Santa Fe, NM
This story was featured in the June 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art June 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art June 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
Roger Hayden Johnson has been fascinated with old farmhouses and the landscapes that surround them since he was 10 years old and growing up in rural Iowa. More than five decades later, he continues to paint homesteads, but now his focus is on adobe structures tucked along back roads in rural valleys throughout northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.
Johnson’s passion for painting what he calls “architectural landscapes” in the Southwest began in 1984, when he and his wife moved to Colorado Springs, CO. Since then he has traveled hundreds of miles on dirt roads, like a treasure hunter, searching for the adobe houses and churches that captivate him.
This year Johnson discovered 20 structures in El Rito, NM, that he had never seen before. Several of them are the subjects of new works in a two-artist show with sculptor Hib Sabin at Manitou Galleries, which opens on June 7 with an artists’ reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
“I had to trespass on private property to see the house in my painting RANCH HOUSE,” Johnson explains. “While I was in El Rito earlier this year I trespassed quite a lot to get close to the houses I found.” RANCH HOUSE not only captures Johnson’s feelings about how the house appeared in the early morning hours, it also depicts the two horses that were lurking around the property. Although he has been painting for 54 years, Johnson has never painted horses until this year. “In the past I’ve left horses to horse painters,” he says. “But in four of the 16 oil paintings in the show, I have included horses. I like trying something new.” Golden cottonwood trees are also in his work for the first time. Johnson’s choice of colors reflects how he feels about the interplay of light and colors seen during dawn and dusk.
For Hib Sabin, who has been an artist since 1957, venturing into new territory continues to be part of the artistic process. Among the 11 sculptures in the show—five bronzes and six carvings in juniper wood—are works that depict both animals and humans. Usually, Sabin sculpts his animals alone. In some of his most recent works, though, animals and humans come together. In HE WHO SEARCHES FOR HIS BEGINNING, a man walks into the belly of a raven. SHE WHO DREAMS BIRDS INTO FLIGHT portrays a woman holding two staffs upon which birds are sitting.
“I have a cast of characters that I use in my work, such as owls, wolves, bears, eagles, and ravens,” he says. “I think of them as my totems. I’m very interested in totemic imagery in traditional cultures. Totems are a way for a tribe or clan to establish its identity. I believe individuals also have totems.”
Although based in Santa Fe, Sabin has traveled extensively to understand totemic imagery in Native cultures from Canada and Mexico to India and Australia. Lately, his interest in totems has taken a twist. “I am 78 years old,” he says, “and I find myself thinking about and fascinated by the ideas of mortality and immortality.” —Emily Van Cleve
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