Archive for June, 2008

Artist, musician, race car driver and local icon, JD Challenger paints in oils and acrylics on canvas, as well as watercolor. He has a studio in Taos as well as in Scottsdale, Arizona were he paints the passionate stories of the Native American People, rich in heritage and traditions. Each image is powerful and poignant, often angry, which is strange because JD is anything but angry.

I photographed him in his new Taos studio. If JD is bigger than life, his studio is bigger still. Leontine, in knee-hi boots, cowboy hat and fringe completes the image of this warm and talented artist. This photograph tells a story of a man who loves the West, collects artifacts and has a buffalo’s head as a mascot.



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Our dear friend Robert lives in a house that was built by two women, in the 1920s. One women was a wood-carver and each door is loving hand-carved, as is common in New Mexico. He lives in the caretaker wing and that is where he draws his large scale charcoal figures that evoke a cast of characters and scenarios from his native Texas. The owner of this home has filled it with a collection of folk art, which adds charm and creates an atmosphere so colorful that Robert’s lifelike chiaroscuro images of black and white dazzled me as I photographed him working on a piece.

You can see the Talpa Valley through the two large French Doors. Basil, his constant Shih-Tzu companion is napping in a turtleneck sweater, as the bells ring from the tiny family chapel next door.

Robert earned a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin and a MFA from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ http://robertbatterton.com/

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I met Ann through her husband, artist and painter Ed Sandovol. I can’t imagine two more different people, in work style and in personality. Ann is a pastel painter and works from the house that Ed built from adobe and wood. He also built the family chapel that Ann gets her inspiration from and can view from her studio window (you can see it at the far left) in this image. Their house is secluded in the landscape and much like in the meandering roads of her painting, the adobe chapel sits at the crest of a small hill.

Her studio sits just three stairs down from the bedroom (you can see at the right). These multi levels are very typical in Taos homes and casitas. She works among the exposed brickwalled solitude and peacefulness that dwells in her artwork. Ann is a soft-spoken woman who’s quiet pastel studies always create a space that contains a story and a wandering path that leads us on into our lives in the distance.

Ann Huston’s website

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I knew that Inger Jirby’s Casitas and gallery were located on Ledoux Street. I knew that the 200-year-old adobe compound was colorfully bathed in the bright palette that characterized her paintings. I really only knew Inger as the painter with the Swedish accent speaking to me from under her Lapplandic fur hat. I’d ask if I could photograph her while we were both shopping at the grocery store, she told me to photograph her at her home studio, in Pilar. I thought that the perfect photograph would be the Ledoux Street address, with it’s quaint and beautiful, high red adobe walls encircling her colorful sculpture garden.

What I did not know was that her home studio was a beautifully rehabbed place with big windows and an outdoor deck that looked out onto the Rio Grande. The home was once a family store along the Turquoise Trail. Inger had transformed it into a scene from one of her vibrant gold framed paintings. If you look through the windows, you will see the river and it’s banks. Inger was right, this was the perfect place to photograph her. It took more than 50 images to capture all the exposures I needed to see the outdoors and into the interior rooms.


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Before having the chance to visit all of these artists studios, I never really thought much about how “low tech” most art is. For painters, the basic principles can be traced all the way back to our caveman days. The first people to paint a picture, inside caves, were using the same basic tools painters use today. Sculpting is the same. Once the principles of carving rock, and later poring metal, were understood by our ancestors the technology stopped. In fact, we may have even lost some knowledge along the way.

Recently, I was reading an article about the restoration of the Parthenon. Some of the work requires hand tools to be used for the shaping and carving of the marble columns. It is thought, that the hand tools they used to build the Parthenon were better than what we would use today. But, what they didn’t have was the long history to draw upon.

What I find fascinating about the low tech nature of art is it rarely looks low tech when finished. Even the way art is defined; Contemporary, Avant-garde, Cutting edge, makes it seem new. Yet, the processes involved are usually pretty tame. It is the mind of the artist that makes the work look fresh, different, and modern. Even when replicating a style done hundreds of years ago, the artist can’t help but to modernize and update it – just a bit.

Artists are always able to stand on the shoulders of those who came before and re-interpret the world. At their best paintings, sculptures or photographs make us react emotionally. Art is capable of making us mad, angry, happy, and can cover a range of emotion. But, in the end, it is just canvas, metal, or a photograph. A static piece of art that moves us.

In the panoramic photos I take, I try to remember it isn’t always about the artists artwork. My photograph is a poor representation of their original artwork. The photograph is meant to allow you to see the baseball collection, the stuffed goat, the pets. The things the artist uses to produce work isn’t the paint brush, the clay or the camera, it is his view of the world. Often they collect things that show us their point of view. Sometimes, the room is close to empty, my guess is, they are creating everything in their mind. And I find that just as interesting.

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When I say Huberto Maestas, everyone smiles. He is an internationally recognized artist-sculptor who is like a Greek Santa Clause. He and his wife, Dana, live and work in the small town of San Luis (about 60 miles north of Taos) where his notable work, the almost life sized Stations of the Cross, look down on his house (an old hotel, complete with room numbers on each door). His gallery, bronze foundry and huge studio (the old transportation warehouse at the edge of town) are within walking distance to one another.

I photographed both Huberto’s foundry and his studio. This image is the one that shows the huge space he has to work in and the many sculptures he has in different stages of development. He is a family man and you can see his grandchild’s small truck at the far right. Huberto works are in the Vatican collection, and the statue of Padre Martinez in Taos plaza.

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Since 1972, Walt Gonske has been working, almost exclusively, on location. Frustrated by the limitations inclement weather imposed on his painting in plein-air, he set about customizing a Ford pickup into a “paintmobile,” or rather, a studio on wheels. This mobile studio is stocked with canvases of various sizes and textures, and allows him to go on painting trips throughout California, Colorado, or wherever the road may lead. As a member of the Taos Six, along with Ron Barsano, Robert Daughters, Rod Goebel, Julian Robles, and Ray Vinella, they started the Taos modern “movement”.

Walt’s studio is a small house next to his home. My tripod and I stood between the triune of Taos architecture, pealed-bark vigas and latillas overhead, wood plank floor below. The room, the artwork, the artists and myself were bathed in the mid-afternoon light as it fell streaming through the window. Walt uses this studio to add detail and finish to his near finished canvass, Today he was painting flowers into a landscape.


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