Artist Studio | Walt Gonske


By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Your studio in Taos is in a beautiful setting with gardens and scenic views. How does this influence your painting? My gardens are extensions of my studio. I’ve gotten a lot of paintings out of this half acre. Every summer the garden is different and I find something new compositionally that I never saw or thought of before. Professional artist friends give weeklong workshops during the summer months. One day out of the week their students come here to paint. During the lunch break I give them a tour of the studio. They seem to enjoy seeing a real- life artist in his natural habitat.

Why did you move from New York City to Taos? I was in commercial illustration, specializing in men’s fashion in the early ’70s. It was just at the beginning of the end of that era, with photography being used more and more. I saw the end coming. I came out west in the fall of 1970 and fell in love with it. One of the things that struck me besides the light and the land were the galleries. They tended to show representational work. That was my training back in New York. In February 1972, I came out on a prayer that I could make it. It was one of the smartest things I ever did. I’ve never looked back.

Tell me about your studio. I bought two acres in the mid ’70s, and by 1979 I got up the nerve to start building. My studio is in my home. I have a gallery space in my bedroom. The whole place is all about art. I just happen to live here. My place simply grew out of my needs as a painter. A bit of advice to anyone planning their first studio: If at all possible, include an art-supply storage room in your design. If an artist doesn’t do that, everything he or she uses—stretcher bars, frames, and file cabinets—all those things wind up in the studio taking up precious space.


People who know you often mention your paintmobile. What is it? I have this paintmobile that’s all set up to go out on location. I just drive around the country and when I see something I like, I pull over and paint it. The two side windows open up and out. It’s custom made. It has a Ford cab, chassis, engine, and four wheels. Then I had a custom box built for the back. I can stand up and walk from the front to the back. I can look at the world through a big window and it saves me from the wind and snow.

What inspires your work? I love this high country of New Mexico. Having grown up in New Jersey, it was like moving to a different country. I was shocked by the electric quality of light. And I still am. I can’t think of anything more fun than jumping into the paintmobile and going out on a painting run. Something will grab my attention and I get that “Wow, look at that!” feeling. Then I’m gone—off into my painting. I’m drawn to old adobe structures, churches, and graveyards of New Mexico.

What kinds of things do you keep in your studio for inspiration? During the winter months I tend to hang a portion of my extensive collection of other artists’ work in my studio. Artists like Rod Goebel—he’s one of my favorite painters in the territory—also Mark Daily, Laura Robb, Len Chmiel, Ned Jacob, and many others.

What impresses you about other artists’ work? Something about the work that surprises me, maybe even shocks me a little. I’m impressed by work that wakes me up and forces me to pay attention. I explain it as an emotional jolt to my senses.

When you are not painting, where can people find you? Mostly at home thinking about painting. Or doing something connected to art, like answering these questions.

What is the one place people would never find you? In front of a large group of people giving a lecture.

He currently has a two-man show with Jerry Jordan at Parsons Gallery of the West, through October 27 and is in the American Art Invitational at Saks Galleries in Denver, CO, October 7-31.

He is represented by Claggett/Rey Gallery, Vail, CO; Nedra Matteucci Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; Gallery 1261, Denver, CO; Parsons Gallery of the West, Taos, NM; and Sylvan Gallery, Charleston, SC.

Featured in October 2008