What is the history of your studio and home? The Ortiz Hacienda was in that family for 270 years, and they claim the core of the building was constructed in 1703 as a trading post. Today, it’s divided into our living room, sitting room, and bedroom. My studio was originally built by the U.S. Army in 1846. They used it as a headquarters while rounding up Tiwa Indians and moving them to Santa Domingo so they could keep an eye on them. They thought the Tiwas were troublemakers.
How does the Southwestern landscape inspire you? I have spent all my life in the Southwest, and it has affected my sense of space. There is an enormous, unbridled sense of space here. And my work is about light and space. When I go to other places and it stays gray for days, it really bothers me. It is like a metal band has been put around my head and someone is tightening it. I like sunlight. That is what my work is about.
What are you trying to convey in your work? I want my work to have a sense of place and the feeling of an intimate experience with nature.
Do you have a favorite subject matter? I can’t really say I have a favorite subject. Subject matter is just an excuse to express a quality of light and space. As a realist painter, I hope I transcend the subject. If your work is a literal transcription and is not done with a certain level of passion, it’s just illustration. And the danger in abstract art is, if it’s not done with a certain philosophical underpinning and passion, then it’s just decoration.
You have galleries in both New York City and Santa Fe. Have you noticed different reactions from each set of viewers? New Yorkers are like people everywhere. They don’t know what they like, but they sure like what they know. I have noticed that whenever I show Southwestern paintings in New York, people think they are NASA photographs of Mars. For my April show in New York, I am painting Mora Valley on the other side of the mountains from Santa Fe. It’s a huge mountain valley with beautiful fields, trees, and rivers. When people think about New Mexico, they think it’s just desert, but the truth is, we have just about every climate zone you can have.
What is the biggest misconception about choosing a life in art? No one made me do this. I love being an artist and wouldn’t do anything else. But it’s strenuous. We artists don’t just shake things out of our sleeves. It demands mental concentration, and at the end of a hard day of painting, you are drained. The positive thing about being an artist is that every once in a while you make a breakthrough, and you really see the possibility of new horizons in your work. Anything worthwhile is usually hard work, and you have got to want, want, want it. I wanted to do a recent painting of a volcano when other people said I was crazy. But I didn’t care, I wanted it for me.
You have a large library of books that you are currently cataloging. What are you reading now? A history of the Dust Bowl. My parents lived through it in West Texas. My mother’s family were ranchers; my dad’s were farmers.
You lived in Midland, TX, in the early 1970s, the same time as former president George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Did your paths ever cross? My sister, Norma, babysat our current president. We lived on Maple Street in a two-bedroom bungalow when enormously rich people from the East Coast descended on the town in the 1940s and ’50s, scions of wealthy families who came to make their fortune in the oil industry. We were the only native Texans on the block. My sister was a great resource to them because they were all having babies.
What is the one place people will never find you? On the party circuit.
What is the one thing people will never find you doing? Being a social butterfly.
Gwyn is represented by Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, New York, NY; and Modernism, San Francisco, CA.
Featured in “My World” December 2007