Taos artists have been called to create homages to the area’s light-filled landscape since members of the Taos Pueblo community created rock art almost a millennia ago. Taos’ location in the high desert of Northern New Mexico, surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, has long made it a mecca for artists who are moved to interpret the otherworldly atmosphere where the big sky vistas meet ancient sacred mountains.
Taos became established as an art colony in 1915, when six artists formed the Taos Society of Artists. Today this town of 7,000 residents is home to more than 80 art galleries and three major art museums: the Harwood Museum of Art, Taos Art Museum, and Millicent Rogers Museum.
The Taos Artist Collective is a gallery and collaboration of area artists who work in the mediums of painting, watercolor, photography, sculpture, jewelry, fiber arts, among other disciplines.
We’re pleased to present the perspectives of Taos artists Karen Trythall, Curtis Salazar and Mary F. Miller, who share a glimpse of how Taos inspires and informs their work.
Karen Trythall, Painter
I retired from teaching middle school art in Los Alamos, NM in 2016. Since that time I have been painting regularly. I paint all over northern New Mexico but feel most drawn to places in southern Taos County.
I paint equally in oils and acrylics. I use Sennelier oils with safflower oil vehicle. I use both Heavy Liquitex and Golden acrylics. When I paint out I prefer acrylics but as the weather shifts sometimes it is too dry or too cold for acrylics. At home I like to underpaint in acrylics and build up as well as do a finish coat with oils.
I am excited by the mix of sky forms, mountain forms, rock forms, vegetation and water textures. The range of colors throughout each day is extended by extreme seasonal shifts. The landscape drama is endless. Most of northern New Mexico is public land in one form or another.
My awareness of freedom and of sanctuary in northern New Mexico is both liberating and reassuring. I am having the time of my life now that I am free to paint.
Ranchos de Taos was once a separate village from the city of Taos and still is largely agrarian. From a plateau of fields you can look over neighborhoods of Taos under the Taos mountain. There are always milkweeds and willows growing with sage along the acequias. These are lovely plants to paint. Near Ranchos de Taos is the Orille Verde recreation area with the Taos slide trail. This trail once was a road connecting Ranchos de Taos to the Junction Bridge but a rockslide ended that 30 years ago. This is a wonderful area to paint echoes of rock walls meandering.
The continental rift that is the Taos Gorge is physically stunning. It is a challenge to capture the depth and breadth that is that sensation. It is a delight to work out a range of colors from the variety of color changes that occur regularly across these scenes.
The canyon road into the southern end of Taos county is walled by the Rio Grande Gorge. This rift juts up vertically with sparkling rose colored rocks on the eastern side in the area just north of the county line. This is an area for innumerable painting sites. I have painted at least a dozen scenes in the span of just a few miles.
Pilar New Mexico is a small village in southern Taos County that sits on the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande Rift extended up both sides of the river here, sloping low to give way to lush bosque vegetation. This is a marvelous stretch for painting. The volcanic rock of the rift has strong purples. The river willows change color with the season. The water reflects emerald greens, teals, vermillions, and golds.
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Curtis Salazar, Copper and Steel Artist
I was born and raised in Taos. Having been deeply grafted into these enchanted lands, I began a never ending journey that will continually change my life.
December 21 2012 was a very controversial date for many different people and cultures and left as soon as it came with little to no noticeable changes. Or did it? For me, this was the beginning. I vividly remember that day, wandering the forest, feeling completely connected with the ground I walked, feeling so thankful and blessed to live in such a gorgeous and sacred land I call home. I remember wanting to accept and positively experience whatever changes may take place during that time.
Three years later, during rapid personal growth and an overflow of fascination with the universe, quantum mechanics, and how we, as energetic beings, possess infinite potentials and possibilities, I started to study sacred geometry. The infinite structures and patterns created through sacred geometry deeply intrigued me, not only with beauty and depth, but also the all-encompassing nature of this process.
Learning to draw these patterns was a self meditation that I never experienced before and rapidly became my passion. Having no artistic background and little creativity, sacred geometry facilitated an explosion of creativity and ideas of exploring artistic representations of these designs and patterns.
At this time I was employed under my father becoming a building contractor. I was always drawn to metal in building processes and started experimenting with this medium. I quickly found that steel and copper were my perfect mediums to represent my new-found artistic creativity. Having experimented and created many works of art, my techniques have been evolving and new ideas are being explored.
My process is quite unique and very rewarding not only in the finished piece, but throughout the entire process. Each piece undergoes a thorough cleaning and sanding to produce a bare medium. Background effects are created using a grinder and other abrasives to create a unique backdrop for the sacred geometry designs. The piece is then flamed to produce a beautiful array of stunning, natural coloration. At this point, each circle and line in the sacred geometry is hand etched into the copper or steel using a metal scribing compass. Other hidden geometries are revealed by masking off surrounding areas, precisely cutting the mask, and hand sanding the medium to its bare material.
My artwork may not visually reflect Taos, its culture, or its natural beauty, however, Taos has always and continues to inspire my artwork in the most fundamental of ways. When I experience all the amazing, unique landscapes these sacred lands have to offer, I not only am in awe of the natural beauty that surrounds me, but there is a powerful sense of perfection in all of life’s imperfections at these moments. I strive to manifest these inspirational ideas and feelings in my creations as every piece is created by my active facilitation of imperfect perfection.
Mary F. Miller, Painter
I grew up in Red River, a small mountain town, northeast of Taos. Because there were no real amenities, other than skiing and hiking, my mom would drive me and my three siblings to Taos for ballet and piano lessons. Art was always a part of me, and I even won an elementary school-wide art competition.
Although I grew up in the mountains, the vast mesas with the mountains in the background surrounding Taos are what inspire me. I spent nearly 20 years in Washington State, where I didn’t see blue sky for months on end. I didn’t realize how much I missed the landscape and skies of my youth until I returned home.
My oil painting, “The Protector” is kind of an allegory: the mountain (inspired by Taos Mountain) watches over the bucolic cow-like animals grazing in the fields in the foreground. I intentionally left the type of animal ambiguous, because I wanted to make them a part of the land.
My other inspiration is the adobe architecture of Taos. I delight in the organic nature of adobes, and the way they blend in with their surroundings. I also love the light, and shadow plays on adobe walls. One might say, they are the canvases upon which I build my paintings.
The Taos Artist Collective represents an eclectic mix of southwestern, traditional & modern contemporary art. The gallery is located at 106 A Paseo del Pueblo Norte in the downtown historic district of Taos, and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
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Header image courtesy of Karen Trythall