‘The light, the atmosphere— it’s all there in the light.” Northern New Mexico leaves an indelible mark on artists who paint here, regardless of where they wandered afterward, according to 203 Fine Art owner Eric Andrews.
His elegant, naturally lit gallery with polished floors and ivory-colored furniture from the era of the artists he represents is located at 1335 Gusdorf Road in Taos. The gallery is home to a handful of abstract painters, sculpture artists and works by the Taos Modernists, artists who arrived in the area after World War II. Even without a horizon line or the representational elements typical of Southwestern art, it’s easy to see how Taos has profoundly influenced these works. The intensity of the light and colors in the artwork, along with the artists’ manipulation of composition and form, make them at once recognizable as coming from here.
Andrews said the current exhibition in his gallery presents a “mixture of rare find pieces that haven’t been seen by anyone for decades.” The show opened Dec. 30 and is on view through January by appointment, or one can simply “just stop in,” Andrews said, “I’m always around.” The gallery is available by phone at (575) 751-1262.
Andrews explained the political and emotional landscape of the artists his gallery represents: World War II is thought to be the deadliest conflict in the history of the world. It ended with the first use of nuclear weapons and included brutal massacres, genocide, starvation and disease. Fatalities attributed to this war were close to a 100 million. Artists who lived and painted during and after this turbulent time created works at the crossroads of a threatened culture, ideology, and for some, life itself. Abstract expressionism was considered an attitude; it went against traditional styles. The painters included in this genre universally share the concepts of emotional and intellectual self-expression as the catalysts for creating their work.
Beatrice Mandelman, one of the artists included in the show, was an American abstract artist and a Taos Modernist. Before coming to Taos, she was employed as a muralist and later as a printmaker with one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs called the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The administration was founded to revitalize and carry out a variety of projects that were designed, in one form or another, to benefit the public. Mandelman and her husband, fellow artist Louis Ribak, visited Santa Fe and traveled up to Taos, and, on a whim, decided to make the move permanent.
She and her husband, another featured Taos Modernist in the exhibition, founded the Taos Valley Art School, where they taught until it closed in 1953. They were friends with notable Taos artists of the day, including Agnes Martin and Edward Corbett.
Andrews said Mandleman’s painting, “Firework” (1955), is a rare find that used gouache and other collage materials on plywood sized 9.5 inches by 18 inches. Its red umbers and color palette as a whole reflect the place in which it was created. Another rare Mandelman work featured in the exhibition is a large acrylic on canvas painted in the 1960s, titled “Space Quasar.” Contemplating the visions its title evokes, its hard-edged geometric shapes are a notable departure from her earlier piece in the exhibit. Its limited but vibrant color palette gives us an extraordinary view into the inner processes and workings of a master screen printer.
The 2017 Holiday Exhibition also has work by Oli Sihvonen, a Finnish-American born in Brooklyn, New York, who attended the renowned Black Mountain College in western North Carolina. The school was a refuge for artists, many of whom came from the German Bauhaus school that was moved, shut down and faced turmoil during the political persecution of Nazi Germany. The college’s numerous noteworthy alumni include Cy Twombly, Josef Albers, Allen Ginsberg and many others. After graduating, Sihvonen came to study at Mandelman and Ribak’s Taos Valley Art School from 1949 to 1950 with the aid of the G.I. bill, the federal program that funded higher education for veterans.
The rare finds of Sihvonen’s work consist of two acrylics on canvas from a series he painted in the early 1970s titled “Film Series - Yellow and Film Series - Red.” These hard-edged acrylic color field paintings use their respective hues strikingly. The pieces are substantial, measuring more than 58 inches on each side and can easily envelop the viewer. They are a compelling example of the way that many abstract expressionists worked: opening with an idea, in this instance, film stills, and making them increasingly non-representational. One can observe this in “Yellow”’s film sprockets that crawl along its left third in 1972 and disappear by the time Sihvonen painted “Red” in 1973.
The exhibition also features another piece of Sihvonen’s, an early work from 1947. It’s an oil on masonite titled “Gray, Black, and White” that uses hard-edged, slanted quadrilaterals to construct a straightforward planar composition. It could be said that the piece is slightly before its time. One might expect to find a similarly inspired Google cantilever, architectural element or patterned textile at the height of the 1950-60s Atomic Age.
203 Fine Art’s Holiday Exhibition also includes works by other significant artists: Larry Bell, Tom Dixon, Tony Magar, Adeine de la Noe, Michio Takayama, John De Puy, Veloy Vigil, Cliff Harmon, Eric Andrews, Shaun Richel, Courtney Azzara, and David Solomon.