WIDENING THE HORIZON: Maynard Dixon

Maynard Dixon- Love to Babette- Matthews Gallery Blog

There are just a few days left to see WIDENING THE HORIZON: New Mexico Landscapes
Read on to learn about one of our favorite featured artworks, and make sure to come see it 
before the exhibition closes on June 30.

“Travel East to see the real West,” said Charles Lummis to Maynard Dixon. Dixon (1875-1946) was born on a ranch near Fresno, California. His friend and mentor Lummis was a journalist, photographer and poet who walked from Cincinnati to Los Angeles in 1884, a 2,200-mile journey that took him through New Mexico in the dead of winter. Despite the severe hardships of the journey, Lummis fell in love with the Southwest and became a staunch advocate for historic preservation projects and the rights of the Pueblo Indians.

Inspired by Lummis’ tales, Dixon set out on his own Southwestern adventure in 1900. In California, he had studied under tonalist painter Arthur Mathews and worked extensively as an illustrator, but the trip to Arizona and New Mexico swung his artwork in a new direction. He took a horseback ride through the West the following year and developed a heavy impasto style, capturing endless vistas with a vibrant palette. Back in San Francisco, he sold paintings and watercolors dressed in his cowboy uniform: boots, a bolo tie and a black Stetson.

Maynard Dixon- Artist- Matthews Gallery Blog

The booming market for illustrations of the Wild West kept Dixon well-fed at the turn of the century. In 1905, he married artist Lillian West Tobey. The following years were wrought with calamity: most of Dixon’s early work was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and a move to New York in 1907 left Dixon frustrated and uninspired. His return to San Francisco in 1912 ended his first marriage, but renewed his commitment to creating “honest art of the West”, free of the commercialism that influenced his previous work.

In the 1920’s, a new interest in modernism lead Dixon to experiment with post-impressionism and cubism. Dense details gave way to an elegant style. He built a reputation for paintings of spare landscapes dominated by infinite swirling skies. His pastel Love to Babette, a tribute to art patron and San Francisco socialite Babette Clayburgh, is an impeccable example of his mature work.

Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange- Matthews Gallery Blog

Dixon married legendary Western photographer Dorothea Lange in 1920, and they had two sons. In late 1931 and early 1932, they lived in Taos, New Mexico in a house owned by their friend Mabel Dodge Luhan. The Taos Society of Artists offered Dixon a coveted spot in their ranks, but he disagreed with their strict bylaws and declined. However, Dixon’s time in New Mexico was perhaps the happiest and most productive of his life. He completed over 40 canvases in his four months there, focusing on the residents of Taos and their complex relationship with the rugged terrain of the High Desert.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Lange made some of her best-known images, documenting rampant poverty in the West. Dixon was in turn inspired to dabble in social realism. The couple was separated for a time when Dixon again took up Western painting in Utah’s Zion National Park and Mount Carmel, and divorced in 1935. Lange lived the rest of her years in Berkeley, while Dixon continued to travel through the West: to Montana, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

San Francisco muralist Edith Hamlin became Dixon’s third wife in 1937, and they moved to southern Utah in 1939. From their summer home in Mount Carmel, Dixon continued to paint powerful scenes of the West until his death in 1946. His ashes were buried in Mount Carmel.

Learn more about Maynard Dixon on our website, and come see WIDENING THE HORIZON: New Mexico Landscapes now through June 30. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily gallery news.

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NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Early Pueblo Pottery

 Maria Martinez- Revolutionary San Ildefonso Potter- Matthews Gallery Blog- Photo Courtesy Steve ElmoreThe tale of our current exhibition NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS: Women Artists of New Mexico begins twenty-three miles northwest of Santa Fe in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, population 458. The village has a long legacy of women potters, whose innovative ceramics techniques and designs inspired traditional and modernist artists who traveled to New Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. San Ildefonso is known as the epicenter of Pueblo pottery for good reason, as discussed by our guest blogger Steve Elmore. Elmore’s extensive pottery collection appears in the show. 

From 1875-1925, the polychrome or multicolored pottery produced at San Ildefonso reached a distinguished peak in the creative history of Pueblo pottery in the Southwest. Indeed, the residents of this small Pueblo village on the Rio Grande, northwest of Santa Fe, are direct descendants of the prehistoric Pueblo peoples of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, whose tradition of potting spans a thousand years of human history.

