The STRANGERS Run Riot in Santa Fe
At the inaugural Baca Street Bash last Friday night, first we heard a smattering of drums and then—thundering out of a loudspeaker—a jumpy Go-Go’s song. It was a relaxed summer evening with the scent of something fatty smoking on the grill and tourists venturing about gingerly in sensible sandals. The women at Liquid Light Glass fashioned glazed objects in front of an audience, their sleek spears crowned with balls of red-yellow lava that they repeatedly dipped into a fiery oven. Children called out as they scuffed the pebble-strewn courtyard with their sneakers and young women with breezy outfits and busy tattoos clustered together.
Who would guess that next door there was a revolution brewing? For at the ART.i.factory gallery (930 Baca Street)—fronted by a consignment shop full of vintage gems—the first public exhibition of the rabble-rousing Santa Fe-collective the STRANGERS had hit town.
Who better to challenge the paint-by-number status quo of the art scene here than a vanguard of budding artists, silenced up until now by a lack of representation? Jordan Eddy, Kyle Farrell, and Erikka James dreamed up the STRANGERS in a living room in Santa Fe in October 2014. What began as an informal get-together of a bunch of young artists and writers grew into an over twenty-person collective that quickly gained traction.
While the artwork is king in the show, there are several zines on display, including a “Manifesto” by Jordan Eddy and Kelly Skeen chock full of interviews with the artists (that I pilfered for this article), some uncollected fiction by Austin Eichelberger that included a brief, candid account of the discomfort of being in a men’s room and also Ariana Lombardi’s “Letters to Strangers”among them, one written to a fellow passenger on a bus and one to an ex-boyfriend—both vivid takes on heartache and loss. Included in the show are several mysterious letters from a pen pal in Alaska that haven’t been opened yet. Many of these writings set the scene for an evening of bold self-expression spiked with emotional distress.
The dark-themed “Could Have Been”—a self-portrait made up of six panels—shows the artist Tailinh Agoyo in what looks like a steamy bathroom mirror as patches of fog cancel out portions of her multiple faces. When creating her digital collage, Agoyo said “I was going through a rough time and wanted to capture the feeling. I wanted to observe the emotions and honor them for myself.” Several scratchy red lines stitch themselves both horizontally and vertically across the surface of the photographs like barbed wire. Only once does her gaze meet the eye of the camera, and in this take her mouth is crossed out. Agoyo confronts her inner demons with courage. These are somber, private shots that fly in the face of the pouty, vamped-up selfies plastered everywhere these days.
Also in a gloomy register, Drew Mc’s clear, minimalist pen-and-ink drawing “Scaling the Wall of the Garden” shows a heroine out of a gothic romance who is doubled over while thrusting a sword clean through her middle section. It is a jagged-edged page torn from a sketchbook and pinned on top of a solid black background like a thorny valentine. “I really feel like this image is the death of a self, but it’s a very active symbol of sacrificing a part of your identity in order to move on to a new phase of your own being,” Mc commented. In pruning her own inner garden, she dares to depict and weed out old versions of herself, accompanied by the dull ache of growing pains.
Kyle Farrell’s “In Memory of (Eating) My Feelings 1” takes its cue from a Jasper John’s painting with a similar title. It consists of a small spoon anchored in a lumpy sea of black bile constructed of felt and Vaseline. It evokes eater’s remorse. (Who among us hasn’t felt low and made a pint of ice cream disappear in two seconds?) Another of Farrell’s pieces “—Tell It Like It Is—“ also deals with consumption. It was inspired by the tricky wolf out of a Brother’s Grimm story that munches on a piece of chalk so he can alter his voice, thus trapping seven young goats. In order to create the piece, Farrell chewed on a piece of chalk and spat the white mass directly onto the canvas. You could say that both of these works are about the artist finding his voice in a manner that refuses to conform to creating images that are sleek and superficial. The act of having to explain to an audience what his paintings wrestle with thematically necessitates an honest avowal of inner turmoil. Finally, his ghost-like paper collage “Untitled” showing the clean-shaven nape of a man’s neck as a doubled hand rests on the back of his shoulder has become the part-alien, part-familiar symbol for the STRANGERS collective.
When it comes to your childhood stuffed animal, Alex Gill thinks it has “been with you for so many years, that it isn’t an inanimate object anymore. It’s what you are. It’s gone through the same things that you have.” In his depiction of a monkey puppet named Jim and an eyeless teddy bear named Scruffy, Gill creates a pointillist pathos with hundreds of tiny dots. His battered plush toys look like broken-down, homeless souls. Gill acts out in a quiet way, calling on the sadness and vulnerability thoughts of childhood may arouse. What’s more, he calls forth the compassion we may now feel for our younger selves.
Freyr A Marie’s action-packed watercolor “Try Harder” depicts a superhero-like character clenching a red ball of blood in his blue fist. It stimulates feelings of intense frustration and difficulty. Marie could be talking of this tumultuous piece when he says of the Santa Fe art scene, “There is sort of a ceiling that gets hit because people don’t want to necessarily feel uncomfortable or hold space for something outside of where the money flows.” Marie’s artwork spurs on an exploration of uneasiness and pain.
Ben Putnam’s exaggerated chiseled landscapes with their thick clouds and mountains remind me of Van Gogh’s broad strokes. These sculptures come in evocative, intricate, wavy shapes that Putnam says were inspired by Japanese anime. He takes a chance in obeying his artistic marching orders to bring large, hefty pieces into the world that won’t necessarily mesh with the average buyer’s fastidious interior decorating.
Finally, Dion Valdez’s “Shape-Scape #3” contains an eye-catching tangerine-hued box in the middle of an ultramarine New Mexico sky with dun-colored mountains down below.
The eye-popping square shape provides an unusual, jarring contrast with the rest of the composition. Valdez’s advice to other up-and-coming artist-agitators? “Remember that there are no rules, and to be bold,” he says. “You can be whatever kind of artist you want to be.”
It was a night of celebration and catharsis on Baca Street. In the end, the newcomers that make up the STRANGERS began to seem like old friends.
ART.i.factory , Santa Fe, 930 Baca St.
July 18-Aug. 31
Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday, noon-4 p.m. (Closed Mondays.)