By Aubrey Hobart
Curator of Collections and Exhibitions
Roswell Museum and Art Center
With so many new exhibitions opening at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, it’s hard to pick just one to talk about, so this month, I will be telling you about a few of our current and upcoming shows.
Artists Matthew Chase-Daniel and Jerry Wellman are in the art collective known as Axle Contemporary. A couple of years ago, the two traveled around Southeast New Mexico in their mobile photography studio and took pictures of random residents of Roswell, Hobbs, Artesia, Carlsbad, Ruidoso and many other communities. You may remember seeing their van at the Eastern New Mexico State Fair, where they handed out portraits as free souvenirs. They didn’t do this just for fun, however; their work has a deeper and more poignant message. Chase-Daniel and Wellman asked everyone who sat for a photo to hold up their most precious object. For many people, this was their child. For many others, it was their cell phone. The variety of objects that people brought is extraordinary, from Coke cans and keys to Bibles and the remains of loved ones.
The artists took 950 pictures in total and printed them onto long banners which are now on display at the RMAC. It’s a bit overwhelming, having all those faces in one room, but then something interesting happens. After a while, the unique qualities of each person begin to blend together. The artists noticed the same thing. As different as everyone was, they all seemed to care about the same few things: their families, their pets, their accomplishments, and their faith. That’s how Axle Contemporary came up with the title of this show: E Pluribus Unum, a Latin phrase meaning “many individuals make up one people,” which is also the traditional motto of the United States. Taking this idea one step further, Chase-Daniel and Wellman made a composite portrait of all the 950 people featured in this exhibit, blending their features to produce an image of the typical southeast New Mexican. Open now, “E Pluribus Unum” will be on view until April 12, 2020. Copies of the catalog, including reproductions of every photograph, are also available in the museum store.
Another current show, that will be open only for a short time, is Winter Celebrations. In the past, winter was a season where people were generally cold, hungry and isolated. To combat this, nearly every culture in the world has some sort of mid-winter celebration featuring lights, feasting and togetherness, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Solstice or something else. Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, we are celebrating the winter holidays by featuring Christmas cards from the 1920s, traditional Hispanic nativity scenes, Japanese wood block prints, paintings of children playing in the snow, Native American winter rituals, and images of people partying on New Year’s Eve. This show will only be on view until Jan. 5, 2020, so bring your visiting friends and family to see it while they’re in town. As a reminder, museum admission is free and we’ll be open during our regular hours: Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
The reason for the short span of “Winter Celebrations” is because in October the Roswell arts community lost an important member: Bruce Lowney (1937-2019) was a valued member of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program from 1970-71 and again in 1974-75. In his memory, the Roswell Museum is making room in our exhibition schedule to put together a small exhibit of his work.
As a printmaker and painter, Lowney had a distinctive vision. His work paired the clarity, balance, and perspective of the Italian Renaissance with the humor of Surrealism, and a Southwestern sense of the infinite sky. In his pieces from the 1970s, especially, Lowney seemed to focus primarily on images of trees and forests. He liked to use trees with their limbs and trunks as a metaphor for the human body, which leaves his prints feeling vast yet depopulated.
Lowney learned lithography — stone printing — from Garo Antreasian, a professor at University of New Mexico, who essentially brought the art form back to life in the 1960s. He then moved to the well-known Tamarind Institute to continue refining his style. Since Lowney’s work relies on stillness, it’s no surprise that he began experimenting with various techniques to make his ink transfer more smoothly to the paper, and to produce even gradients of color in the sky. The saturation of his colors is remarkable, and his cool palette adds to the calm feeling of his work. RMAC’s memorial exhibit dedicated to Bruce Lowney will open Jan. 18, 2020 and run through March 15.