One question contemporary realist painters often get is, “Why not simply take a photograph?” Eric G. Thompson, a self-taught artist who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, answered this familiar assault with brio the other evening at the opening of his show at Matthews Gallery in Santa Fe (669 Canyon Road). He explained that what photographs can’t replicate is the energy contained in a painting. Thompson’s aim—to “capture an emotion in time”—expresses itself in every well-placed brushstroke he applies to the canvas. Even the familiar chalk-white Starbucks cup with its green logo and little brown sleeve in his painting “The Photographer” bristles with personality. Or consider the oversized greenish ceramic mug in “Morning Cup,” crosshatched with points of light. “Objects have spirit,” Thompson said. “An old cup is like a person.”
Thompson likes to call his paintings “visual haikus,” which spurred the Matthews Gallery to display snippets of great American poetry in the exhibit, samples from poets including Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell and Robert Frost.
“Coffee Shop Girl”
A good example is Robert Lowell’s “Epilogue” paired with the painting “Coffee Shop Girl.” Lowell writes: “I hear the noise of my own voice:/ The painter’s vision is not a lens,/ it trembles to caress the light” [emphasis original]. These lines are reflected in the Coffee Shop Girl’s illuminated face—as pale as rice paper.
Later on, the poem continues: “Pray for the grace of accuracy/ Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination/ stealing like the tide across a map/ to his girl solid with yearning.” Though large sunglasses hide her face and her meager mouth is expressionless, the Coffee Shop Girl is ravenous. We see her frayed emotional state in the feathery brushstrokes in the background, the squirming reddish-brown tendrils of her ponytail, and the sparkling clusters of dandelion-like fur attached to the hood of her puffy coat.
“Spring City House”
In a similar way, Robert Frost’s “A Boundless Moment” provides a context for Thompson’s painting “Spring City House.” The first lines of Frost’s poem mirror the quiet loneliness of the house: “He halted in the wind, and—what was that/ Far in the maples, pale, but not a ghost?” The broken teeth of a destroyed fence in the painting's foreground of give the ghost-like house a forlorn feel. The house’s surface is a clear expanse of creamy off-white dimpled with tiny pinpricks. Its eyelike window is dark: No one is home. To the right of the house, there's a hint of promise in the glimpse of a yellow field, tempered by the stillness of an abandoned chair on the porch next to it.
Thompson’s “The Photographer” places us in an anemic yellow light (not the usual harsh florescent shine) of the magazine section of a Barnes & Noble. The Photographer—a strapping bearded guy in a cap and hefty boots—appears mesmerized by a heavy magazine open on his lap. He seems alone in his thoughts. Two other people, turned away from him, are also engrossed in their reading, sampling something very private in a public space.
An Emily Dickinson poem posted next to the painting “Evening Glow” opens: “Ah, Moon—and Star!/ You are very far—/ But were no one/Farther than you—/ Do you think I’d stop/ For a Firmament—/ Or a Cubit—or so?” In “Evening Glow” the branches of trees claw in every direction as the moon recedes into the background of a steel-colored sky. There is a quiet sadness in the warm, flickering light of a cottage window, as the viewer is on the outside looking in … so far away.
“Why not simply take a photograph?” How else to give voice to our common predicament than with oil, egg tempera and watercolor or with the pen and ink of our best American poets? In the end, we are not always lonely, but forever alone.
“Envelope art is a strong tradition in the jails,” says Juli Cobb. “We will have a number of them displayed at the Library. Most students work with ball point pens and the detail and shading is remarkable.”
Where Juli Cobb teaches, the school uniform is orange, the attendance rate is almost perfect, and the atmosphere can be stressful: “There are doors that clang and dogs that come in and sniff things,” she says.
Cobb’s art students are inmates at the Bernalillo Metropolitan Detention Center. They study at the Gordon Bernell Charter School—one of only two full high schools in the US housed in a jail. (The other one is in San Francisco.)
The students have to be creative at developing projects from the get-go. “I can’t bring many things in there that are second nature to an art teacher,” Cobb says. Everything is a potential weapon, including scissors and heavy objects. Even ink is forbidden in order to prevent illicit prison tattoos.
So when they were supposed to design objects for the OFFCenter Community Arts Project’s “Albuquirky Little Houses” Silent Auction, for which artists usually construct diminutive homes out of wood, Cobb was at a loss. She bunted the problem to her class and the resourceful students decided to draw the shapes onto paper and collage together the walls of each house.
Quirky houses decorated by Gordon Bernell students
Home is where I left my heART: Writings and Art for Our Families from Afar, the Gordon Bernell students’ upcoming exhibit at the Special Collections Library (423 Central NE), will put similar creative solutions on display with a collaborative quilt of collages expressing memories of the students' kitchen tables and several collaborative mosaics of mini-masterpiece paintings. In addition, you can scope envelope art, handmade poetry books and more from Cobb’s students and those of colleague and co-exhibit coordinator Andrea Fletcher.
Cobb’s average students are in their early twenties to mid-thirties. “If they have a GED but they don’t have a diploma, they can take classes,” Cobb explains. The students tend to be highly motivated yet extremely unsure of themselves. Unlike some teenage “know-it-alls” in regular high schools, these older students suffer from real problems with self-esteem. And when students come in depressed, “something is going on.” Are they worrying about a court date? Are they missing their children?
However, mostly the students are lighthearted in class. “I’ve got a ton of students now that I care about,” Cobb says. “The classes are so joyful. They love being in school.” See that love and redemption shining through at the opening reception for Home is where I left my heart on Thursday, May 22, from 4 to 6:30pm.
