Artist Studio | Carol Mothner

Carol MothnerText by Wolf Schneider ; Photos by David Cox

You’re a nationally known still-life and portrait painter working in a centuries-old medium, egg tempera. Do you whip the paint up from your regular Albertson’s eggs?

No, I actually used to get the eggs from someone who had his own chickens. But I gave it up because all my life I’ve wanted to draw. I’m 62 now—when do I think I’m gonna do this?! I’m a realist painter. I did egg tempera for years, but now I’m doing mostly graphite and acrylic.

You’re known for paintings of nests, birds, and eggs—does this have to do with being a mother?

Well, all of it’s about home. I’ve done interiors, nests, women from 18 to 80, and now I’m doing teenagers.

Are you a proponent of the less-is-more school—just a single image, kind of minimalist?

I do icons, so yeah. That’s how much attention I want to give to each subject.

Where’s your art training from?

Three years at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

You came to Santa Fe from Greenwich Village three decades ago. Pretty cool. That was Bob Dylan territory, right?

I actually worked at Café Figaro, which was on the same block where he lived! Then I came out here and saw the incredible light.

How hard was it for a fast-paced New Yorker to adapt to laid-back Santa Fe?

Oh, I never did. I’m from New York. You can still tell. [Laughs]

You’re married to painter Daniel Morper, who does New Mexico railroad scenes. Do you share the studio?

Oh no. He’s got a large studio on Upper Canyon Road. We’re very good with each other, but that wouldn’t work.

Carol MothnerTwo nationally known painters in the same household. Is there competition? Guilt over big sales?

Sometimes he’ll bring home a painting that is so magnificent, and I’ll think [whispers], “Oh, I wish I had done that.” But the big sale—no, because we both get the money.

In what ways do you help each other?

We critique each other. It doesn’t mean it’s not hard to hear—it is. And you want to kill the other person for saying it.

What Santa Fe art crowd do you hang with—Forrest Moses? Dan Namingha? John and Terri Moyers?

Forrest and I are friends. And [artist] Michael Bergt. And [gallerist] Linda Durham.

You’ve got your home, studio, and greenhouse all on the same property in Santa Fe’s South Capitol district. Is any of it adobe?

No, it’s penitentiary tile [a building product made by inmates at the New Mexico State Penitentiary in the early 20th century] and stucco. The studio’s 20 feet by 16 feet.

With wood-plank floors painted white and lavender walls.

I’ve been in here 20 years and it hasn’t been repainted, because I won’t stop work long enough! I was going to straighten things up better for you, but then I saw pictures of Alexander Calder’s studio, and I thought, “I should mess it up more!” All of his tin was all over the place. [Laughs]

I see you’ve got north and west light from the windows.

Skylights, too. And fluorescent lights.

You watch the Food Channel while painting—who’s your favorite TV chef?

The Barefoot Contessa. Have you ever seen her? You would love her.

What about reality TV—are you into “I Want To Be a Hilton”?

I’ll tell you, I was fascinated by “The Apprentice,” because I don’t know how to do business. I couldn’t live without a gallery.

What quality must an artist have, and what quality will only undermine an artist?

An artist should always be striving for better. They should never say, “Oh, this is good enough.”

What’s the trait that’s served you best in your career, and what’s the trait you deplore in yourself?

The most helpful thing is that I’m willing to work so hard. What I deplore is I get angry too quickly.

On what occasion do you fudge the truth?

Well, I have students, and mainly I say complimentary things to them. To start. [Laughs]

Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with?

Vermeer. Can I have another?

Yes, which artist would you most like an hour of advice from?

Piero della Francesca. Thanks for giving me two.

What’s the range that your work sells for?

From $850 for a monoprint up to $25,000 for a portrait.

What kind of folks do you gravitate toward, and what kind turn you off?

Hmm. If they don’t have a sense of humor, I don’t want anything to do with them.

What does an artist need most: a good accountant, a good truck, or a good red wine?

Nah, none of those—I’d say friends.

When your time comes to kick the bucket, what sentence would accurately sum it up for your life?

“She worked hard at being a good mother, a good artist, and a good wife.”

Mothner is represented by Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, and J. Cacciola Gallery, New York, NY.

Featured in “My World” September 2005