Frank Morbillo with his arroyo earthwork

“I was worried about erosion going further back over time,” says Frank Morbillo.

We’re standing in the arroyo that runs past the sculptor’s Tesuque studio, which sits just up the hill. The shrubby, undulating channel is a far cry from the Matthews Gallery where Frank is showing his latest sculpture series in our NEW HORIZONS: Focus on Landscapes show. It’s hard to believe, but the story of the elegant artwork that will perch on our pedestals begins here.

There’s not much ground between the riverbed and the studio, but Frank has long been ready for this year’s particularly wet monsoon season. Running along the arroyo’s edges are lines of massive steel drums peeking out from under the earth.

Arroyo Earthwork, Frank Morbillo

“These are all linked together, and there’s a key lock between them,” Frank says. “This one slid into that one, so they can’t slide out.” The sculptor designed and built the artificial banks more than 15 years ago to reinforce and contain the natural flow of the water that comes down from the surrounding hillsides, but the system is as aesthetic as it is functional.

The swooping lines of the steel walls, which are meant to break the surface tension of the swiftly gliding water, hold a grace echoed in the bronze sculptures Frank creates in his studio.

“When I first came to New Mexico, I got a good education from people giving me horror stories about when they tried to change things too much,” Frank says as he treks back up the hill. “If you change too many of the characteristics of nature, it might take another course.”

Frank Morbillo- Traverse II- Matthews Gallery

We weave through an enormous garage full of half-finished work and scraps of metal and into Frank’s office and display room. The pieces in here weren’t designed to work directly with the elements like the sweeping earthwork in the arroyo, but they seem bound by the same rules.

Frank points to a sculpture made of two slabs of stainless steel with a ribbon of orange glass winding through it. “If you want to get down into a canyon, you’re not going straight down,” he says. “You have to find these cutbacks. The glass represents the traverse, which is how you negotiate that landscape.”

The sculptor takes trips across New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado every year to hike the area’s majestic canyons. Just like the arroyo project, the journeys have given him a real sense of the dynamic between humans and the landscape around them. Many of his sculptures tell the story of this relationship, and of what it says about human nature.

“A lot of the things you see in nature, you look at and think, ‘That reference can apply to the earth or to human relationships,’” Frank says. Just outside his studio is a fractured conference table made of steel and bronze that refers both to tectonics and to the challenges of human negotiations.

The piece seems particularly relevant nowadays, but Frank is still confident that our harmonious concept for NEW HORIZONS is sound. The exhibition will connect Frank’s new work with a diverse array of landscape paintings and prints by our other artists, many of whom live or lived in the Southwest. “You’d be surprised by how our ideas can intersect, just by working in this place,” Frank says.

Sculpture by Frank Morbillo, Painting by Terry Craig

A week later, Frank delivers some of the works we saw in his studio to the gallery. He clusters them on the patio and then deposits them one-by-one onto the floor of our front room. The amber glass in one piece catches the glow of an orange mixed media painting by Santa Fe artist Terry Craig. It’s already clear that Frank is right.

NEW HORIZONS: Focus on Landscapes opens Friday, October 18 from 5-7 pm at the Matthews Gallery. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to see more works from the show.