Our age isn't so very different from any other. Artists have always dabbled in the most technologically innovative media at their disposal. In many cases, they've actually played a central role in creating that newfangled media. This is as it should be. If it's easier to work with a digital medium to bring a particular artistic vision to fruition, then why not use it?
Of course, there's something to be said for the tried and true. All the creative digital technology in the world will never push good ol' fashioned painting into obsolescence. Even the most technologically savvy artists often find themselves pulled toward painting because there's something about the tactile thrill of a brush (or a knife or a finger or a ...) sliding across canvas (or wood or metal or stone or ...) that simply can't be duplicated in other media.
Painting: Alive and Well!—an exhibit of large-scale work by eight painters strongly connected to New Mexico—has been hanging at the University Art Museum all summer. The show was organized by local art guru Dr. Jonathan Abrams, a professor and cardiologist at the UNM Health Sciences Center who has been a serious contemporary art collector for decades. The title of the exhibit perfectly explains its purpose: Abrams' intention is to show that painting has a place in the 21st century.
The show is only up for another week and a half, so you'd best see it now. It's a varied and often startling showcase of some truly amazing work.
UNM's art museum is huge by Albuquerque standards, but the exhibit still feels a little cramped. The recently deceased Agnes Martin's sole piece in the show is an elegant, almost ephemeral work from 1980 called “No. 6.” Lightly hued bars—blue, lime, pink—are arranged horizontally, separated with slimmer white bands that are in turn separated by even slimmer graphite lines. It's a fragile piece that looks almost crushed between the two monumental dark pieces hanging to its right and left.
One of those pieces, Eugene Newmann's “The 22nd Hour” really needs its own wall to be fully appreciated. Jagged, heavy and meditative, with a bright red gash dissecting it, along with white lines like abstract lightning strikes and plumes like the tail on a comet, Newmann's piece is inspired by the bright star vistas of rural New Mexico. The effect is something like celestial light viewed from the interior of a cave, if the stars were so bright they could bore through solid rock.
It's probably impossible for New Mexico artists not to be influenced by our region's extraordinary light and space. Forest Moses uses photos as the basis for exploring certain visual ideas. In “Reflecting on Water and Grasses,” he takes a landscape that could be lifted from any number of pristine, high elevation wilderness areas in the state—water reflects the sky beside a lush green meadow. This landscape, however, is almost completely obscured behind a swirling veil of multicolored mists, so that the painting teeters on the brink of pure abstraction.
Some of the work in the show refers back to the roots of modern paintings. In “Autumn Bouquet,” Sam Scott riffs on Van Gogh's famous sunflowers, integrating the blooms into a surreal desert landscape. A couple blooms actually transform into suns in Scott's expressionist sky.
Jim Wald says in an accompanying note that he seeks to “paint the liveliness of the world around us.” His painting “Flower Taster” is the most outrageously bold piece in the show, purple blossoms floating in space in front of a bird in a lush environment bursting with so much floral creation that it feels like a psychedelic vision.
There's much more to explore here, and the best time to do it would probably be next Tuesday afternoon during a special wrap-up event with some big-name arts supporters from around the state.
Painting: Alive and Well! , an exhibit featuring large-scale paintings by eight artists, runs through Sept. 24 at the University Art Museum. A gallery walk-through and panel discussion with Linda Durham (Linda Durham Contemporary Art), Laura Heon (Director, SITE Santa Fe) and others will be held Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 4 p.m. 277-4001, UNMartmuseum.unm.edu.