STEP INTO MY STUDIO
The building was originally a post office and general store. You’re in the Tierra Amarila valley in northern New Mexico: high desert, sagebrush country, turquoise skies, red rock canyons, native sheep, old adobe houses. Here’s a newspaper reporter’s description of the place, in a feature on my work:
A lasting imprint
By: Cindy Bellinger/The New Mexican, Santa Fe April 29, 2001
LOS OJOS - Spending time with Paul Trachtman is like walking a mountain path through changing seasons. One minute he's a poet. The next a painter, a photographer, a printmaker. Look again and his studio, Yellow Earth Gallery, is the town's gathering place, a place for idle chat, political tirades.
Following Trachtman into his studio behind the gallery is only the beginning of an uncommon tour around the edges of an artist's life.Paintings on easels, stacks of canvases against walls and cabinets, shelves and shelves holding years and years of drawings at first seem chaotic. But look again and this wildly stuffed room of quotes tacked to walls and drawings taped to desks, looks down right fun, like a place where you could just play.
"And that's what I do eight hours a day. I play," said Trachtman. One painting-in-progress with bright patches of color moving into a brilliant landscape was only a sampling of Trachtman's "play." He brought out sketches of farms, sheep grazing, fields meeting the rise of mountains. These rural details, along with prints of abandoned cars and overgrown fences, have become the heart of Trachtman's work.
I made my first painting here nearly 20 years ago. In 2002, the state of New Mexico acquired a large oil painting and two monotype prints for its permanent collection, displayed on the walls of the state capitol in Santa Fe. The curator of the collection, Cynthia Sanchez, wrote this about my work:
"Paul Trachtman’s landscapes remind us of the untouched wonder of the rural culture and land in northern New Mexico. He captures the unpretentiousness and freshness inherent in the land and way of life in an around Tierra Amarilla. Trachtman’s is a clarity of vision that, in contemporary culture, exposes the quiet unclutter of what seems like another time and place. A time and place reminiscent of all the qualities lost in a technologically based world. A time and place that we always already long for.”
Before I moved here, working in Washington, D.C., I produced a series of monotypes on the American highway landscape of gas stations, fast food shrines and motels; and another body of work on contemporary dance, which led to a retrospective show of over 40 large monotypes and photographs, as part of a national symposium on “Fifty Years of Modern Dance,” held at Sweetbriar College in Virginia.
I still work on these subjects, so the quiet New Mexico landscape hasn’t entirely swallowed me, although its challenge seems inexhaustible. I return to the same spots year after year, seeing them change with seasons, light, and time, as my own seeing changes. One of my favorite critical reviews came from a local sheep rancher who’d seen me painting here for ten years: “You’re finally starting to get it right!” he said. The land and the figure are, of course, traditional concerns of artists. I think we are returning to them now, after a long love affair with abstraction and a passion for painting about perception itself, more than what is perceived.
Here in my Los Ojos studio, I am looking back at the beginnings of modernism, at Delacroix and Corot, Cezanne and Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso; and looking ahead with 21st century eyes. To make art modern again, I think we need to dwell again on the spirit of the land, to see the “spiritual light” that Matisse saw reflected in the face of beauty, or the face of the earth.
But the soul of the machine inspires me as well. As I grind 19th century pigments for a painting, or print a monotype on the 1915 proof press in my studio, I am also collaborating with friends in the avant garde of digital art. At New Media Arts in Santa Fe, master printmaker Lynn Lown helps me produce limited edition prints with the skills of a digital alchemist. And painter Roz Dimon, whose RDA Design has designed this web site, constantly shows me that her electronic light can be as dazzling and painterly as a New Mexico sunset.
So my studio isn’t all that isolated, and the distance between a hand-inked monotype and a digital print is getting shorter all the time. I’ve been working on a new kind of monotype in my studio, pressing two inked surfaces together in ways that produce unexpected and very exciting images. I call them “Stressed Ink Monotypes,” and their qualities are best described in terms of chaos theory! You can click on the paul-studio.pdf file to see the technical details and history of these prints.A contemporary painter I greatly admire, Carol A. Brown, sometimes comes to my studio in Los Ojos, to see what I’ve done with this landscape. For one of my shows in Santa Fe, she wrote this description:
"In his stressed-ink monotypes, Paul Trachtman follows Rembrandt, Blake, Degas and many other artists in pushing the printmaking process to clarify their views of the world. In order to say what they wanted to say, they had to invent a new visual language. What Trachtman is showing us is the luminosity of the Northern New Mexico landscape. Once you see his transcendent vision of ordinary fields, barns, trees and animals, you will forever see that landscape through his eyes."
The artists of the past are always looking over our shoulders, even breathing down our necks. Once in a while we get a chance to show them a new trick.