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.
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SPRING OF MODERNISM: Paul Burlin

Paul Burlin- New Mexico Modernist- Matthews Gallery Blog  As our SPRING OF MODERNISM exhibition approaches its closing date on March 31st, we’re sharing the incredible stories of 20th century artists who shook the foundations of the New Mexico art community. This week we have Paul Burlin, who battled blindness to create his magnum opus. 

Paul Burlin (1886-1969) was born in New York City and had a difficult childhood that he preferred not to discuss. He completed his early education in England before returning to New York at the age of twelve.

He left home at 16, and studied part-time at the National Academy of Art and the New York Art Students League from 1900 to 1912. During that time, he worked as an illustrator under Theodore Dreiser and frequented Alfred Stieglitz‘s 291 gallery. At 291, Burlin developed a taste for Picasso‘s ‘primitive’ artwork that lead him to study African tribal art and, later, the art and culture of the Southwest Pueblos.

Paul Burlin- Untitled New 1951- Matthews Gallery Blog

Burlin visited New Mexico for the first time in 1910. Paintings from this visit were received warmly in New York and exhibited in 1911. As a result of his early success, he was the youngest artist (at 26 years old) to participate in the 1913 Armory Show.

The same year, Burlin moved back to Santa Fe to develop a new body of work, and continued to exhibit in New York City. With the images and ideas of the Armory Show still prominent in his mind, Burlin was impressed and moved by what he described as the ‘primeval, erosive, forbidding character of the landscape.’ His early works in New Mexico were genre paintings of the Pueblo Indians in a realist style, but he soon developed a colorful abstract vocabulary ruled by symbols both ancient and modern.

Burlin’s time in New Mexico had a profound impact, not only on his own work, but on the development of modernism throughout the Southwest.  From University of New Mexico art historian Sharyn Udall:

Burlin was the first Armory Show participant to reach New Mexico, and that fact, coupled with his confident handling of local subject matter, made a definite impression on newcomers [Marsden] Hartley and B.J.O. Nordfeldt… It is clear, moreover, that Burlin’s stature as the first modernist painter in New Mexico was unquestioned; his was the pivotal role in introducing fauve and expressionist modes to the art of New Mexico (Udall 1984; 28).

Paul Burlin- Untitled Pivot 1952- Matthews Gallery Blog

Though he moved away from New Mexico in 1920—living in New York and Paris for the rest of his days—Burlin’s artistic evolution in the Land of Enchantment influenced his work for the rest of his life, as evidenced in these canvases from the 1950s. Not long after he made this work, Burlin began to lose his sight. His final series of paintings, completed while he was legally blind, were exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1971, two years after Burlin’s death.

From Burlin:

We live in an age of treacherous, harrowing notions of mutability, death and decay…All of the old realities have dissolved…all rigidities of form disappear and enter into a new metamorphosis.  This metamorphosis of form and reality is manifested in shape and color, which destroy visual reality and…shape themselves into a reality of their own.

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