The local landscape

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By Birdie Jaworski

Take away the sun, and Douglas Avenue becomes small-town Broadway, becomes a mosaic of textured cement and palm-smudged glass, the Salvation Army thrift store an all-night diner offering plastic fruit on chipped wood table. Streetlights become perfect eight-pointed stars in photographer Sean Weaver’s time-lapsed meditation on Las Vegas at night. Reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s famous painting, “Nighthawks,” Weaver’s Vegas is jaded, mysterious, a city of daisy-chained facade.

“Being a city boy, I was terrified of small towns,” laughs Weaver, a relative newcomer to Las Vegas. “But there’s this kind of a warmth that only small towns possess. Anyone can go out and take a photo of the New York skyline, Los Angeles, Boston - at night there are all these lights, but in small towns, you don’t have the glamour. I followed the moonlight in this series, and found pieces of the area I didn’t realize existed.”

A street fair in Mora becomes an etheric carnival, complete with ghost-like figures buying tickets under Weaver’s expert eye. Using a Nikon D-3, he spends up to 45 seconds per exposure, capturing the spill of stars over a rural chapel, an echo of train light at the Namy depot.

“One of my mentors first showed me the emotional impact of a photograph is the most important thing,” Weaver muses. “If you think of Vietnam, the average person thinks of one of those iconic vietnam photos. If you think of the Oklahoma City bombing, you think of that photograph of the firefighter and child. I try to capture the emotion of a place in my work.”

Weaver’s photographs are now on exhibit as part of The Local Landscape show at deMARE Fine Art. Featuring four regional artists, the show explores the conversation between artist and San Miguel county landscape in a collection of photographs, watercolors, and paintings.

“We live in an area where many people find inspiration in the natural beauty around us,” explains gallery owner Elizabeth deMare. “There are two things about this place that are extraordinary. We have the natural world, and the weather that transforms it into something new every day. The other thing is the people. We all have a relationship with the landscape around us, and these four artists express their communion with the land in beautiful ways.”

In addition to Weaver, the show features one other man and two women. David Escudero offers several natural landscapes depicting the canyonlands surrounding Las Vegas. His large oil painting, “Canyon de Agua,” stands as the signature piece for the show. Pinon-capped mesas hug a lonesome horizon, each of them dotted with three-dimensional twists of multi-colored paint, the foreground a rich, earthy, inviting stew of gentle foliage.

Sylvia Ortega began honing her artistic skills as a young artist over 60 years ago, while growing up in the small Pecos River village of Dilia. Now a resident of Gualalupita, Ortega paints soft landscapes in the delicate colors of northern New Mexico. In “Church in Madrid,” scintillating dark clouds float over a vivid white church.

“I started when I was a small girl growing up,” says Ortega. “I started with Crayolas. My cousins would give me broken up Crayolas, and I would use them. And then I did some watercolors, and when I was in high school I started with oils. I took many classes at Highlands. I’ve always liked to paint and draw. I paint with a group. Sometimes we travel out and paint on location, but most of the time we take photographs and work from those at home.”

Marlene Svenneby began her artistic interests fifteen years ago with charcoal and pastels. She tried acrylics, was still not satisfied, and then discovered a deep love for watercolors. Her work has been collected and shown in many states as well as five countries. “Morning Prayer,” which has won several awards, depicts a window facing east, its two panes separated by a panel upon which a holy water font in the form of the Virgin and Child hangs, a thin-beaded rosary surrounding them.

“Wherever I look is my inspiration,” Svenneby says. “I try to keep my camera with me in case something strikes me. I take pictures and I use the pictures to paint from. It all depends on the lighting. A good thing to paint - it strikes you, the way the sun goes through the leaves, the way the colors change, and you’ve got to paint it. My home is my favorite spot. We have 10 acres on the Tecolote river. I love walking around the land. There’s so much here. It is just the most beautiful area I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing like it.”

All four artists will attend the Opening Reception this weekend during the Second Saturday Art Walk. Visitors can view the show and talk with the creators from 7 - 9 p.m. as part of Old Town’s new tradition. The gallery will offer an 18 by 24 inch poster of Escudero’s signature piece for those wanting something affordable to take home.

“This is a great opportunity to meet people you may not otherwise meet,” said deMare. “Sylvia and Marlene live out of town, so this is a good chance for members of the community to come out and support some of our local landscape artists. These are people who look at the landscape around them, their own surroundings, and have deep feelings about it, and translate those feelings so that all of us can enjoy them.”

The Local Landscape at deMARE Fine Art, now through Sept. 11, Tuesdays through Saturday, 10 - 5. Artist’s Reception and Second Saturday Art Walk, Aug. 9, 7 - 9 p.m.