Taos Fall Arts Festival: A refreshing and lively achievement

By Rick Romancito and Dory Hulburt
Posted 10/3/11

A new attitude was palpable as soon as visitors began appearing at the Distinguished Achievement Award ceremony Friday (Sept. 23) for this year's 37th annual Taos Fall Arts Festival. The event at the Taos Civic Plaza Convention Center, arguably the …

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Taos Fall Arts Festival: A refreshing and lively achievement


A new attitude was palpable as soon as visitors began appearing at the Distinguished Achievement Award ceremony Friday (Sept. 23) for this year's 37th annual Taos Fall Arts Festival. The event at the Taos Civic Plaza Convention Center, arguably the most anticipated of the year for local artists, was buzzing with excitement, partly because patrons were anxious to see whether the new board's efforts would prove successful. And, not surprisingly, a few were probably ready to gloat if they weren't.

I'm happy to report, the festival is back and better than its been in quite a while.

The reasons go beyond just the changes in the board's approach to exhibition criteria or in the way artwork is displayed. It was more apparent in the way artists appeared to support the event simply by way of participation. I won't rehash the difficulties the event experienced last year, but once you stepped into the Río Grande Room and Bataan Hall at the convention center, it was apparent that a new regime was definitely in charge.

Gone were the Taos Invites Taos and Taos Living Masters, shows that have been the bone of contention for the sometimes controversial choices regarding who gets in and who doesn't. Now, the board isn't about exclusion based upon the personal whims of board members. In the new Taos Selects exhibit area, the philosophy is all about putting a name to criteria, in other words, making the reasons for choices clear and democratic.

That also goes for how the Distinguished Achievement Awards were chosen for this year and how it will change and rotate as time goes on. Cleverly designed by local artist and administrator Charles Strong, the awards will be named for important and influential historic Taos artists. The award series will select three artists each year, chosen independently, to receive acknowledgement for the quality and nature of their work, and their established art career. This means the awards will honor artists from a wide variety of disciplines and not target just the usual suspects.

Artists honored this year are G. Phil Poirier, who received the Tony Reyna Award for jewelry (Poirier was unable to be present so one of his protégés, Maria Samora, accepted it for him from Taos Pueblo elder Tony Reyna himself), Victor Goler received the Ted Egri-Santo Niño Santero Award for sculpture from Egri's widow Janet Egri, and, Julian Robles received the Ernest Blumenschein-E.I. Couse Award for Figurative and Landscape Painting and Drawing from supporter Kathy Córdova.

Of course, one of the things people looked for after the doors were opened to the general public after the ceremony were who won exhibition awards. They are (drum roll):

Taos Open

Best in Show $500: Pamela Pereyra for contemporary jewelry.

Judge's choice $100 each: Henry Berger for "Nadine," Geoffrey Lasko for "Mary," Geraint Smith for "Big Horn Ram" and Laura Sporance for "Truth."

Taos Select

Best in Show $500: Ed Heffernan for "The Wave."

Judge's Choices $100 each: Kathleen Brennan for "Summer Matter 1," Jennifer Lynch for "Crystal Springs No. 10," Terry Mangat for "Taos Fireworks" and Paul O'Connor for "Tony Reyna."

The 2011 award judge was gallerist and curator Judith Kendall, who owned and directed the Fenix Gallery, in Taos from 1989-2009. Featuring contemporary art, the Fenix Gallery is now an online gallery.

"The Taos Fall Arts Festival board wishes to thank her for her work and enthusiastically acknowledges her decisions," a press release from the board states.

People's Choice

Terry Berger for his painting "Nadine," which also won the Judge's Choice Award.

The board also instituted a new program called the "Kids Give Back," a funding project and the first recipient of which is the Talpa Community Center's Ceramic for Kids Program.

"Taos Fall Arts began a program that would partially fund an art program and placed a call for submissions," a press release says. "We received five well-deserving applications. The program director, Effie Romero stated that The Talpa Community Center is a nonprofit organization, and each summer they provide four weeks of ‘Ceramic for Kids' for free."

According to Romero, "These classes include two instructors, ceramic greenware, paints, tools, and firing of the products. This year, due to a donation of pottery clay, we are including instruction in ‘how to make your own pottery item.' The kids love it. We end up with about 20 students, ranging from 6 years to 12 years in age."

