Hispanic Indigenous artists join forces to tell the shared story of New Mexico
The Journal continues the monthly series “From the Studio” with Kathaleen Roberts as she takes a close look at an artist.
For Vicente Telles and Jason Garcia, cultural bridges begin with art.
Opened at the Hózhó Gallery at the Chaco d’Albuquerque Hotel, “Duet” reveals these links between the two in a new group of altarpieces or devotional paintings.
The Albuquerque-based Telles is known for painting traditional altarpieces, while the Garcia de Santa Clara Pueblo is known for its graphic novel-inspired images on ceramic tiles.
Gallery curator Suzanne Fricke says the exhibit marks the first time in 30 years of working as an art historian that she has seen a collaboration between a Hispanic artist and an Indigenous artist in New Mexico .
Based on the Danza de Matachines, the series captures images of traditional movements performed by sword dancers. Cultural and historical figures including Montezuma and his generals, the abuelas and abuelos (grandmothers and grandfathers) and El Toro, a symbolically slain malevolent figure, lead the march. In Native cultures, he often wears buffalo robes.
Telles carved the frames of the altarpiece, three of which painted Garcia, while Telles painted four.
The results merge their distinctive styles, creating a visual dialogue exploring dance as a battle of good versus evil.
The show marks the couple’s second collaboration. They met at a concert in Santa Fe.
“We just stayed in touch and became friends,” Telles said. (Garcia) “isn’t afraid to let the truth come out.”
The first two joined forces last year at the Hecho a Mano gallery in Santa Fe. But few people have seen the exhibit due to the pandemic closures, Telles said. The curator of the Hózhó gallery, Fricke, asked them to collaborate again.
“I sculpted the planks for the retablo and I made gesso,” Telles said. “(Garcia) did three of the main frames and I did the planks. Then we flipped. It was kind of like pulling apart.
Garcia is known for his tile paintings such as “Tewa Tales of Suspense”, commenting on the Pueblo revolt of 1680 against the Spaniards. He also creates contrasting scenes of pueblo members in traditional costume using cell phones with satellite discs growing above the pueblo.
Los Matachines tells the story of Montezuma, the emperor of the Aztecs, Telles said. Hispanic and Native American cultures have adapted the dances to Santa Clara Pueblo and the Santuario de San Lorenzo in Bernalillo. Dances emerged in the 17th century in Spain.
Telles also carved an interactive corner altarpiece surmounted by three altarpieces with images on both sides. It shows native dancers on one side, Hispanic on the other.
The tablets turn to show Telles’s version of La Malinche, a key figure in the Aztec conquest. Her painting shows a woman in a white lace dress. Garcia’s interpretation of the same figure reveals a woman in full native costume, with headdress and manta. The two figures hold the red cloth of a bullfighter.
“We’re trying to tell the story of New Mexico and show how similar we can be,” Telles said. “It’s a bridge between the idea of this separation.”
Both artists use mineral pigments in their work.
“We love natural pigments,” Telles said with a laugh.
“It’s a celebration of Covid,” Fricke said. “Jason’s palette is very bright, but Vicente’s earthier tones make it grounded. They blend together wonderfully.