’Round these parts we like our Idiot Box ... well, idiotic. Education and art don’t usually factor into it when you’re confined to a steady diet of “E! True Hollywood Story,” “When Animals Attack” and “Cheaters.” Occasionally, though, we must all expand our horizons and admit that even TV is capable of delivering a little beauty into our lives.
Which brings us to “Painting Taos,” the new, hour-long documentary from our local PBS station, KNME-5. The show will air this coming Monday across the state. The hope is that, in the future, it’ll be picked up by Public Broadcasting proper and air nationwide. In the meantime, we here in New Mexico get first dibs.
As you may have surmised by the title, “Painting Taos” is a documentary about the famed Taos Art Colony, a loose group of mostly landscape painters who settled in and around Taos near the turn of the last century. Since then, the tiny Northern New Mexico town has been a destination and a home for artists of all stripes.
“Painting Taos” goes all-out, giving us interviews, historical recreations, archival images and, of course, loads and loads of lovely artwork to ogle. The story begins with Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein, two commercial illustrators who decided to chuck their jobs and head out West looking for adventure. One fateful day, their horse-drawn wagon broke down outside of Taos. They fixed the wagon; but somehow, they never got around to leaving. Phillips and Blumenschein spent the rest of their lives creating the sort of vividly colored, Romantic/
Before long, the two East Coast transplants had attracted a number of like-minded paint-slingers and formed the Taos Society of Artists—a group whose philosophy and style would influence generations of artists, from Georgia O’Keeffe to R.C. Gorman.
With artists, authors, historians and descendants filling in the details, it’s easy to grasp how Taos became such a famous artist colony. The ethnic diversity, the lush rural setting and the stunning landscape are important factors. But, for all the efforts of the film’s many talking heads, simply looking at the artwork tells the story. Thankfully, “Painting Taos” provides plenty of it.
“Painting Taos” is an extremely laudatory document. There isn’t much here in the way of drama or conflict. We see the work of the founding artists, we get snippets of their personalities, we revel in their legacy. “They came, they saw, they painted,” is about as deep as the message gets. Still, it’s just the thing to instill a bright burst of local pride in New Mexicans in general and Taoseños in specific. Sometimes, looking at a TV rather than out the window, you forget how lovely New Mexico really is. At least “Painting Taos” is here to remind us.