Las Vegas, N.M. – A 15-year-old violinist concentrates on his complex music in Nacho Jaramillo’s painting Virtuoso. Foreboding rust-colored clouds approach in Johanna Keenan’s painting Sand Dunes Before a Storm. A Brazilian educator and American linguist, both renowned philosophers, are depicted in Erin Currier’s painting Paolo Freire y Noam Chomsky. Golden aspens shimmer on a sunny day in Priscilla Wiggins’ painting Vances Autumn.
These paintings illustrate the diverse subject matter in the Fourth Invitational New Mexico Painters Exhibition at New Mexico Highlands University that features 30 established and up-and-coming artists.
The free exhibition opens Sept. 17 in the Kennedy Alumni Hall, 905 University Ave. with an opening reception from 4 – 7 p.m. It is the only annual juried exhibition of New Mexico painters.
“This year’s artists depict subject matter which represents both contemporary New Mexico culture and the timeless imagery of the state’s breathtaking natural beauty,” said James Mann, exhibition curator. “These artists demonstrate an accomplished awareness of contemporary developments in international art. Their sophistication and creative imagination are impressive.”
Mann curated more than 50 exhibitions from 1996 – 2005 for the Las Vegas Art Museum in Nevada.
Renee Buchanan, art curator for the Highlands Foundation, which is presenting the exhibition, said this year the New Mexico Painters Exhibition has a robust focus on Las Vegas art past and present.
“We want to show the strong tradition of the arts in the Las Vegas area that continue as a vital thread of the fabric of our community while also highlighting artists from other areas in the state,” Buchanan said.
The featured artist for the exhibition is Nacho Jaramillo, an award-winning Northern New Mexico artist best known for his haunting portraits. While his longtime studio and home are in Las Vegas, Jaramillo has lived and painted from New York City to Oregon.
Jaramillo, who traces his roots to Spanish Colonial days, earned a B.A. in art education from Highlands in 1971. He said he is drawn to portraiture because people are the most compelling and interesting subjects.
“One of my favorite quotes is from the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch who said, ‘Art is not art unless it is wrenched from the soul of a man.’ A successful portrait is one that captures the essence of the individual’s persona and mood. The eyes are very difficult and as the saying goes, are the gateway to the soul,” Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo, 74, said he uses bristle brushes to draw the image using pure black tempera. He calls his black and white pieces manchas, the Spanish word for how he smears the tempera to achieve the desired effect.
“Economy of strokes is essential because this leaves open areas that invite the viewer to participate in the art. In some of my paintings I add color with my thumb to enhance the piece,” Jaramillo said.
Internationally, Jaramillo’s paintings hang in private collections in Spain, England, Argentina and Russia. Stateside, private collectors from New York City to California own his artwork. His work has been featured in solo and group art exhibitions in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos and Las Vegas.
Buchanan said the print room in Kennedy Hall will feature pieces legendary art professors at Highlands created during the 1960s that are a permanent part of the university’s art collection.
“This was a golden, unique period in art at Highlands when four internationally known professors were both teaching and producing art. Elmer Schooley was a Renaissance man who led the department while exploring diverse landscape styles in painting and printing. Paul Volckening pushed the boundaries in pottery. Ray Drew was a master of watercolors, filling local scenes with his own style of expression. Harry Leippe established the art foundry at Highlands and created visionary iron sculptures,” said Buchanan, adding that only Leippe of Las Vegas is still alive.
“Ray Drew was a wonderful mentor to me at Highlands, teaching me to draw with a brush,” Jaramillo said.
Since 2012, Santa Fe physicians Robert Bell and his wife Stirling Puck have donated more than 500 paintings from New Mexico painters to the Dr. Robert Bell and Dr. Stirling Puck Permanent Art Collection at Highlands. Some of the artists featured in the exhibition have pieces in this collection.
“We donate art to Highlands because the university uses it as a teaching collection for students and the community. It’s great that students are helping hang this exhibition,” said Robert Bell, an art book writer and publisher who has also donated more than 2,000 original fine art prints to Highlands.
The Fourth Invitational New Mexico Painters Exhibition continues through Oct. 25 with many of the paintings available for purchase. Kennedy Hall is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.