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Publication: Journal Santa Fe Section; Date: Oct 1, 2010; Section: Gallery Guide; Page: S8

INNER CANVAS El Nido showcases local maverick artist’s fantastical work Art Issues MALIN WILSON-POWELL For the Journal

In April of this year a 20-year retrospective of Jerry West’s paintings titled “Psychological Landscapes: The Alchemy of Memory” opened at the Linda Durham Gallery. The exhibition featured large, powerful, disturbing canvases of ominous political allegory along with earlier work of haunted, dreamlike self-exploration. His independent vision, bountiful imagination and fantastical scope placed West’s work firmly in the lineage of maverick American figurative magic realists. Although West’s work is rooted in the local and has a stylistic relationship to American scene painter Thomas Hart Benton’s 1940s canvases, West’s theme is the individual psyche, the twists and turns of the soul. In June of this year, another kind of Jerry West retrospective — this one permanent — opened without a press release to arts editors. A selection of 13 paintings and seven etchings by West, dating from 1973 to 2009, were purchased by Tom & Roey Vimont for their new restaurant in the historic El Nido of Tesuque. This is a notable long-term major real estate commitment to an artist in Santa Fe. For the past eight years, the Vimonts have owned the Steaksmith, where West was a frequent customer. They got to know him and his work. They have chosen iconic, vigorous and a few very challenging works to grace the walls of their establishment. West’s grand and mythic “Ancestors, Rocks, Trees and Clouds,” a five-canvas configuration, is the most dramatic piece, and it is installed in the main dining room. There is a delirious, animated, polymorphously perverse physicality about this painting. It is a giant’s rock-encrusted head breaching the earth’s crust. It is an Arcimboldo-like picture puzzle of faces, hands and bodies. It is a magical, uncanny world where a linear streak of cloud continues as a fissure in the rock. And it is a two-tone grey and orange inferno, a visceral world of battered, leafless trees surviving under extreme conditions. “Living on the Edge” from 2001 is another large-format painting installed in the main room. Without titles or labels, this full-palette painting has a disarming cheery demeanor at first, but it is a yin/yang, light/dark composition full of lurking disaster. A snug little homestead with a thin veneer of sun-struck green vegetation sits atop a mesa that has caved off a huge section, with the barbed wire and fence posts dangling in empty space. What to do in the face of such pending disaster in your own backyard? Any day, anyone can wake up to the local iteration of a tsunami, hurricane, flood, gaping sinkhole, or collapsed bridge. No longer dismissible as news bulletins from distant places, calamity is the common ground of our future. The artist’s characteristic iconography inhabits this vertiginous landscape –– a modest adobe ranch house, an old flatbed pickup, laundry flapping in the breeze, a windmill, a low-flying raven, and theatrical skies. Despite the inexorable environmental conditions, a little boy flies a white kite into the sky, over the precipice, enjoying himself while the sun still shines on his little patch of the planet. It is a bold, Decameron-inflected choice for a fine dining establishment. Treat yourself today: Who knows what

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tomorrow may bring? Born in 1933,West grew up on a remote, hardtack place on the prairie (a few miles off N.M. 14 to Cerrillos). This was long before such current off-the-grid luxuries as electricity, propane and Internet. Water had to be hauled and heated, horses fed, cows milked, wood chopped, lamps cleaned. Kids do chores and are on their own. They make their own entertainments. Adults have no time for constant vigilance and just hope everyone lives to maturity, graduates from high school, and stays out of serious trouble. A selection of dream-inspired paintings and three-plate etchings are a testimony to the teaming symbolism and rich metaphorical terrain of West’s childhood memories. Night scene etchings exploit the velvety blackness and the sketchiness and peripheral quality of experiences that happen in the dark. “An Invasion from Sheepherder’s Hill” (1984) evokes a night when World War II bombers flew “like demons” low over the family home. West made this haunting etching after a series of 1980 oil paintings of the same subject. A charming small canvas called “Dream Series: [Aunt] Etna With Rabbits . . .” (1983) is abloom with apple trees and four blue rabbits in profile dancing in a line. Each wears a pueblo-style tablita on his head and is shaking a gourdrattle. In the bar is another 1983 dreamscape, “Dream Series: Archie Rides Tumbleweed With Blue Saddle.” A nighttime phantasmagoria of West’s brother Archie astride his horse in the night sky flying over a tumble of homestead vignettes –– a woman and her rabbit hutches, a weary man resting on a shovel, three steers lapping at a stock tank, and an incongruous circular inserted scene of polo players on a field of bright green. On a vast, undulating desert prairie carpeted with sage and chamisa, trees are recognized as the venerable survivors and treasures they are. El Nido has a splendid group of West’s tree images, including a painting, drawing and etching. “Tree Icon 1” and “2” pulsate with both a symbolist and moody Goyaesque presence, as well as Albert Pinkam Ryder’s eerie allegorical glow. West’s strange narratives founded in personal mythology, art history and historical events partake of independent, embodied explorations of the American psyche successfully explored in the 2009 awardwinning exhibition called “The Old Weird America: Folk Themes in Contemporary Art.” It fleshed out potent American art bypassed by surveys of academic Modernism’s emphasis on disembodied abstraction based on European rationalism and intellectualism. All along, maverick American artists like John Wilde, Peter Saul and Jerry West populated their storytelling images with Ur-American characters, keeping alternative, embodied histories alive. If you go WHAT: Jerry West WHERE: El Nido Restaurant, 1578 Bishop’s Lodge Road WHEN: Tuesday-Sunday 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Will continue indefinitely. CONTACT: 505-988-4340

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COURTESY PHOTO “Ancestors, Rocks, Trees and Clouds” is a grand and mythic five-canvas configuration by Jerry West.

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“Living on the Edge” is a 2001 large-format landscape painting by Jerry West.

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Jerry West Retrospective