Ancient and knock-kneed, the crane appears after the balloons have gone, an otherworldly animal set down to glean our fields and muck about the cold river. The artist P.K. Williams’ exhibit at the Open Space Visitor Center, The Crane’s Oasis, refers to our own little part of the world here on the Rio Grande, but these creatures are not of this place; they are Canadians. Taunting Linnaeans with their lengthy fossil record, the sandhill crane continues to spur arguments between the groupers and splitters among the bunch, finding common agreement only in their Latinized Canadian species name, canadensis, which indicates as much.
To the crane, New Mexico may feel like an oasis. To P.K. Williams, the crane’s appearance may be an oasis in her work, as autumn turns colder and the vibrance of plant life no longer makes for a viable subject. Cranes have made a tempting subject for artists across centuries and continents—that dancing over there by the water with outstretched wings. Williams says, “These wonderful birds have made their way into my heart.” With that, she makes a compelling case for the crane’s grace.
Williams says that “Hidden Duo” is “a tribute to ‘crane pairings.’” Cranes mate for life (except when they don’t), a fact that inspired Williams to paint “Hidden Duo.” In the family tree of artistic themes, monogamy is the quieter cousin to romance, and the disapproving father of the tryst. It receives its share of appreciation and throughout the world, cultures have often deployed the crane as monogamy's symbol. The cranes of “Hidden Duo” find themselves in a world that perfectly mirrors the Bosque del Apache as it would appear to an early-rising visitor still groggy from sleep. Near-gilded tones obliterate the painting’s field, matching the blinding morning sunlight as it is reflected off marshes, mingling with iridescent turquoise and the burnt reds of river mud.
Comparisons to Gustav Klimt’s masterwork “The Kiss” begin with the gilded field, are amplified by the Western suggestion of Eastern symbolism and can establish a solid footing as someone’s art history master’s thesis if absorbed into the idea that “Hidden Duo” represents the other end of a spectrum in cultural displays of love and fidelity. However, these comparisons leave us when we return to our own little part of the world here in the Bosque and remember that these birds are just doing what they do when they come to town. “Hidden Duo” is at its heart a wildlife painting. It is what we see, without abstraction, on groggy mornings down by the river on cool autumn days, if we are lucky.