laundry, built into a collage reminiscent of a rounded blossom or even a mandala. “I find it enchanting that something so completely ordinary, she’s looking at it aesthetically … and making something extraordinary,” Ware said.