Taos Moderns Robert C. Ellis (1923-1979) and Michio Takayama (1903-1994) are the next focus of the “Legends of Taos Series,” presented by 203 Fine Art, the Taos gallery specializing in early mid-century modern art. The opening reception is Saturday (July 8) from 5-7 p.m., at the gallery’s new location, 1335 Gusdorf Road, Suite I.
“Michio and Ellis were good friends,” said Eric Andrews, 203’s gallerist who is himself a Taos Modern-styled artist. Andrews and co-owner non-objective artist Shaun Richel note online that they created 203 Fine Art to host both a fine museum quality collection of works by the Taos Moderns, as well as to present “a well-curated selection of the best modern, contemporary, abstract paintings and sculpture by current Taos and nationally known artists.”
As legend has it, both Takayama and Ellis fell in love with Taos practically at first sight. Ellis actually was drawn here in 1942 to the University of New Mexico Field School in Taos where he met Andrew Dasburg, who impressed Ellis greatly, according to former Harwood Museum curator and director David Witt’s seminal work, “Modernists in Taos.” Had he not served in the Coast Guard during World War II, Witt says Ellis would have moved to Taos much earlier.
Also serendipitously, Takayama and Ellis both came to Taos on Helene Wurlitzer Foundation grants, Ellis in 1961, then finally moving here in 1965, and Takayama in 1966. Most notably, Takayama and wife Yaye, managed to secure a second year’s Wurlitzer Foundation residency — basically an unheard-of extension for this highly sought-after creativity residency known in art circles the world over.
The Takayama and Ellis families went to Europe together, among other things, Andrews said, another indication of the close relationship between the two men, who were singularly dedicated to the spirit in art.
Paul Klee was a favorite of Takayama’s painters and his daughter Wako Takayama writes in the 2005 “Michio Takayama: A Retrospective,” that her father lived by Klee’s tenet: “The main purpose of art is not to render the visible, but rather to make visible — putting the inner feeling into the work was paramount.”
Takayama’s themes include color-radiant canvases of suns, petroglyphs, Taos sky and horizon, sails and space. In some of his later works he includes poems by others, like the piece titled “Poem by Ryokan,” a 1984 oil on canvas. He also gave calligraphy demonstrations in Taos, sometimes during which Yaye would perform traditional tea ceremonies — both the ink and the tea traditions providing a common container that frees the artist to focus on the process of the moment, rather than the object.
In a hand-written artist statement published in the same book, Takayama says about his process: “I conceive of art (painting in my case) in dualistic terms – intellect and emotion, straight line and curve, white and black – I regard the creating of a pleasing harmony of color and form to be the essence of artistic quest. My personal approach takes for its objective the attaining of such harmony between these qualities. In this I desire to be guided by intellect, but not enmeshed in it. My present state of mind is well-expressed by the ancient oriental saying: ‘I have not yet seen the mountain; The mountain looks on me.’ “
Takayama had established himself as an artist, first in his native homeland of Japan in the 1950s, whereupon he was disowned by his father for leaving the family’s banking business to pursue art, and later in Southern California where he and Yaye lived for 10 years prior to moving to New Mexico.
Ellis, too had dual national affiliation, first living occasionally with the Raramuri tribe of Mexico’s Sierra Madre, (mistakenly renamed Tarahumara Indians in U.S. parlance) from 1947-1953, and later due to his marriage to Mexican national Rosamaria Ramírez de Alba in 1957.
Witt notes that Ellis was the only Taos Modern to show and work on both sides of the border, most notably at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1964.
“That was a really, really big deal to show there,” Andrews said, indicating how well-regarded Ellis was in the relatively international art circle in Mexico.
One gorgeous piece from that Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes exhibit is Ellis’ “Cuautla número veinte,” a large geometric abstract of layered oils, predominantly blues, teals, purples and reds, squared by recessed and proceeding rectangles seeming to float on a sea or ether of varying shadow, a primordial concept perhaps, forming and refining itself, shape-shifting in front of the viewer’s eyes some 70 years later, alive and vital.
What Ellis does with crayon is simply remarkable, and like much of his oeuvre, almost hushed in respectful exploration and expression – a sensibility described by French Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain who called Ellis “… one of the great religious painters of our time.”
Located south, just shy of the town proper, 203 Fine Art is “a destination location,” as Andrews explains it, open by appointment practically any time of the day or night, for “a personalized art experience.” He is just minutes away and will sit you down in comfortable chairs, amidst the well-lit gallery for an in-depth, languorous and enjoyable ramble through contemporary art in general or artist in particular.
For more information, visit 203fineart.com. For a taste of the “art experience” they offer, call for an appointment at (575) 751-1262.