Hallowed Ground is an evolving project about place: how groups of people shape place, how it shapes us, and the implications of this interplay. Incorporating oil paintings, sound recordings, and found objects, the current group of Hallowed Ground works explore socio-environmental narratives embedded in New Mexico’s cultural landscapes.
From Taos to downtown Santa Fe, Apache Canyon to Algodones, New Mexico – as anywhere – has been shaped and reshaped by the prevailing ideologies that have rolled through the region. The resulting places are surprising, aesthetically moving mixtures of old and new, of development and open space, and of sacred and what's become mundane. Much can be seen in these places and their oftentimes ironic juxtapositions of human uses and priorities; they tell stories and become fertile examples of larger social, environmental, and economic challenges that we collectively face.
Through dyads of paintings that offer contrasting views of the same locations – such as a historic old chapel and interstate construction thirty feet from its front door, or a bright new gas station across the street from open pasture below Taos Mountain – Hallowed Ground invites audiences to consider a bigger picture of each remarkable place and the impacts that our choices have on this land.
Hallowed Ground is a multi-year project, and the works below represent a first step in a larger series I plan to produce in New Mexico and beyond.
CAÑONCITO / APACHE CANYON
Early morning light filters down onto the excavator that would dig a bigger, better, longer I-25 deceleration lane thirty feet from the front door of Nuestra Señora de la Luz chapel. The highway crew said it more safely managed outflow from the higher-speed Interstate of today. Where a row of trees once stood between the chapel and the Interstate, making a hidden cul-de-sac, there now is only the cement barrier in the painting’s foreground and a closer lane.
On the day I was painting "Deceleration lane," the crewmen waited as long as possible to move the excavator to make it easier for me to paint the machine. Eventually, though, they had to finish the trench that was to become the extended lane. When they came by to see the piece, they quickly recommended I change the machine’s name from “Volvo” to “John Deere” since John Deere was a US company that made “better excavators.”
Though I love John Deere machines, this one being a Volvo was part of what made the piece for me. That it's today commonplace for a Swedish company’s machine to dig into ground half a world away speaks to how globally interwoven our environments, economies, and cultures have become.
The sun rises over Nuestra Senõra de la Luz chapel in Cañoncito, NM, situated at the mouth of Apache Canyon at the end of a dead-end road that runs parallel to Interstate 25. A gate of white picket-fence slats separates the chapel grounds from the road. The gate rests on a couple rocks stacked atop one another; opening it requires picking up the white slats and sliding them beyond the rocks, after which the gate thunks down to the dirt and leans tiredly, stuck wherever it's left.
The chapel is beautiful throughout the day and the building and grounds have inspired many artists, including Ansel Adams. White walls catch shadows and reflected light; slanted headstones and cloth flowers from past memorials tell of the cemetery’s age and those who’ve remembered loved ones passed.
Vibration from the Interstate apparently has caused cracking in the structure, and it’s immediately evident how this could be: the road is quite loud. Around the perimeter's stone wall, in the cemetery, and along the entry path to the chapel I found plastic bottles, beer cans, and a few other discarded items. Amongst the messages on the labels: "Pure life," "Sunkist," Bud-Light," "Dasani," and "Guaranteed." Also, an illustration of a camel, a date from 2013, and “Especial.”
EL PRADO / TAOS MOUNTAIN
Pastures beneath Taos Mountain are bathed in early morning light as the sun rises above the Sangre de Cristos. The fields light up in yellows and greens and golds as long shadows cast by the trees recede minute by minute.
Paseo del Pueblo Norte, the road off of which this piece was painted, stretches north from the Town of Taos and on the day pictured was busy with unremitting morning traffic. Across Paseo del Pueblo Norte is the gas station in the companion painting to this one. It catches a full spectrum of sunrise light and for a few early morning moments its signs, canopy, and car wash walls are emblazoned in pink, orange, and yellow.
A few years ago the land in this piece was for sale for around $10 million – I know because my wife called to see about farming it. It was a bit of stretch to think market greens and corn would cover the expense, so she moved on, landless. Some parcels similar to it have been sold and developed, as is the case across the street and further up the road; others have been protected by conservation easements and will remain open spaces with unparalleled views.
Nighttime surrounds a new gas station under construction north of Taos, NM. It sits across from vast pasture lands at the foot of Taos Mountain and looks at one of the more famous views in the area. The gas station, which opened in late-spring 2015, was built on undeveloped agricultural land right next to an old gas station’s abandoned lot. Now the station bathes the night in a hazy fluorescent glow, almost looking like a space outpost on a distant planet.
In the audio, recorded a month after the scene in the painting, you can hear cars pull up to the operational station. Doors open and close, music comes and goes. People shout and talk; someone dribbles a basketball. In the distance you might make out some crickets. All this across from the spacious fields seen in the sunrise painting, in an area that once was silent, beneath a mountain holy to many.
ALGODONES (in progress)
San Jose Mission
30” x 30” | oil impasto on archival panel | 2015
The San Jose Mission is bathed in midday sun on a warm January day in Algodones, NM, where the temperature briefly reached 65°f before plummeting within minutes to below freezing amidst a torrent of wind and cold.
The church is just off of Interstate 25 and a short walk from a retired natural gas power plant that will be the subject of the second painting in this piece. Next to the power plant the chapel is tiny. It makes for a stunning contrast; the soft organic adobe corners and shoulders of the chapel and the severe lines and angles of the powerplant, with its web of power lines and transmission towers, towering metal walls, numerous cooling structures, and so on. Yet both convey a sense of age. The church's architecture speaks of another era, as does rust and overgrowth at the power plant. And they share the anchoring presence of the Sandia Mountains and their silhouette. When standing at each location, the silhouette leaves a distinct impression: so much time between these three landmarks – such different manifestations of form – all changing, disintegrating, day by day, in the wind and sun and rain.
Algodones Power Station (planned)
30" x 120" on three archival panels | planned
ASPEN VISTA (in progress)
That way - study
44” x 36” | oil impasto on canvas | 2015
A winter view of one of many roadsigns that line the curvy high mountain road from Santa Fe, NM, up to the Santa Fe Ski Basin. The finished work will consists of one roadsign-containing piece, and another with an unobstructed view of the aspen stand.
This particular spot looks directly into the canopy of a spectacular stand of aspens that glow and shimmer yellow, orange, and red during the fall. These signs – important as they are for safety – add an unusual dimension to otherwise pristine views along the roadside. There they are, high-contrast in their bright yellow and black, pointing this way and that way, all the while lining up in front of views truly worth stopping to see. Today they’re a rather “mundane” part of our landscapes – I barely noticed the signs until I stood there trying to paint the view behind one – but what would a visitor from another time or planet think about them? They're all over, after all, and so bright and commanding.