This past spring I made a pilgrimage of sorts out to Taos, New Mexico. I had spent the year prior teaching middle school art and spending most weekends in the art studio. For some reason, I just threw myself back into art making last year as a way to settle into a different way of life. I needed a way to ground and center myself and art has always been a way for me to come back to my center. After spending a full year painting and getting great feedback from friends and family, I decided to devote a month to living in an infamous artist mecca, Taos, New Mexico.
After spending some time in the Utah desert camping and biking, I made my way down to Taos for an early spring. I rented an Airbnb within walking distance to the square and set up my studio and spent hours and hours painting, setting up my website, visiting galleries, and getting social media accounts established. I sold my first painting while I was there! It was a moment of pure bliss knowing that my hard work had paid off in not just intrinsic reward, but also extrinsic.
I had driven through Taos a few years ago on a move from Georgia to Seattle, Washington. I remember not enjoying it that much, but since living in Utah I've developed a serious love for the desert so I gave it another shot. Taos is known for its art galleries, Puebloan community, and small town vibe with hippy culture. It's definitely a town where uniqueness and differences are celebrated. It's also the kind of town where outsiders are not always encouraged to settle. I met several residents of Taos, not just moved there residents, but actual descendants of residents whose families have lived there for generations that very much did not want an influx of people coming to live there. One man in particular told me a story about a rich, white man who had tried to build a ski resort there and turn it into the New Mexican Park City, but the town rallied against it and he was denied permits and ultimately permission to develop the area. I felt a little guilty taking up space there, but I tried to be respectful about it and ultimately I was just passing through, as many artists have done in the past.
One of the big attractions in Taos is the Mabel Luhan Dodge house. If you aren't familiar with Mabel, she was a huge patron of the arts, a writer, and rebellious woman of her time. She was friends with famous artists and writers such as Ansel Adams, Georgia O'keefe, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley. In addition to encouraging and supporting the art community, she also was involved in helping preserve and advocate for the people of the Toas Pueblo, her fourth and final husband being a member of the tribe and community. The Puebloan community is very much alive and present in Taos today. There is a wonderful presence of woven tapestries, rugs, Indigenous art, jewelry, and museums.
I took daily walks to the Mabel Dogde Luhan house as well as around the square. My time spent there was part art related, but also part sunshine related. I let the winter melt off of me and enjoyed the sunshine radiating off the adobe structures and through the mesquite trees.
Unfortunately, I was unable to spend any time in the Sangre de Christo mountains or national forests because the area was experiencing the largest fire in New Mexico history, the Calf Canyon, Hermit's Peak wildfire. I am very grateful that the smoke didn't envelop Taos. The smoke clouds over the ridge were bright red from the fire and ash was raining on the town. The local high school gym was being used a refuge for displaced residents. There were several fire crews and equipment staged in town. The fire never came over the ridge line and into town, but they closed all of the national forests in the area. I read an article that the forests there will never recover as many of the tree species will not regenerate on their own after a massive fire. I know seed banks are currently growing saplings to help regenerate the forest. Let's hope it works.
During the month I was there, I drove to Abiquiu, another mecca full of artists. Georgia O'keefe's studio and home is located there and you can take a tour. I didn't. It's weird....I think I've gotten tired of traveling alone so going to museums and other things outside of hiking alone is not something I'm super interested in unless I have a friend or partner with me. I've had so many solo adventures and experiences that at this point, the experiences mean more when they are shared. It took me a long time and a lot of lonely nights to figure that out.
In Abiquiu, you can also visit Ghost Ranch where Georgia O'Keefe stayed for just one month in a cabin there. It now serves as a retreat and education center. The ranch itself has great hiking opportunities as well as the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology and Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology where you can explore Native American art and artifacts as well as other items of historical significance to the region. The area is know for its fossil beds. I found prehistoric clam shells on a hike in the area!
On my way out of the ranch, I saw a cabin on the side of the road and decided to stop. I thought it was an old historic cabin. It was not! It was actually built to look like an old cabin specifically for the movie, City Slickers. I love the movie City Slickers. I remember watching it as a kid. It enveloped the idea of a working adult going off on a crazy, life changing adventure, something I have very much embodied in my own adult life. Even the sequel is worth a watch, City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold. Sparking the imagination in the same way Forrest Fenn's Rocky Mountain treasure has...the desert is full of mystery and intrigue.
I chose to paint the cabin with Padernal in the background. Gerogia O'Keefe painted that mountain over and over again. It was her obsession and you can see it from the cabin in the direction of the reservoir. What drew me to the image was the way the light and shadow opposed each other under the porch. When you're in the desert, you're always aware of the sun and you're always looking for shade. It's this very interesting play between light and dark, hot and cool, comfort and discomfort.
After I hung out on the much welcome shady porch for a bit, I took off to a bike trail in Abiquiu for a desert ride as well as vegan tamales from the local general store. I then returned to Taos.
I didn't take a lot of photos while I was in Taos which is unusual for me. It was more about just being there and devoting myself to my art and business goals. I chose to do this painting as well as one other painting seen below from my time in New Mexico. This trip was mostly about me establishing myself as a working artist in a place so many other artists had also sought inspiration. When I visited a gallery in Santa Fe, I talked with a very nice gallery director who gave me incredible advice on how to approach a gallery for representation. One thing that stuck out to me was when he told me "For every artist you see represented here, there are forty artists who have tried to get representation at the gallery and failed." It wasn't that he was discouraging me, it was more of a "prepare yourself my young friend, it's a long road ahead with a lot of slammed doors" vibe. I very much appreciated his advice and honesty. He actually inquired about buying one of my paintings until he found out it was acrylic. He only collects oils and there is a stigma attached to acrylic art versus oil paintings. Less worthy in the eyes of some. So I've continued my journey since Taos and am now showing work at a gallery in New York. I sell paintings through social media as well as my website and the gallery. It's been a great introduction to me on how to become a working artist and I'm very much looking forward to continuing my journey as part of the welcoming, vibrant, and loving creative community all artists are a part of. I am part of art history now and the ghosts that haunt these places of artistic inspiration whisper to me in the wind, telling me to keep going, there is still so much to create.