A Mountain Retreat in Taos, NM
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff · Photos by Eric Swanson
This story was featured in the April 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
What elements were important to you in designing your studio? Working with a 70-year-old adobe can be challenging. Walls don’t match up correctly, so you have to improvise and be happy with “quirky.” The studio had to be on the north side of the house, and I loved the idea that it connected to the master bedroom. I can get up in the morning or the middle of the night, grab a cup of coffee, and go to work. It had to have a view of Taos Mountain, but it couldn’t block the view from my living-room windows. So I had to angle one wall to achieve this. With the other odd angles in the house, it totally worked once I settled on a shape. Windows and skylights were a must. My motto is, when there is room for a window, put in a door. Hence I have three doors. One will eventually lead to our wine cellar since we have a small vineyard on our property. Plans are in the works.
You have two studios, one in Taos and one in Denver. My Denver studio is a converted garage with all the bells and whistles of my Taos studio. But I live in the inner city, so the lack of mountain views and the noise makes me yearn for Taos. I get incredible work done in Taos. The Denver studio has ample room for framing and spreading out. But the peace and quiet of Taos draws me there when I have a show. With the beautiful view to pause and contemplate, I get zoned in and produce whole series of ideas. So, I suppose it does work out to be equal but for different purposes.
What artists have influenced your work? Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec has been my inspiration through the years, but recently, within the last two years, I have drawn on the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1960s—Nathan Oliveira, David Park, Elmer Bischoff and, of course, Richard Diebenkorn. I studied them in the ’80s when I first started painting and now, coming full circle, I am loving them again.
How do you describe the style of your work? That’s a hard one. I feel like I strive to abstract the narrative. In other words, I always start with an idea for a “story,” whether it is a figure or landscape. Then I lean toward abstraction as much as possible, always leaving a glimmer of truth in the piece. I love telling a story with a little humor mixed in.
Do you listen to music while you work? I seem to have a problem with electrical devices, and nothing can get me out of the mood to paint quicker than having a “shuffle” problem on my iPod. So I have gone back to a simple CD player—nothing better than to dance to Brian Eno while I paint. I can get lost in French jazz or Neil Young and, of course, Joni Mitchell has guided me to many successful paintings.
Describe your muses. My newest muses are my fox terrier and my kitten, Bo and Jangles. I like to paint to the song Mr. Bojangles. I hadn’t had pets since my last cat and dog died two years ago. But I saw Bo up for adoption, and I was hooked. Then I saw the little kitten, swatting at anything that came by her cage. When Bo interacted beautifully with her, I knew it was time to be an animal person again. The 6-year-old terrier was already named Bo. So, Jangles was a given for our new, feisty kitten. They are already best friends.
What is your proudest accomplishment as an artist? My husband and I working together on art and poetry books.
If your studio were on fire, what one thing would you save? My dad’s old leather chairs.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not painting? Working in my gardens in both Denver and Taos. They are my pride and joy. I love digging in the dirt.
What is one place people will never find you? A football game.
Where do you like to take people when they come to visit? The St. Francis Church in Ranchos de Taos, or as everyone calls it, “the Georgia O’Keeffe church.” And, of course, you can’t come to Taos without having margaritas at the Taos Inn.
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