Old Mexico and New Mexico offer vibrant inspiration for Evelyne Boren’s paintings
By Gussie Fauntleroy
This story was featured in the June 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
You could say that Evelyne Boren rode into a highly successful, more than 50-year fine-art career on the backs of dolphins and one enormous loggerhead turtle. Working as an underwater stunt double for movies and television in the 1960s—including James Bond films and the TV series Sea Hunt and Flipper—Boren was exposed to the brilliant colors of the Caribbean. In turn, those colors touched her in a way that left her no choice but to respond with exquisite colors in paint. Since 1962, when she taught herself to use watercolors during long waits on location in the Bahamas, Boren has turned her eye to vividly hued scenes in Mexico, New Mexico, Europe, and other parts of the world. The results comprise more than 4,500 (and counting) original works in private and corporate collections internationally, created in both watercolors and oils. Yet after all these years, her love for what she does and the creative challenges it involves remains as alive and vibrant as the scenes she paints.
The daughter of a wine import/export merchant in Munich, Boren was exposed to world-class museums as a child. “What I really admired were the Impressionists. That’s what has inspired me most over the years,” she says. But art instruction was not part of the schooling she received, and becoming an artist was not among her dreams. These focused instead on one thing: living near the ocean in the United States. It was the mid-1950s, and America was perceived as a shining land of opportunity for much of the rest of the world. At 16, Boren left home to pursue her dream. She studied French in Switzerland and then earned a Cambridge English language diploma in England, where she stayed to work.
“I didn’t have money, I didn’t have sponsors, I didn’t know how I would get to America,” the 76-year-old artist says. “It’s funny, though, when you have something in mind that you really want so badly and you take baby steps toward that, usually you end up doing it.” In London, Boren had what she considered a glamorous job as a hostess in an upscale restaurant—until British immigration officials informed her that without legal papers, she could only work as a domestic, in childcare, or in a hospital. So she answered an ad from an American couple in London who were diplomats with five children and a sixth on the way. Boren hoped that the couple would want her to accompany the family when they returned to the United States, and that turned out to be the case. “By the time I was 21, my dream had materialized,” she says.
She promised to stay with the family for another year, during which time she was issued her green card and then was on her own.
In La Jolla, CA, Boren met, fell in love with, and married Lamar Boren, who was at the time the premier underwater cameraman in the country. When he was sent to Florida to film Sea Hunt, the producer offered Boren the chance to work as a stunt double for the show. Among her first jobs was training the porpoise that played the original Flipper, in a Florida fisherman’s backyard swimming pool. In the series, children hold onto Flipper as he swims. But at first he swam too fast, and they couldn’t hold on. So Boren would ride the dolphin, and when she let go before the end of the pool, Flipper didn’t get his reward. If he swam slower and got to the end “still with his package—me,” she says, he was treated to a fish. During filming of the James Bond movie Thunderball, Boren was towed through the water by a behemoth loggerhead turtle. She also performed underwater as a stunt-double Bond girl in You Only Live Twice. And in the 1966 film, Namu, the Killer Whale, she became the first woman in the world to swim with an orca, or killer whale. On the popular 1960s television quiz shows What’s My Line? and To Tell the Truth, contestants tried hard to guess her occupation—but never got it right.
In the long run, however, the most significant part of Boren’s watery film career actually took place on dry land. As she waited between her scenes during filming in the Bahamas, she was struck by the extraordinary world of color around her. Having no painting experience, she went to a library in Nassau and pored through art books to figure out what paint colors to buy. “I realized there were certain colors that everyone used and bought those,” she says. She played around with them, creating small watercolors and two larger ones. A friend insisted on submitting the larger paintings to a juried art exhibition in which 100 works were selected out of 700 entries. One of Boren’s watercolors was chosen for the show.
In 1972 the artist divorced and moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, drawn to that section of the Pacific coast after taking a watercolor workshop there with painter Tom Hill. At a party, she met the man to whom she has now been married for 44 years. They have owned a home in a village north of Puerto Vallarta for almost that long, spending half of each year in Mexico and half in Santa Fe, with a studio in each place. From her spacious, airy home studio in the Mexican village of San Francisco (also called San Pancho), Boren enjoys what she calls “the greatest views in the world”—a small river, the ocean and beach, the low-slung town, and unspoiled jungle in countless shades of green. Close by are diverse scenes that are a colorist’s delight: outdoor markets, bright-hulled fishing boats, palm trees, blue water, and polo players in colorful jerseys on a vivid green polo field.
After painting almost exclusively in watercolor for a number of years, Boren taught herself to work in oil. She remembers at one point walking into a Santa Fe gallery where a show of her art included paintings in both media; she realized it could easily be mistaken for a two-artist show because her styles in the two mediums were so different. “I said to myself, what I’d really like is to have my oils look like watercolors and my watercolors look like oils. Eventually I achieved that,” she says. One way she has succeeded in developing a distinctive, unified style is to continually aim for simplifying the image, these days using large brushes with watercolors and only palette knives with oils. “I’ve always said that less is more,” she reflects. “I’m trying to say all that I want to say with as few strokes as possible. For me, it’s more exciting to have something that leaves a little to the imagination, instead of including all the details. If it’s a little more impressionistic or abstract, the viewer can see something different every time.”
MY LINE, depicting a stop-action moment in a polo match, reflects a new direction for Boren in both materials and subject matter. In recent months she has begun working in the unusual combination of watercolor on canvas. The process requires multiple layers of paint, letting each one dry before applying the next. It is time-consuming and demanding but yields richly colored works in large sizes that, unlike traditional watercolor on paper, are freed from the weight and reflections of framing with glass. Boren didn’t know any other artists using the method when she started; she just decided to try it. “I’m always excited by challenges, so I don’t fall into a rut,” she says. A newly built polo facility in San Pancho presents another stimulating challenge for the artist: painting horses, a subject she was hesitant to tackle for many years. But she taught herself to convey the feeling of a horse in motion, because polo offers all the visual elements that draw her in. “I enjoy going to the matches,” she says, “and I wanted to capture the beauty and movement of the horses, the light and shadows on the field, and the interaction of the horses.”
Back in New Mexico, the magnificent colors and forms of the landscape still inspire Boren to step on the brakes, even after decades of driving by it. FISHING THE CHAMA RIVER depicts a landscape near Abiquiu that she has painted many times, usually in warm colors suggested by the area’s red-rock cliffs. This time, however, her response to the scene—in early morning light and shadows—emerged in yellows, oranges, and greens. “It’s very important to me to figure out how I can best express what I feel about the subject right then and there, because it changes so quickly,” she says. “When I drive or walk around and something catches my eye, I take a second look and ask myself, what made my heart beat faster? I listen to my heart. If I’m excited about what I see, the painting will probably be good.”
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