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
"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.