Juana Leno- Acoma Polychrome Olla circa 1965- Matthews Gallery BlogJuana Leno, Acoma Polychrome Olla, c. 1965

San Ildefonso remains a small village. In 1900 there were only 30 households and in 1910 eight women are noted in the census as potters. We are fortunate to the know the names of these early potters. At the turn of the century, the most established potters were the husband and wife team of Martina Vigil (1856-1916) and Florentino Monotoya (1858-1918). Martina’s excellent molding combined with Florentino’s skilled painting produced many exquisite jars, including many fine large storage jars. Most are polychromes. Born in the 1850s, they were certainly potting by the 1870s if not earlier, and their joint efforts became a model for the production of San Ildefonso polychromes: a family effort involving both partners.

Traditionally, San Ildefonso pottery was decorated with black designs over a gray slip on a bulbous rounded form. The use of red clay was confined to the rim and a narrow band around the base of the jar. With arrival of the Santa Fe Railway in the region, potters at San Ildefonso began introducing red clay into the painted design on the main body of the jars. What prompted this introduction of red is unknown, but most scholars suggest that the arrival of thousands of travelers from the Eastern United States on the new railroad sparked the change. The tourists were eager to purchase pottery, and the polychrome wares of Acoma Pueblo quickly led the market. Acoma pottery, with precise four-color drawings on thin symmetrical jars, set the standards for the tourist trade.

Acoma Polychrome Olla- Matthews Gallery BlogAcoma Polychrome Olla

Certainly the innovators of their time, Montoya and Vigil might have been the first at San Ildefonso to use red with the black design. Perhaps a trader suggested it directly or merely showed them the brightly colored Acoma pieces which were their competition. By the early 1880s, hundreds of polychrome jars were being produced annually by the skilled potters of San Ildefonso for the tourist and museum trade. In response to this demand, and for almost fifty years thereafter, the potters of San Ildefonso created well molded pots traditionally decorated in black and red, whose size and beauty have not been surpassed.

Most traditional San Ildefonso water jars were painted with a mix of black geometric and floral patterns. With the addition of red paint, the drawings themselves begin to develop into elaborate flowing motifs covering the entire jar. The addition of red heightens the intensity of the black design and seems to urge the painter on to larger, more complex drawing. Previously simple designs are repeated in a larger and more intricate manner.

Nampeyo- Black on Red Hopi Seed Jar, c. 1900- Matthews Gallery BlogNampeyo- Black on Red Hopi Seed Jar, c. 1900

Beginning in the 1880s, an amazing array of both realistic and abstract bird motifs are also introduced along with other pictorial elements. I suspect Nampeyo‘s Sikyatki Revival in Hopi pottery influenced this emphasis upon bird designs. Her seed jar form was clearly copied repeatedly by at least one San Ildefonso potter along with her curvilinear drawings. The shape of the San Ildefonso vessels also evolves, from bulbous jars with small necks to elegant tapered vases with small bases and flared out rims: the classic “Tunyo” form. For fifty years of San Ildefonso pottery making, we can study the steady growth and development of an art form as it crests into a peak!

As Pueblo pottery enjoyed increasing popularity with the American public, many distinguished potters took the polychromes to new heights of creativity and expression. Among these were Maria (1887-1980) and Julian Martinez (1879-1940), Maria’s sister Anna and her husband Crescencio, and Tonita and Juan Roybal. Montoya and Vigil were perfect role models for the younger Martinezes who built upon their success.

Maria and Julian Martinez- San Ildefonso Blackware Plate circa 1925- Matthews Gallery BlogMaria and Julian Martinez, San Ildefonso Blackware Plate, c. 1925

This florescence of polychrome production was brought to an abrupt halt by the Martinezes’ invention of painted blackware around 1920. As Ruth Bunzel, author of The Pueblo Potter, observes, the attraction of the blackware is the minimized painted matte designs which emphasize a dominant polished slip. This subtle, monochromatic aesthetic is the exact opposite of the polychromes where intricate black and red designs were sharply contrasted against the midtone grey sip. In time the blackware style won the marketing war and by 1925 Bunzel could no longer find a single piece of polychrome ware in the village.

It is perhaps ironic that the Martinezes, known best for their blackware, themselves began as polychrome potters and were among the greatest of them. Although most of their output became blackware, Maria and Julian continued to produce occasional polychrome masterpieces up until Julian’s death in 1943. One cannot help but wonder if the bold artistic tradition of the polychrome pottery didn’t occupy a special place in their hearts. Martinez family members and other San Ildefonso potters have continued to produce the polychromes in limited numbers, particularly Popovi Da, his son Tony Da, and today, of course, Cavan Gonzales and Russell Sanchez.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog, where we’ll explore the links between early Pueblo pottery designs and modernist aesthetic innovations. See all of the artwork from NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW VISTAS on our homepage, and connect with us on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest for daily gallery news. 

