Monday, May 26, 2008

Santa Fe Galleries

I'm on a trip to New Mexico and Colorado right now to visit my sister and her family. Had an interesting trip out here. I had to get from Charlotte, NC, to Albuquerque, and United Airlines routed me through Dulles .... now, no matter how I orient a map of the United States, I have a really hard time seeing Dulles as being in between Charlotte and Albuquerque. United thinks it is. But no matter, the flights went well. Actually, the flight from Dulles to Albuquerque was unbelievable: it was less than half filled, and many of us (myself included) had a whole row to ourselves! I was flabbergasted. That hasn't happened to me in maybe twenty years. And they didn't lose my bag or anything.

On Sunday, my sister and I went to Santa Fe so I could check out the gallery scene there. It's been fifteen years since my last Santa Fe visit but I knew there are a gazillion galleries there, so I did an internet screen to find the ones that would interest me. From maybe a hundred galleries, I found seven who had art that looked challenging or at least something more than eye candy. Two of them turned out to be closed on Sundays. Three were very disappointing. Two, though, had some good work.

One is Altitude Fine Art. They represent Geoffrey Laurence, a figurative painter with some very interesting works. Laurence paints in the Venetian Renaissance style: he does a very detailed grisaille underpainting ("grisaille", pronounced "grih-ZIE", is a black-and-white underpainting), then applies color in many layers until it has the depth and richness he wants. He's an exceptionally skilled draftsman and painter. More important to me, his compositions and narratives are intriguing. A painter who has had tremendous influence on me is Jerome Witkin, and Geoffrey Laurence is almost in Witkin's league ... I say "almost" because I think Witkin tackles heavier topics in a more direct manner. Still, it was great to see some first-rate painting.

The other good gallery was Turner Carroll Gallery. They have a variety of artists who are really top-notch. One is Hung Liu, a Chinese artist who does some really beautiful figurative paintings using acrylics and layers of clear acrylic resin. She has very dynamic brushwork that's constrained by the clear layers, which sets up an interesting tension for me. Another interesting artist is Georges Mazilu, a French painter whose work is very unusual ... imagine the Mona Lisa done by Hieronymous Bosch and you'll get an idea. He uses traditional painting techniques to come up with strange creatures from the unconscious, and he has tremendous skills. Very cool.

One of the litmus tests I apply to a gallery, along with "do they have any interesting art on the walls", is how they treat me. Every gallery had somebody who came up to me and initiated a conversation, which is good. And when they did, I always told them that I was an artist visiting town and was looking to see what was out there. And all of them except Altitude and Turner Carroll flunked that test: the moment I said I was an artist, they dropped me like a hot potato. "He's an artist, he's not going to buy anything, and he's going to ask us to look at his portfolio. Waste of time." I should note that every one of those galleries had second-rate (my opinion) art on the walls anyway. The Altitude gallerista remained politely friendly, if not overly enthusiastic, but she passed the test. Turner Carroll, though, is the Santa Fe gold standard. I had a very enjoyable conversation with Megan even after she found out I was an artist. Sure, she was keeping an eye on other people in the gallery, but she was very friendly, exceptionally knowledgeable about her artists in particular and art history in general, and she was stunningly good-looking to boot. Talk about hitting the trifecta! And no, I didn't ask her to review my portfolio ... I just signed up for their mailing list and put my web site on there for good measure. If they look, good; if not, that's fine too.

I noticed two interesting trends in Santa Fe. One is that several painters are using acrylic resin in layers. I mentioned Hung Liu above but there were others (none of whom had near her skill). The resin layers give the paintings a very 3D effect ... kinda like oil glazes on steroids. They also give the paintings a very glossy and smooth finish. When done right, it's an interesting effect. The other trend is that many artists are painting in a way that's similar to northern European Renaissance artists. They'll portray a quarter-length figure turned slightly, seated in front of a window (again, think Mona Lisa), only the figure may be an African American woman in dreadlocks in front of a New York City skyline. I'm sensitive to this because a number of my paintings over the past six years are also taken from Renaissance (and later) artworks, including Velasquez, Michelangelo, Manet, and Titian. I can't believe that I've actually been in the vanguard of a movement for once!

'Nuff for now. I'm on vacation and need to go visit with my sister.

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