On Sunday I joined the Friends of Contemporary Art Studio Tour, here in Taos. It just happened it was the same weekend that the Taos Art Association was having their studio tours.
We joined the bus at the first studio, which was Larry Bell's studio.
Here's Larry on the portal, ready to greet the tour to his studio. He was patient with us, and answered every question. He opened the studio, and gave us a tour of the office, the studio, and the "work" studio. He had a printed sheet of information about himself to give to us. And from that sheet: Taos artist Larry Bell's sculptures, cubes of tinted glass that are intended to work with available light, may stand today as his signature pieces. But Bell started out as a painter. With a career that spans nearly fifty years, his work has evolved and changed in numerous directions.
This is inside of his studio, and if you look carefully you will see the glass cubes that have become his signature pieces. Over the years Bell has experimented with different ways of working with glass to make his cubes, including plate glass that rests in a metal frame to glass plates with beveled edges.
This was a new work, as well as the works pinned upon the walls, were new. The one on the table was waiting manipulation from Larry. He said these new works have more curves in them than the work before, which had more right angles.
Larry speaks to the group in his "work" studio. Since his work is very technical there were many questions.
This is the vacuum chamber Larry tried to explain to the group.
In the 1990's Bell worked with architect Frank Gehry on a commission involving stick-like figures that are at once whimsical and sculptural, with a linear quality that makes their reductive forms appealing. Bell created the prototypes on a computer program and developed an idea of basing the figures he created on Babylonian mythology. The commission resulted in the fabrication of two bronzes for a Gehry Home designed for an insurance executive.
Larry has lived and worked in Taos since the early 1970's. In 1990 he received the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts in the area of visual arts. His work is in numerous private collections and museum collections including the New Mexico Museum of Ar where it was recently featured in the exhibit Flux: Reflections on Contemporary Glass, curated by Laura Addison.
Thomas French graciously welcomes the group to his home, where we had lunch.
Then it was off to the studio of Zoe Zimmerman. Zoe is a photographer, whose work is a convergence of contemporary imagery and nearly obsolete printing techniques. Harkening back to an earlier time, Zimmerman employs an albumen printing process, out of fashion since the turn of the last century, creating images that reflect the tonal quality of photographs made in bygone days. However, her subjects range from surreal, modernist imagery to traditional nudes to still-lifes.
Zoe explained much of her work is about choices. And she pins the prints on the wall to determine which photos go with which, which is best?
Her photographs are beautiful and richly detailed compositions. "The images themselves," says the artist, "distill peripheral psychological states, played out side-by-side with the quotidian. Their aim is to be alluring and daunting at once. I find beauty the keenest when it is also forbidding."
Then it was to the studio of Carole Sue and Johnnie Winona Ross. Which he built and they share. Ross and Carole Sue Ross have lived in Arroyo Seco since 1999. In addition to painting, Ross created a series of prints working with master printers at Tamarind Institute of Lithography in Albuquerque. His work is the subject of a one man show at the New Mexico museum of Art called Traces. The exhibit will be in view through January 9, 2011.
Johnnie had few examples of his work, because of his show in Santa Fe, and a show in New York, at the Stephen Haller Gallery, September 10 -- October 16, 2010. But he was gracious to explain his process, and to share his working space.
What first strikes you about the work of Johnnie Winona Ross is the almost elegant surface quality of his paintings. Lustrous and smooth, they are the result of numerous applications of paint that are added and subtracted, in a time consuming process of layering that includes scraping away, repainting, and burnishing the surface. From 50 to 150 layers are used in each painting. The nuanced colors and details within each painting reveal themselves only slowly, rewarding, as curator Laura Addison has stated, close up inspection. From a distance an overall color tone appears dominant and the rich variety of Ross's color schemes are apparent when seeing a series of his paintings side by side. That, as well as the horizontal bands of color that echo from one painting to the next, have drawn numerous comparisons with the work of Agnes Martin (1912-2004) whose own work similarly focused on line and grid patterns.
Ross's work is best understood, up to a point, as landscape inspired imagery: rhythmic compositions that utilize the line as a starting off point to explore our sense of the natural world rather than to mimic or capture that world's attributes. Looking at natural features of the landscape does not inform these paintings in a direct way. The idea of erosion or of superimposition of layered rock over older layers distorts or hides a history where it occurs. Ross strives to distill the essence of the experience we have when engaging with the landscape: seeing first the over all sense of color or large-scale feature then settling into the minutiae. Balancing the somewhat strict and repetitive order suggested by the horizontal bands with a more drip-like quality in vertical lines that run in a more haphazard fashion down the length of each painting he creates complexity within them.
Carole Sue shares the studio with Johnnie. She is a potter and her work is equally inspired by forms found in nature.
Carole's work reminds one of the tangible, close to the earth appeal of working with clay.
Her ceramic vessels have no traditional footing. They find their own center of gravity and rest at various angles in relation to each other.
Shell-like and fagile looking, Carole works the soft clay until they are as thin as she can get them.
The pit-fired ceramics are coated with terra sigillata, a substance that lends an iridescent finish to the work.
Carole's work can been seen at Santa Fe Modern Home, 1512 Pacheco Street, Building A 105, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505.