THE QUINTESSENTIAL MODERNIST

Randall Davey- Leaving the Paddock- Matthews Gallery Blog

We’re ending our SPRING OF MODERNISM blog series with the tale of a pioneering artist who was the model of a New Mexico modernist. Randall Davey (1887-1964) was born in East Orange, New Jersey. His father was an architect, and he enrolled at Cornell for architecture in 1905. Three years later he dropped out and moved to New York to study art, to the consternation of his father.

At the New York School of Art, Davey forged a close friendship with teacher and Ashcan School artist Robert Henri. Henri was friends with the founders of the Taos Society of Artists, and worked hard to cultivate New Mexico’s budding reputation as an arts destination. In 1910, Davey exhibited with George Bellows and Stuart Davis and in 1913 his artwork was in the New York Armory Show, the most influential modern art exhibition in U.S. history.

Portraits of Santa Fe Artist Randall Davey- Matthews Gallery Blog
Davey and artist John Sloan visited Santa Fe in the summer of 1919, and Davey fell in love with the Land of Enchantment. His art career in New York had stalled, and the Southwest adventure offered a fresh start. Davey bought an old mill on Upper Canyon Road and moved there permanently the next year. It was a path that had been calling him since his early days as an artist. Inspired by the metropolitan subject matter of the Impressionists, Davey developed a diverse oeuvre of still lifes, horse-racing and polo scenes, artistic nudes and landscapes.
Davey was a true Renaissance gentleman: he made paintings, prints and sculptures, played cello, built a polo field on Upper Canyon Road and was always dressed to the nines (even when he was painting in the hot sun).
Prints and a Drawing by Santa Fe Artist Randall Davey- Matthews Gallery Blog
The lifelong automobile enthusiast died in a car accident on a trip to California at 77 years old. After his death, his wife donated the Davey house and land to the Audubon Society. The Randall Davey House is still open for tours on Fridays, and stands as a tribute to an artist who helped make the Santa Fe art colony what it is today.
A Davey House docent visited the gallery for our SPRING OF MODERNISM opening, and kindly offered us a private tour. Keep your eye on the blog for photos from the tour and more information on Davey. Make sure to visit our exhibition before it closes on March 31st, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more gallery news.

MORANG AND FRIENDS: The Saloon

Wild Tales of a Legendary Santa Fe Tavern- Matthews Gallery Blog

Special announcement: We’ve officially extended our MORANG AND FRIENDS exhibition through Friday, January 2nd. Come trace the legacy of ‘Santa Fe’s Toulouse-Lautrec’! 

Cheryl Ingram strolls into Matthews Gallery and beams up at a sign that hangs high on the wall. “There it is, Claude’s Bar,” she says. Ingram is the co-owner of Silver Sun Gallery, which is just down the street from us. Her gallery once housed Claude’s Bar, and this Santa Fe relic is usually on display there. Ingram kindly lent it to us for our MORANG AND FRIENDS exhibition. Though Claude’s was established just two years before Alfred Morang’s death, he quickly took a liking to the tavern and its charismatic owner, Claude James. In fact, Claude’s was his last stop before the fire that ended his life in January, 1958.

About two decades after Morang’s death, Ingram and her business partner Deanna Olson arrived in Santa Fe. They were retired school teachers who had been traveling around the country selling handmade Native American jewelry. When they reached the City Different, they stuck around and founded Silver Sun. In the years since 1980 when they opened the business, they’ve become the keepers of countless stories about the infamous saloon that preceded them. As Ingram strolls around the gallery smiling at the colorful canvases, she can’t help but pass on some fascinating tales of Canyon Road.

Artwork by Legendary Santa Fe Painter Alfred Morang- Matthews Gallery Blog

Ingram analyzes a painting of ladies dancing on a stage, concluding that it’s probably a view of El Farol. She and Lawrence linger by a watercolor of a bustling restaurant and try to identify where it might have been. She finally stops before a large painting titled ‘The Women at Claude’s’, and the stories really start rolling.

“Claude’s mother was French, and she married an editor at the New York Times whose last name was James,” Ingram says. In the 1950’s, Claude and her mother embarked on a road trip to California along Route 66. On their way back they took a detour to Santa Fe and never left.

Claude followed in her father’s footsteps and took a job as a journalist for the Santa Fe New Mexican. One year her house caught fire, killing her two corgis. A reporter snapped a photo of the dead dogs and published it in the paper the next day. Claude was so disturbed that she swore off journalism. She and her mother bought a building on Canyon Road’s 600 block and opened a bar and restaurant.

