The Roswell Artist-in-Residence (RAiR) program in Roswell, New Mexico was founded by Don Anderson in 1967, with the goal of giving artists the “gift of time.” The time given, of course, is granted with generous living and studio accommodations for artists, their partners and children, stipends, and more. (Seriously, artists should apply!) Six artists who participated in the RAiR program in 2013 have come back together at a new Roswell gallery, Bone Springs Art Space, for a 10-year reunion exhibition, RAiR reCONNECT 2013-2023.
In RAiR reCONNECT, gallery owner and RAiR alumna Miranda Howe exhibits alongside five fellow former artists-in-residence: Natasha Bowdoin, Derek Chan, Jessica Kirkpatrick, Ryder Richards, and Ven Voisey. Howe founded the Bone Springs Art Space in 2018, where she hosts rotating shows in the extensive exhibition space, sells regional and local works in a gift shop, and hosts workshops in the class and studio space on the basement level. RAiR reCONNECT is a phenomenal show in the “middle of nowhere,” the sort of setting and pace I appreciate most about Southwestern art spaces.
Houston-based artist Natasha Bowdoin’s whimsical paintings of botanicals and insects that compose letters read a bit like prints. They have decisively bold layers set upon washy colors, and the illuminated manuscript-feel lends itself to reproduction in books, posters, and other mass forms of communication. Micro views of little ecosystems enmeshed with widely-known alphabet letters point to elements of the natural world and man-made technology, but seem to nod at the connection between humans and nature. We are not separate from the natural world, and in this way Bowdoin’s work makes a nice pairing with all of the other artists in this exhibition, strengthening and sharpening the bite of their mutual concepts.
Santa Fe-based artist Derek Chan’s intricate and immaculate paper collage and gouache paintings read like diagrams or maps. The largest of his works was displayed flat, at the height of a coffee table. The symmetry and prominence of the piece reminds me of a sci-fi or futuristic hologram table, a place where information is viewed, or spontaneously discovered by looking at images from a new angle, or breaking a code. In Hope, a reddish planet or moon’s orbital tracks trace the implied path of a woman pouring water onto the ground. The entire image is framed by sky-blue marbled and patterned paper that suggests both cells under a microscope or asteroids — a cosmic soup. Chan’s work feels like a new mythology, illustrations of past and future cosmic events depicted through a combination of abstraction and narrative.
It seems each artist in RAiR reCONNECT references a relationship between the body and the earth from a different perspective. Scotland-based painter Jessica Kirkpatrick’s figurative works depict female figures in landscapes (one vibrant and clothed, one gloomy and naked). Both figures share the same awkward, hunched-over posture, as though they are marionettes gone limp. In The Monarch, a painted translucent ribbon line wraps around a woman in a striped bathing suit, blocking out a red sun and obscured by a gray cloud of blotchy paint. The vivid green horizon line of the grassy landscape cuts the peachy pink surface, like a beam of light that appears to emanate from the light blue aura surrounding the bather. It reminds me of the New Testament story of the Transfiguration, where Jesus became radiant upon a mountain — in this case, an immersion of strength and power from the ground itself.
Texas-based artist Ryder Richards’ personified sports-object pencil drawings are masterfully-rendered and rife with bleak humor. (If you happen to use the restroom at the gallery, a crushed Gatorade Zero bottle drawing from the same series is comically displayed above the toilet.) In the exhibition, a Baden volleyball sits in the lower right quadrant of one drawing, dramatically lit and dented, flattened and crushed into itself. It exudes loneliness, looking like a sad clown.
The diptych of minimally-framed drawings includes a similarly-squelched soccer ball, also placed heavily low upon the page. It is hard to see these without relating them to playground politics, or feelings of being outcast. The drama and focus of the drawings give them a spotlight feel; these items, rendered useless, have a story to tell. Richards touches on themes of childhood, relationships, and aging — through the lens of loss of function and deflated dreams and squashed hopes, a literal “kick-in-the-balls.”
At the entrance of the gallery, California-based sound and installation artist Ven Voisey’s row of tweedy speakers erupts with “hush, shh, shh,” played in overlapping rounds. The sculpture, as a physical object, is appealingly minimalist with cleat angles jutting from the wall. The audio feels powerful; being hushed can bring on a wave of different emotions: From an invitation to calm, to a suppressive, authoritarian sound, to a cover-up or concealment. It’s easy to associate “shh” with childhood or sacred spaces: libraries, classrooms, and churches come to my mind. In these three references, themes of government, education, religion, and free thought intertwine. Context is everything.
Bones Springs Art Space owner and RAiR alumna Miranda Howe displays large ceramic pillar-like boxes. Arroyos are carved out of the slabs, hinting at the long passage of time on the surface of the earth and the presence or absence of water upon it. The topographical nature of Howe’s work is contrasted by the delicate patterns of abstracted botanical forms (in the vein of Islamic art) and references architecture, humanity’s impact upon the natural world. There is also something very intimate and personal about clay — the materiality of Howe’s work is necessary to her concept. Seeing both surface and interior sections of a simplified clay form — because they are so easy to anthropomorphize — suggests themes of the internal and external, a vessel and its innermost parts. Howe’s work seems to pull you in, locatively to stand in front of each work in the exhibition and to question, are you here, now?
RAiR reCONNECT 2013-2023 is on view through September 2, 2023 at the Bone Springs Art Space in Roswell, NM. Gallery hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 10 AM to 4 PM.