The Light of the Western Landscape: an interview with artist Lorenzo Chavez, part 2
Despite a mastery of his medium and extensive critical recognition, it's not the seduction of glory that thrills artist Lorenzo Chavez, it's something deeper and far more difficult to express. His motivation - the passion that's driven his brush since childhood, is the perpetual search for the magic that hides between the light and shadows, only exposed for fleeting moments in time to those watchful for it to make its appearance on the landscape. This is part 2 of his story.
Tbird: What is it that inspires you?
L: You mentioned one word: Freedom and that rang a bell. I think that’s true today. There’s a great feeling of freedom to hop in the car and say, I’m driving through northern Arizona or across the eastern plains of New Mexico, I often think of someone like Dixon who might have had to be on a horse; you know, much more slowed down than we are today. But I think there’s still that sense of freedom. Like, ‘wow, this still exists!’ So I find that highly inspirational. Plus I think just being raised in NM, as a child we used to get in our family station wagon and we’d travel across to California every year to go visit relatives and I just remember peeking out the window as a young kid and just being enthralled; I could just stare out the window for hours and just look at the landscape passing by and it hasn’t changed. I still love that! And now I get to pull over and try to - see that’s part of it; I just want to pull over and capture that and when I see something and go, “oh that’s just so…” It doesn’t even have to be breathtaking - it could just be a dry wash. It could be very every day, mundane, but there’s something deeper there that I feel is so emotionally satisfying. I hope that I can convey that through a painting.
Tbird: What is that ‘thing?’ What is that something that tells you that this is the spot, this is the moment? Do you have a particular time of day?
L: You know, it’s so hard to describe. I’ve been thinking about this same idea for years to try to put it into words. But, I think it’s like falling in love, you know - you just feel it. It’s something you feel and you know it. You meet it sort of halfway and it meets you and it’s like this connection. I mean it could be the way the cloud shapes are one day. The next day I could be driving through that same spot and just not even take a second look at it. You know, what is that special ‘it’ factor? That’s sort of - that’s kind of a mystery and I don’t know that I’d want to totally resolve that mystery because I find it highly addictive and highly inspiring. But I do know if I see it, I know now to try to stop and capture it some way and try to convey that special ‘thing’ that it’s saying, if that makes sense.
Tbird: Sometimes the breaking down of something to try to understand it a little better can dissolve that magical quality. We don’t want to break that down too much for you!
L: Yeah, I remember years ago I was asked that question about, “why do you love painting?” My wife and I raised two boys and it’s like, “why do I love my boys?” You know, going over it, I realize I just do! And there’s such a depth to that emotion that I almost don’t want to mess with it. It’s definitely a gift.
TBird: You’re fortunate that the west has a lot of distinctive colors & shapes that probably sparks that magic in you?
L: It’s funny, a couple of days ago i was walking around the Colorado landscape - I took a couple of artist friends who were visiting from out of state to a couple of sites that I paint at and we were talking about the emotional depth of the landscape and one of the things is getting to know a scene or being or living in an area for a long time, you start to feel it on a much deeper level. And then we also brought up - there’s an exhibition in Denver about Andrew Wyeth’s work. And you know Andrew Wyeth - if there’s anyone who’s really capitalized on where he lived, I think Andrew Wyeth would be the guy. He could paint the side of a barn but it was the barn he grew up seeing his whole life, plus his dad’s life. So when I think of why I’m so fascinated with the southwest, I think of that - it’s something I’ve seen for so long, but it’s something my dad saw. And I can look over at a hillside and say, “Oh my family might - we have a relative that was buried over there.”
I love the history of the west. One of the things that I’ve found interesting is that our family moved in like 1690, right after the Pueblo Revolt they settled in Albuquerque. So they’ve been there a long time. You know, I heard something recently where you try to use some of the energy from the past - from your ancestors and the past and I definitely do that. I call upon that to help me understand the landscape better or to have a deeper emotion or meaning toward the landscape.
Tbird: Did you grow up hearing stories about family in that area?
L: Unfortunately no, it was something more, I’d say in the last 15-20 years. I don’t know, they weren't really vocal when it came to telling stories except more current history. I actually grew up and didn’t even know that history until later on when I read up about it! It’s like, “Oh my gosh, we’re part of a land grant here in New Mexico! I had no idea about this.” But it’s there, so when I do paint a desert wash, say a desert wash, especial if it’s in New Mexico, but I find those commonalities in Utah or in Colorado or say in Arizona. There’s something there; maybe it’s the passing of time that happens, the changing figure of the flowing nature that connects to us as people and the way we’ve changed and evolved and grown, even though we’ve existed in this land a long time. Kind of there’s some relationship there, in an odd kind of way. I would love to convey that somehow. I don’t think I’m there yet. I know one of your questions was, “What’s keeping you painting and digging and that’s it - that’s that special ‘it’ factor that I’m digging for.
TBird: You just talked about the passing of time and we’d talked about the fact that your work captures moments on the landscape with really dramatic plays of light that creates striking emotional imagery. With those dramatic plays of light, those are passages of time, either the morning or the evening light - or your paintings of the moments right after a snow fall. It just hit me that one of the most dramatic things about your work is that they’re all moments in time; they’re not moments where I could go out to that same scene at any time of day and see what you’ve captured; I’ve missed that moment. Is that something you’re thinking about as you’re creating - is there a rush to it - or is that part of that ‘magic’ we talked about?
L: That’s a good question. I think it’s actually a combination of both because there is magic to a moment in time, when you really think about it. When you slow down and you set up the easel and think like, “let me paint that slowly melting snow” or “let me paint the side of this wash that is eroded and is different this year than it was last year at this same time.” So, just kind of being in that moment, but also the even smaller moments like you said, the moving sun and clouds, which are moving at a much faster rate, kind of those things colliding. You’ve got to get it down `cause the light’s moving fast, the clouds are moving, the snow is disappearing or it’s coming in or the ice is melting, so there’s a time factor. I do a lot of plein air, so that’s why I’m bringing that up. That’s a big, important part of the process is to get out there and stand on-sight and feel the elements and kind of immerse yourself in it and put that down with the best of your ability and try to keep that ‘it’ factor - that magic. Still working at it!
Stay tuned for part 2 of our 3-part interview!
Click Here to view more of Lorenzo Chavez's artwork in Thunderbird Gallery.
Lorenzo is also one of the instructors for Maynard Dixon Country Workshops 2016. Click Here for information on his and our other workshops.