At first it was a fancy establishment where Claude’s mother hosted intellectuals from Paris, but later it was better known for midnight parties and wild bar brawls. “The Santa Fe police were always hoping it would burn down,” Ingram says. “Whenever they got a call about it, they were disappointed that there hadn’t been a fire.”

 Alfred Morang- The Women at Claude's- Matthews Gallery Blog Alfred Morang, The Women at Claude’s, Oil on Canvas

Ingram stares intently at ‘The Women at Claude’s’ and warm recognition spreads across her face. “Claude had dark hair, and she was short and squat like the woman in the center of the painting,” she says. In fact, with a little more analysis, Ingram concludes that the woman probably is Claude. “She’s standing behind the bar, so it very well may be Claude serving the clientele. That would be her lover behind her.”

Claude often tended bar barefoot with a pack of cigarettes folded into the sleeve of her shirt, Ingram says. She would throw patrons out of the bar “by the belt and shoulder” if they got too rowdy. “Canyon Road wasn’t paved then, so the landing was a little softer, but you didn’t mess with Claude,” Ingram says with a laugh.

As she continues, we flip our tape recorder on:

She was a handsome woman, but not a pretty woman. She was short but you didn’t mess with her.

A guy came into Silver Sun about 1982, looking for Claude’s Bar. I told him he was a little late, and he told me a story about Claude.

He said he had ordered a beer and Claude was working the bar. He noticed this pretty woman sitting at the other end of the bar. He tried to hit on her, and next thing he knew, his tie, shirt and coat were pulled across the bar. “You leave my woman alone,” Claude said. He was so upset, he didn’t finish the beer and left.

Each corner of the bar had its own persuasion. You had the gay men over here, the gay women over here, and the three piece suits were over there with the ladies of the night. Claude was like a teacher in the classroom: one corner did not mess with any of the other corners, or your fanny was out of there.

There was an ambiance that was going on in there that was truly Santa Fe of the period, and that’s why she was so popular. You were okay if you got in there. Even if you got stumbling drunk, someone would be there to protect you from some nasty politician or a cowboy with a gun.

There were honest-to-god cowboys who wore guns. A fight broke out between them and the gay guys once, and everyone had guns. There were two lines of guns, about ten or twelve feet apart, and they were drunk and shouting. That story came from a lady who was hiding under the bar. She was the barkeep on Saturday night. It looked like they were shooting around each other, trying to scare each other. One guy did take a hit in the fanny, however. When the cops got there, they just took the whole batch. The next day, the barkeep quit.

Towards about 1970 or 1971, there was a dance floor way in the back where a sculpture garden is now. A guy named Jimmy was up there playing—his wife told me this story—and looked past all the drunks to the door. Here was this lanky guy with a guitar case who saunters over to Jimmy. “Mind if I play along?” he says. Jimmy just had a cow. They played all the rest of the night together, and no one besides Jimmy recognized him. It was Jimi Hendrix. They were all too drunk.

Claude eventually lost interest in bar tending and hired someone else to manage the establishment. The saloon closed in the late 1970’s but its charismatic owner remains a legend among Santa Feans. It’s fascinating to hear Ingram’s tales, especially because they’re rare firsthand accounts. They’re all from people who have passed through Silver Sun over the years to pay tribute to Claude’s.

Since MORANG AND FRIENDS opened two weeks ago, we’ve had visits from many people with Santa Fe stories like these. We’d like to thank everyone who shared with us. Your words have helped inspire our upcoming exhibition schedule, which will delve into many corners of the Santa Fe art colony. Stay tuned!

For more gallery news, make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

OUTSIDER/INSIDER: Abstract Expressionism at Matthews Gallery

Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell at Matthews Gallery Boxer (left) and Motherwell

It was Mark Rothko’s 111th birthday this Friday, and the occasion has us pondering one of the 20th century’s most polarizing art movements: abstract expressionism.

Three artworks by renowned abstract expressionists have recently landed on our walls. The first two are heavily impastoed oil paintings by Stanley Boxer, who resolutely clung to the far fringes of the movement. Determined to defy labels, he was furious when art critic Clement Greenberg called him a color field painter, and yet the arc of his creative explorations closely paralleled that of his abstract expressionist contemporaries:

In the manufacture of my art, I use anything and everything which gets the job done without any sentiment or sanctity as to medium. Then, too, I have deliberately made a practice of being “visionless”… this is, I go where my preceding art takes me, and never try to redirect the future as to what my art should look like. This is a general credo and foundation for everything I have ever done and stands firm in its solidity as this is written.