May has arrived, bringing flowers and new exhibits by three budding New Mexico artists at the Harwood Art Center: Ken Frink, Karl Hofmann and KB Jones. Taken together, the trio conveys a rebirth, a springtime ecstasy, a surge of intense emotions or a revelation. If you come to the Harwood Art Center, be prepared to take in something that we don’t hear much about these days—at least not in the news: Hope abounds, and there’s pleasure to be had in “creating moments of order in a sea of chaos.”
Imagine the following scenario: You need a cake shaped like Elmo or Hello Kitty in less time than it takes to whisk an egg white. Do you repair to the nearest store and separate from your well-earned cash for a cake pan you will probably never use again?
“We knew that other libraries were doing this,” says Linda Morgan Davis, Assistant Director, Collections and Community. “Libraries are looking at new types of services [that will allow them] to be part of the community and help their communities to grow and prosper.”
Luke, I am your cake.
So say goodbye to the character pans you’d buy for a birthday and then allow to “sit dormant in the kitchen cabinet.” Choose from about 30 shapes—from a guitar to a soccer ball to Ultimate Spider-Man—and check out a pan for up to three weeks at a time. Just be prepared to pay a fine of $2 if the cake pan is returned dirty.
What is it about cake pans that conjure up saintly visions of the stereotypical 1950s mother, her flour-dusted apron and a giant mixing bowl filled with the four basic elements—flour, sugar, butter and eggs? “Baking trends come and go, but cakes are timeless,” opines the blurb for Martha Stewart’s Cakes, one of five cake-oriented cookbooks featured on the library’s website.
These cookbooks are also available as ebooks, which allows you to keep an ingredient list handy when you're out shopping. Also be aware that you can download magazines (including many on cooking) for free. With the Zinio program, you can select from 85 titles, and once you download them, they’re yours. (It sure beats having piles of periodicals at home.)
If you’d like to donate your own cake pans to the library, make sure that they are Wilton brand character pans, metal (not silicone), in excellent condition and accompanied by a paper insert that shows decorating suggestions.
Lastly, whether your cake looks like a Christmas tree, a choo-choo train, a butterfly or any other whimsical shape, feel free to send a picture of your sweet, frosted masterpiece to firstname.lastname@example.org and they’ll post it on Facebook.
“Doña Mariana Belsunse y Salasar,” 18th century, attributed to Pedro José Diaz
For over four centuries, the most powerful people in Spain’s New World—an elite group made up of Creole, indigenous and mixed-race peoples—were as anxious as modern-day celebrities when it came to their social ranking and how they appeared in public. Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898—an exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum (2000 Mountain Road NW)—explores how the upper classes of New Spain wanted others to view and revere them. These privileged aristocrats anchored themselves in displays of material goods and used portrait painting to legitimize their power. Their elaborate portraits were as telling as snapshots of Hollywood stars spontaneously freezing on the red carpet in all of their self-styled finery.
Take Doña Rosa María Salazar y Gabiño, Countess of Monteblanco and Montemar, the Peruvian aristocrat who posed for a painting (attributed to Pedro José Díaz sometime around 1770) in such unsettling ostentation that every inch of her body seems to be sprouting diamonds and pearls. The portrait includes a motley pattern in the upper right-hand corner that represents the combined coat of arms of the countess and her husband—about as subtle as a Prada label.
Brooklyn Museum, gift of Mrs. Carl H. de Silver
“Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape,” circa 1770-96, Agostino Brunias, oil on canvas
Then there’s Doña Mariana Belsunse y Salasar—an ungainly woman depicted by a Peruvian painter (either José Joaquín Bermejo or Pedro José Díaz) in a giant blue shell of priceless fabric. This discerning woman avoided marriage to the man she was promised to (an old fogy pronounced “uglier than an excommunication”) by entering the convent. Later, when the coast was clear, she reentered society and married her original fiancé’s wealthy nephew—the mayor of Lima. She quickly became one with the “in-crowd,” including the countess of Monteblanco and Montemar, who often frequented her salon.
Brooklyn Museum et al
“Inca King,” Peru, probably mid-18th century, oil on canvas
As the catalog for the exhibit—edited by Richard Aste, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum where the show originated—explains, every group in New Spain was out to prove its worthiness in a new world of changing political and racial identities. For example, the Creole elite set out to prove their “limpieza de sangre” (“purity of blood”) in complicated genealogies that illustrated a lack of Jewish or Moorish ancestry. What’s more, as direct descendants of the pre-Hispanic nobility, the Inca elite produced Europeanized portraits of their ancestors in order to put themselves in the right light to gain privileges such as the right to hold office.
The blurring of racial lines in New Spain allowed for a greater conversation about what groups are given the right to wield power and a greater anxiety over how various people distinguished themselves from one another. Agostino Brunias, a painter of Italian origin, captured the complexity of the new social rules in his painting “Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape.” Here we see free gentlewomen of mixed race dressed for a date with leisure—something that never would have gone over in Europe.
Brunias’ smudging of color lines may have been a reaction to casta painting—eighteenth-century paintings created in Mexico and meant as clear visual lessons about the racial caste system in the New World for those in Old Spain. These paintings attempted to delineate a clear hierarchy among different social groups and they depicted people as belonging to one distinct racial category or another. (A knee-jerk reaction to anxiety over the mingling of bloodlines.)
In 1898, the Spanish-American War ended the empire’s rule of Cuba and Puerto Rico—the last Spanish claims in the Americas. But by this time, the conversation about “new world identity” had already been going on for centuries. Who was who? What rank did you belong to? How could you prove it?
Power dresses itself up in many different ways—almost all of them painstakingly deliberate. What comes first, the emperor or the emperor’s clothes? Judging from this exhibit, it's hard to say.