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By John O'Hern


While fulfilling a life-long dream of visiting the Anasazi ruins of New Mexico and Arizona, I had time during the drive to reflect on the USA artists Show, which I attended just before leaving on my trip. The show is held each fall in Philadelphia to benefit the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I was impressed by the quality of the 18th to 21st century art on display and thought about the subject of quality in art for the rest of the trip.

When an art consultant friend took me to see a private collection of contemporary realism in the Philadelphia suburbs just before I left, I was also impressed by the collector's magnificent collection of ancient Chinese porcelain. The perfection of the forms and glazes of these objects still make me shiver with delight when I recall them. Wordsworth defined poetry "as spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility" Those vases, bowls and platters were three dimensional poetry. I also thought about those objects and about their excellence, quality and beauty on my drive.

One of my first stops was in northwestern New Mexico at the Anasazi ruins of Chaco Canyon. I had long looked forward to seeing the structures in Chaco Canyon, which are built 0f fine, beautifully-intricate layers of stonework. Emerson wrote "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it. "The Ancestral Puebloans didn't know Emerson but they covered their excellent work with mud plaster. They didn't need to see it. Today we look in awe at the exposed stonework.

My next stop was in Santa Fe, where "If you train yourself to seek only the very best, you will be rewarded over and over again." I visited the home and studio of the Dutch painter, Braldt Braids. Braids' paintings hide exquisite drawings beneath their layers of paint. I had traveled hack into the 21st century to discover an artist creating a thing well done on top 0f another thing well done, and using the techniques of his great Dutch forbears. His painting, Souvenir (see opposite), is typical 0f his paintings 0f trussed and hanging heart-shaped rocks. A primordial light emanates from the new dawn, reflecting off the viewer to illumine the dark side of the stone which is bound in a white cloth that complements the veins of its creation.

Braids shows at the Turner Carroll Gallery on Canyon Road, one 0f three major art hubs in Santa Fe which include the Plaza area and the developing Santa Fe Railyard. It is here where I found the "other" Santa Fe, the one that isn't Native crafts, paintings of cowboys, and brightly-colored landscapes. Turner Carroll Gallery has an international stable 0f artists and an international clientele.

Just down the road Klaudia Mart Gallery was exhibiting it's 13th Annual Realism Invitational. The exhibition included Jeremiah Patterson's egg tempera, Sleeping H (see opposite), and David Malan's oil painting, Oratory (see above). The sensuous repose 0f Patterson's female figure safe in her bed contrasts with Malan's angst-ridden young boy dwarfed by the architecture and import 0f London's great Brompton Oratory.

One of the great things about art life in Santa Fe is the camaraderie among the artists. A 40-year tradition is the John Sloan Drawing Group which meets weekly at Santa Fe Community College to draw from the figure. The academic tradition 0f drawing from the live model is not often honored today. With the approval 0f the artists and the model, I was privileged to watch this skill building in action and was surprised to see the variety of approaches of the artists attending. Michael Bergt, who coordinates the sessions, says "drawing is a crucial exercise in practicing and developing the ability to put the world on paper."

One of the group members is Geoff Laurence, whose large figure paintings are accomplished with great skill and insight. Often the subject is posed before a classic painting, adding another layer 0f interpretation and demonstrating his mastery of technique. His work, Collateral Damage (page 45,), features a businessman talking on the phone, wearing a jester's hat and seated before a large painting of a vanquished foe. Laurence's comfortable and well-lighted studio contains myriad studies and sketches for his paintings, as well as Finished drawings which are works of art in themselves. The record of the process is fascinating to see.

My next visit was to see Laura Orchard who makes drawings and small sculpture in her converted garage. Unlike Braldr Braids who obscures his drawing beneath layers of paint, and Laurence who does many studies, Orchard's drawings gestate for months in her head. Once she is ready to commit a piece to paper, she realizes the idea with consummate facility and little or no variation from her original idea. The results are among some of the most accomplished and successful drawings being created today.

On my drive back I thought about how professional and personal pursuit of quality received a boost from those Chinese porcelains in Philadlephia and from the ancient ruins and contemporary art in Santa Fe. It's easy to be seduced by the novel and the merely competent. There's a lot of it out there, if you train yourself to seek only the very best, you will be rewarded over and over again. •



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