Boxer, who died in 2000, would have loved Grace Glueck’s New York Times review of a 2004 exhibition of his late works. She notes that he was “never part of a movement or trend,” but rather driven by paint’s “physical possibilities without script or program.”

Abstract Paintings by Stanley Boxer- Matthews Gallery Blog Atriumofashreddednight  (top) and Crisppitchofsigh, Oil on Linen

Glueck ends the piece with a brief analysis of Boxer’s titles, lyrical lists of words that are jammed together in unbroken strings. The works in our collection, for example, have names that read like fragments of beat poems: Atriumofashreddednight and Crisppitchofsigh. Glueck writes, “As Boxer joked in his titles, these canvases, more than most, do not really lend themselves to verbal exposition. They live for the eye, to which they bring deep satisfaction.”

Boxer’s titles provide a link to Robert Motherwell, the other abstract expressionist represented in our collection. Unlike many “abex” artists who labeled their canvases using dates or arbitrary numbers, Boxer and Motherwell were unapologetic in their wordplay.

That’s where the similarity ends. While Boxer considered himself an isolated frontiersman of abstract painting, Motherwell was an eager icon of abstract expressionism. He coined the term ‘New York School’ to describe his revolutionary circle, which included Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and acted as a spokesperson for the movement in the world of academia.

If Boxer’s titles were little more than impressionistic quips, Motherwell, who was a scholar before he became a “serious artist” and wrote numerous essays on aesthetics, chose names that have inspired endless analysis. His most famous series of paintings, Elegies to the Spanish Republic, chronicles the Spanish Civil War in bold strokes of black and white and subtle passages of ochre, blue, green and red.

Mainly, I use each color as simply symbolic: ochre for the earth, green for the grass, blue for the sky and sea,” Motherwell wrote. “I guess that black and white, which I use most often, tend to be protagonists.” In varying contexts, each color holds a universe of meanings. To fully understand the use of ochre in Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies, “You would have to know that a Spanish bull ring is made of sand of an ochre color,” the artist wrote.  Other works that feature ochre, like Western Air or Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White, would naturally spark different associations. 

Robert Motherwell- Africa 4- Silkscreen- Matthews Gallery Blog Robert Motherwell, Africa 4, Silkscreen

What to make of our Motherwell silkscreen, titled Africa 4? Motherwell completed the Africa suite in 1970, the same year he created his Basque and London suites. They were his first projects entirely devoted to silkscreens, and a divergence from the heavily layered nuances of his oil paintings. Here his black abstract forms stand crisply against their off-white backgrounds, although on closer inspection, their tumultuous edges still seem to weave in an out of focus.

“All my works [consist] of a dialectic between the conscious (straight lines, designed shapes, weighed color, abstract language) and the unconscious (soft lines, obscured shapes, automatism) resolved into a synthesis,” the artist wrote in 1944.

Motherwell first explored the concepts of automatism and the subconscious with a group of Parisian Surrealists, including Duchamp, Ernst and Masson, who had fled Europe during World War II.  Their ideas would help shape the spiritual side of abstract expressionism, a spontaneous, intuitive element that Motherwell carefully balanced with his more intellectual inclinations.

Motherwell’s connection to the Surrealists lends us a potential clue to the significance of the ‘Africa’ title. In his 1946 essay ‘Beyond the Aesthetics‘, Motherwell discusses the life of French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, who helped inspire Surrealism. In the final decades of his life Rimbaud quit writing and set off on an African expedition, a leap of faith that Motherwell compares to the Surrealists’ break from Dada and formation of a new movement:

Like Rimbaud before them, the Surrealists abandoned the aesthetic altogether; it takes a certain courage to leave poetry for Africa (as Rimbaud did, fh). They revealed their insight as essentially moral in never forgetting for a moment that most living is a process of conforming to an established order which is inhuman in its drives and consequences. Their hatred sustained them through all the humiliating situations in which the modern artist find himself, and led them to conceptions beyond the reach of more passive souls. For them true ‘poetry’ was freedom from mechanical social responses. No wonder they loved the work of children and the insane – if not the creatures themselves.

Perhaps Motherwell’s Africa suite represents a similar journey, a leap into the unknown that is a clear break from previous adventures. Just as Rimbaud abandoned an intellectual pursuit for one centered on travel and action, and as the Surrealists broke from the societal battles of the Dadaists to explore dreamscapes, so Motherwell’s stark Africa forms landed him in a new realm of image-making. Perhaps he sought to prove that even the most distinctly divided blacks and whites could possess endless shades of grey.

Learn more about Stanley Boxer and Robert Motherwell on our website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for more gallery news.