While working on a novel about landscape, I decided to quit my sporadic library education on New Mexico art history and actually take a class here at CNM. I was on a quest to learn about the ways other artists describe the landscapes here.
Grabbing library books was great but taking a class can give you a more comprehensive overview and lead you to some art subjects you might not normally investigate. A broad history could even bring in international elements of the story, which my class did. Not only did we touch on prehistoric and modern Indian art but colonial and modern Hispanic art tracing its roots back to the Islamic Moors in Spain, as well as immigrant European influences.
So much was mind blowing in this class.
We watch a Hung Liu Video from a Kansas City museum, not this one but a similar one. In the video we learned:
- About being both careful and careless at the same time.
- That gravity can be a secret collaborator.
- About using intuition with color.
- And how a good brush stroke is such a satisfying thing, not least of all a physically recorded moment of your life.
You can see how some of these ideas might benefit a writer.
We also watched a video about making manuscripts by hand, an amazing video if you love books as objects.
My main focus in taking the class was to learn about modern New Mexico art, but I ended up really getting into colonial and territorial Spanish pieces and ended up doing my class paper on a tinsmith named Higinio V. Gonzales. I picked him because he was also a local poet and a local museum exhibited not only his tin pieces but one of his poems painted out as an object of art. Turns out he has an interesting poetic legacy in territorial New Mexico as well, having published poems about how the state should be named, poems about relationships and local Las Vegas, NM, politics, and one reminiscent and far predating in structure the Beach Boy's "California Girls."
His lifespan was also incredible in how he brushed against many iconic historic New Mexico figures. He was a teacher, an artist, a writer, and served in the military during the Civil War. To read more, visit:
- The Santa Fe New Mexican
- Latino Centric
- New Mexico Magazine
- There's also a very comprehensive book out about him which includes photos of many of his tin pieces and much of his poetry.
- A video
I also veered off at one point reading about painter Agnes Martin, who left the art world and came to New Mexico to lead a monastic life of painting. Agnes wrote poems, too, but I haven't been able to find very many of them.
In the class also fell in love with straw applique, colcha embroidery and bultos carvings (along with retablos and reredos paintings), all colonial Hispanic carved Catholic pieces made predominantly in New Mexico in the 17th century for homes and local missions. Coincidentally around this time I came across Dana Gioia’s poem about a bulto,“The Angel with the Broken Wing" which was published in Poetry magazine.
And you may think none of this ties back to landscape painting, which set me off on this class journey in the first place. But it does. All these pieces were devised locally in response to the landscape, the distance of the New Mexican community from either Spain, Mexico City or the United States and the shortage of gold, silver and other materials with which to create art objects. These forms wouldn't exist without the harshness of the landscape and its remoteness from civilization at the time.
Tin frame made from railroad delivered tin cans:
Bultos (or Santos), Retablos, and Reredos (for Church altars):