Perusing the Taos Selects show, there were numerous works that were standouts. Among personal choices were:

"Taos Pueblo Daughter," a gorgeous portrait of model April Winters by Stephen Long, a luminescent sculpture by Mat Hollingshead titled "Allison," and "God's Throne" by Pablo Flores. While many obviously displayed a great deal of talent and expertise, on the other end of the spectrum a few hit the usual overworked surface, off-handed gestural, uninspired composition, weak-envisioned category that people like to latch upon when they need confirmation that indeed Taos art is circling the bowl. But, all you have to do is look around and discover that the majority of other works, including the sometimes-overlooked jewelry, sculpture and photography, are stronger than ever.

So there.

The Taos Open: Innocence and experience

Review by Dory Hulburt

There is no point in talking about how well the art is hung in the Taos Open division of the Fall Arts Festival. The same partitions and roughly the same layout have been used since time immemorial.

Better to focus on the innocence and expectancy surrounding this unjuried show. Anyone who has lived in Taos County at least 75 percent of the time for at least one year can submit. Only original work is accepted, no giclees, except for photographs or mechanically produced work.

As an added infusion of warmth, a children's section offers delightful instances of (intended) humor, to which their gravitas-laden elders might hearken. (Artwork by Taos luminati like Larry Bell and Ken Price has always had a humorous edge, blatant or latent.) The children's show also includes noteworthy entries.

Due to a computer glitch, no media information was provided on labels, so this review employs guesswork, with apologies in advance for mischaracterizations. Needless to say, the Open's lack of a jury process results in a wild qualitative variation, but as a result exceptional pieces are thrown into sharp relief.

One of these is Sarkis Gorial's portrait, "Time is Knowledge," evincing his radical transformation via the Academy of Art University in San Francisco into a portraitist in the Rembrandt tradition - luminous faces emerging from velvety darkness. While he has yet to fully master Rembrandt's technique, Gorial has come so far in his command of light and insight into character.

Pablo Flores continues a trajectory of increasing sophistication with his sculptures, "Till Death" and "Corn Maiden," which achieve totemic power using found materials like wood, feathers, woven fabric, plant matter, metal fittings and rusted springs.

In Britt Brown's classical female figure of milky white stone, "Antiquity," a mere ripple defines the ribcage, a subtle curve the clavicle. The figure rises from rough stone and Brown chose to leave a projection of the same crude stone as a wing extending from the figure's back, heavy enough to make her an earthbound angel.

Just when you thought you'd had it up to here with images of the San Francisco de Asís Church, along comes Geoffery Lasko's deceptively unassuming little print, "St. Francis Church." The church with the legendary buttresses is almost entirely shadowed, defined by a few wedges of light, a softly bright sky and a sweep of light at its base. The six stones with carefully demarcated shadows that curve around the church's foundation are strangely moving.

Who knew Veteran for Peace Joe Balsamo was also a fine furniture maker? His bristlecone pine desk is a melding of form and function via slabs of golden pine with unfinished edges. The desktop slabs are well-paired, their markings a mirror image.

Lloyd D. Rivera continues his visual documentation of Spanish and New Mexican history with his oil painting, "Old Spanish Road to Taos," in which foreground figures wielding a gun and a Mexican flag anchor an hallucinogenic, fish-eyed perspective of the town and the Pueblo, squeezed to the sides of a road that gradually narrows to a spiral at the horizon.

Also intriguing: Merrill Dick's pastel figures superimposed on geological survey maps, Bill Binger's vibrant painting pairing a Harley Davidson and a sky reminiscent of Van Gogh's "Starry Night," and Steve Gomez' small oils of scenes that rush past as if painted from a moving car.

As for the children, Jesalyn S. Santistevan's oil painting, "Green Dragon," excited not only my attention, but that of another captivated browser who questioned Taos Open staff at length about the child, whose age was not given, and her work. Title aside, it evokes a raven's eye peering out of a mass of dark greenery rendered in a confident eruption of brushstrokes.

Jesse Furr's extremely well-drawn and mysterious "Down from the Summit," an ink drawing, meditates on time, wisdom, love and fear, with a palette cleverly limited to black, white and red.

Sixth-grader Manzanita Matysiak's charming landscape encompasses all four seasons with happy, detailed snowmen, animals, trees, birds and mountains in ink, animated with paint.

Taos Integrated School of the Arts third-graders presented delightful handmade books with irresistably lurid titles, like Joshua Duncan's "Evil Gummy Attacks Chicago" and Adriel Hanf's "The Crime of the Ice Cream Cone."

Perhaps next year's children's section - a lovely way to nurture young artists - will provide more consistent labeling.

Visit www.taosfallarts.com for additional details.



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