A VISIT WITH PHYLLIS KAPP AT HER STUDIO IN SANTA FE, NM
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff, Photos by Eric Swanson
This story was featured in the June 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2014 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? The most important thing is to be able to look out into nature. From the windows, I immediately see light and sky and, in the distance, mountains. Those aren’t the mountains that appear in my paintings, necessarily, because there are so many mountains here, but they are always a point of reference.
How does your surrounding environment influence your work? I am completely enveloped by the outside. I paint inside, but the most important thing is when and where I go outside. The outside is the total influence, whether I’m at Bandelier [National Monument] or Ghost Ranch or the Jemez Mountains or the Four Corners. Nature is what influences my work. I never photograph anything because that becomes too permanent. I like to be very loose. I sometimes sketch, and I sketch loosely so I can interpret what I saw and not be held down by a line I put down. I have been in Santa Fe about 29 years. My colors were not bold earlier in my career. They were softer, and I used subtle, soft pinks, which the artist Judy Chicago gave me permission to use.
Why did you move from Chicago to Santa Fe? Sometimes life asks for a change, and my life said it was time to make a change. I had been to Santa Fe with my children and their father when the children were young. We met Maria Martinez, the famous potter, and we traveled around New Mexico. I thought it was the land of enchantment back then. I decided that if I was going to start my life over, Santa Fe was where I was going to start it over. In 1985, on my 55th birthday, I moved here.
What do you keep in your studio? I have papers, paintings, and brushes. I have my paintings from different stages of my art evolution. They are all from my time in Santa Fe, nothing from my past like paintings of Lake Michigan. I have some things from Mexico, such as little toys. I also have an angel, a folk-art piece by a Mexican artist who sold her work to museums. On one shelf I have things from Russia—my mother was from Kiev.
Do you listen to music in the studio? I love music. I play Shostakovich, Gershwin, romantic classics, show tunes, jazz, and folk music. It just depends on how I wake up in the morning. I have one folk-rock group I absolutely love: Will and the Won’ts. They are influenced by Bob Dylan. The reason they are my favorite is that Will is my grandson. Music makes me dance while I am painting, and my paintings become more lyrical.
You are the owner of Waxlander Gallery, which represents some 30 artists, as well as being an artist yourself. How do you juggle both careers? It isn’t easy. What I will say, though, is every artist deserves to be treated with respect and honor for the work they do. I take great pleasure in representing my artists. It is time-consuming. I couldn’t do it without my fabulous staff, but major decisions fall to me. Of course all of this keeps me alive. So does having four children, eight grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren.
What artists have influenced you? Frederic Edwin Church. He taught me everything. My favorite living artist is New Mexico painter Walt Gonske. It’s not that he influences me, but I love his work.
What impresses you about other artists’ work? The sincerity of the heart of the artist. When I look at a painting and it comes from the heart, I am impressed.
If your studio were on fire, what one thing would you save? Me. Everything else is replaceable.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not painting? I look at nature. I work in my garden. I collect orchids. I read a lot. I go to the opera, museums, and symphonies. I will go to any place to hear opera. I am an opera fiend. I have a serious problem, because there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.
Where do you take people when they come to visit you in Santa Fe? I take them to that famous gallery on Canyon Road named Waxlander Gallery. I named it after my father, who died when I was 19 years old.
Waxlander Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.
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