The American West, Through the Lens of Two Santa Fe Painters

Just in time for the United States’ celebration of Independence Day, a new exhibition at Santa Fe’s Manitou Galleries delivers a dialogue on the American West, delving into the landscapes of two local painters. Kim Wiggins and William Haskell are respective progenitors of exquisite landscapes, and they each meditate on the aesthetic and cultural specificity of the West, which is encapsulated in their show, “Western Regionalism.” 

Kim Wiggins’ richly hued and highly textured expressionist oils bring wide angled vistas of the inanimate geological formations, hardened clay, scrub brush, and thickening cloud cover of the Southwestern deserts to life. In Below Spanish Peaks, lush rolling mountains pock-marked by clusters of blue rock give way to layers of sand and limestone feathered over with greenery and foregrounded by ruddy hills and the yellow and umber brush lining the mesas of steeply narrow red canyons—through which a lone rider herds ranch horses swiftly along an ancient trail. Compared to this canvas, which alludes to the grandeurs of the region prior to technological intervention by humans, Children of Montezuma observes, at closer range and in a more muralist style, the peaceful trade and Pre-Columbian way of life practiced by the Pueblo Indians native to Northern New Mexico—an enduring people who embody the essence of the landscape.

William Haskell’s expert dry-brush technique builds physical, visual, and metaphorical depth into his watercolors that capture the dramatic chiaroscuro of the natural desert scenery as modified by dusk, dawn, and moody seasonal storms. The extreme, even ravishing detail of striated mountains plays brilliantly against the ominous monsoon clouds that darken the summer sky, in surprisingly intimate dimensions, in Divide. At a larger scale, Santa Ana Light commands tremendous vertical height—its soft and fiery peaks, building to billowy heights, dwarf a modest farmhouse nestled in the low and verdant plains of the foreground to effectively draw the viewer into Haskell’s powerfully reflective composition and fervent sense of this place.

Western Regionalism: Kim Wiggins & William Haskell” is on view at Manitou Galleries, Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 4th–18th, 2014.

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