Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. – Thomas Merton
“Contemporary art” is a term used broadly and loosely. It can mean an exploration of new materials or new techniques, or experimentation in imagery or form. But it is, if nothing else, the art of our time.
Artists working these days do so under unusual conditions, but such times can serve to inspire. Shakespeare and Dante famously made productive use of their plague years. Here is a look at four Santa Feans making art right now. They work in ways very different from each other, but each of them makes art that reflects living here and now.
Terran Last Gun
Born in Montana, Terran Last Gun is a member of the Piikani (Blackfoot) Tribe. He trained at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Having come to appreciate the city’s rich arts community, he remained here after graduating in 2016. He says the IAIA community has allowed him to be more open-minded, to explore, experiment and try new things.
He brings a distinct graphic sensibility to his printmaking and ledger drawing, works inspired by the Plains Indian tradition of making narrative drawings in ledger books. Last Gun sees these as a continuation of Piikani aesthetics and narratives. While the forms and colors in his work have a contemporary feel, they are derived from symbols painted on Piikani lodges. For instance, a recent series consists of serigraph-printed paper bags, each featuring a colorful disk shape inspired by Piikani sky narratives and, as he says, “by our place in the cosmos as not only Piikani people but as human beings in general.”
Last Gun is currently working on a series of small ledger drawings. They feature intriguing geometric constructions: disks and rings, or stripes and bands, in translucent colors, precisely drawn over antique ledger pages. He explains that he is “documenting, exploring and reimagining these symbols, shapes and stories to create new Piikani visual imagery and to add to our ancient visual vocabulary.”
Yuki Murata’s (whose work is featured above) creative output spans a broad range, from porcelain dinnerware inspired by her Japanese ancestry to abstract multimedia works on linen. Trained as an architect and a product designer, she brings rigorous precision to her delicate, skillfully rendered paintings. At the same time, she brings a deep and direct connection to the earth.
Murata works from a palette largely comprised of earth tones, hues she obtains by working directly with soil she gathers from specific locations. She begins her paintings by applying dirt and micaceous clay slips. She sands, scrapes and burnishes her surfaces, leaving behind a subtle array of grids and marks placed over the earthy drips, stains and smears. The result is an image that recalls mapping, surveying and measuring the earth.
There is a grounding — a rootedness — that is evoked by her materials and their application. There is also a pleasing tension between the gestural application of organic material and the overlaid geometry. Murata’s work reflects the very human impulse to impose order over the wild chaos of nature. It also speaks of balance and harmony in the here and now. “In an increasingly digital, transient world,” she says, “I gravitate toward materiality and thinking of art as the unique consequence of a specific moment and place in time.”
Ilona Pachler is an Austrian-born artist who brings a diverse approach to her artmaking. She deploys ceramic, sculptural installation, printmaking, glass and textiles in a variety of images and forms. Artists, she says, “work out of an obsessive need.”
Pachler’s obsessions are memory and place, both her own and those of human history. Her 2018 exhibition at 5. Gallery was titled Zeitbrechung, translated as “time refraction,” a phrase that suggests unavoidable distortion when viewing the past. The exhibit featured her installation in her command sailed 34 black vessels, consisting of a series of small boat forms scattered throughout the space on a variety of objects serving as pedestals. She describes it as “a reflection on the omission of the role of women in wars, in ancient history and today.” The cast glass plumb bob (a weight at the end of a plumb line) in the installation seems placed there to measure an imaginary distance. Her muted screen prints show images of classical sculpture and architecture as seen through the hazy lens of memory. Her smaller works compel us to engage by peering through scratched, blackened mirrors or tiny apertures, seeking a view into another world. These artworks suggest that we can only view the past through the imperfect lens of our imagination.
Kate Joyce takes a lot of photographs. She embodies the street photographer’s impulse to capture the quotidian beauty found everywhere: a minor league ballpark, a music festival or a plane filled with travelers. Her peripatetic approach to artmaking is in the grand tradition of Atget, Levitt or Sudek, documenting the minutiae of the world.
Since leaving her New York gallery last year, Joyce has focused largely on book projects. In one of these projects, she revisits a series of photos taken in Chile twenty years ago that accompany stories from Andrew Berns’ new translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Another project, still in the early stages, is illustrating Robert Musil’s acclaimed, unfinished modernist novel, The Man Without Qualities. “Coupling photographs with literature, using one as a lens to engage the other, and vice versa, has been a recent evolution for me, affirming the existence of ‘both/and’ into my practice of seeing,” says Joyce.
Operating in the realm of photo as document as art, she produces work that deeply and thoroughly examines her chosen subjects. Joyce describes herself as “motivated by the paradox that the things/people/places within my photographs are undeniably what they are, and they are also something else.”
Joyce’s work is available at kate-joyce.com.
Kevin Paul is a multimedia artist with a penchant for running trails. He is a long-time resident of Albuquerque’s South Valley, where he and his wife, Kayla, watch migrating birds and tend their garden and orchard. He has spent many years in and around the Santa Fe art scene.