Painting it red in black and white
In the classic 1949 MGM musical On the Town, some of the main members of the ensemble sing a spirited homage to the notion of playing all night long, with such double-entendre-laced lyrics as, “There’s a lot of nice things to do in the dark” and “We’re riding on a rocket, we’re going to really sock it!” The town was New York, but the idea of going on the town could fit any city where fun could be found at any time— and in myriad ways.
On the Town: Photographs of Timeless Celebrations and Merriment, an exhibit of roughly 55 photos, gives you the famous and the forgotten celebrating life, love, lust, and liquor. It opens on Friday, Nov. 27, at the Monroe Gallery of Photography. “After the year we’ve all been through, it’s time to have a little fun,” gallery co-owner Sidney Monroe explained of the decision to mount the show. “There’s a lot of different definitions for ‘ on the town.’ It can be as simple as going to a diner or café for a meal or as opulent as Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow dressing up to go to Truman Capote’s ball.”
Too bad the photo of Frank and Mia, a 1966 shot by Harry Benson, makes the pair look as if they’re going on the warpath. Sinatra offers the hint of a weak smile to the cameraman, but his look suggests either that he’s not happy being caught in a silly black mask or that he’s missing Ava Gardner. Farrow is looking down, probably wishing she were on the set of Roman Polanski’s creepy thriller Rosemary’s Baby instead.
Bob Gomel caught a lonely-looking Marilyn Monroe sitting at a dinner table, circa 1961. Balancing out her sorrow is another shot by Gomel of an aged Dr. Benjamin Spock, cigarette in mouth, shown cutting a rug in his (or somebody’s) living room.
But it is the non-celebrities who seem to be having the most fun on the town. Gomel caught a peak moment at a party scene at Aspen’s famed bar the Red Onion on a winter night in 1962. The bartender looks bemused as the mostly male crowd focuses on the antics of a group of sweater-clad ski bunnies who seem to have stumbled out of a Beach Party (or Ski Party, in this case) film to do an impromptu musical number. The venerable Red Onion closed in 2007, but is due to reopen sometime this year, based on recent newspaper reports. So, it may once again be a place to go on the town.
Other hangouts featured in the show were so much a part of their time that they must have closed by now. For instance, what’s the status of Arnold’s Café in Lovelady, Texas, where Guy Gillette photographed some diners contentedly sitting at the counter? “Arnold’s burned down. It’s not there anymore,” said his son Guy Gillette Jr., who lives in nearby Crockett, Texas. “The picture was taken in ’56 and it was a great little place but no more. That’s me in the picture— my brother and I and our grandfather. I’m the older of the two brothers. What we’re having there is just sodas.” (A king-size Coca-Cola cost 6 cents then, according to a placard.) “But the food was good as I recall — real café chicken-fried steak style stuff.”
The most engaging example is The Hopi Maiden (2009), in which a woman in traditional dress and hairstyle stares directly outward, expressionless. A hint of Cubist fracturing in the face, emphasized by the artist’s carving, makes the piece all the more intriguing— not to mention that the woman’s gaze seems to follow you from anywhere in the room.
While most exhibitors in theWinter Showcase are from New Mexico, others are from across the country. Indigenous artists from Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, New York, and British Columbia are scheduled to appear.
Melissa Melero is a Northern Paiute from the Fallon Paiute Shoshone tribe in Nevada, but she currently resides in Santa Fe and is no stranger to Indian Market, having participated in theWinter Showcase since 2006 and in the summer market since 2003. She took first-place honors at Indian Market for mixed-media painting in 2006 and 2008 and won a best-in-division award for abstract painting in 2006.
In 1995, Melero graduated from the Institute for American Indian Arts. A change in classes offered at the school forced her to change her major. “I discovered so many mediums, and I loved them all,” she said. “I took modern dance and theater, but those programs closed down my first year, so I took two-dimensional design. I focused on photography and painting.
“I describe my work as contemporary and abstract. The images I use in my work are my interpretations of symbols used by my tribe, nature, and personal experiences. My newest series, the Sube Series, are works that are inspired by the Paiutes’ use of willow [ sube] and the memories and images that I associate with it. My process is mixed media from many years of experimenting with oils, watercolors, and photography; they all meshed into one media for me.”
One could describe Melero’s working method as artistic multitasking. “Most of the time, I work on about 10 to 15 works at a time,” she said. “I also work on different series at the same time. ... I am also working on a fossil series inspired by my 7-year-old son’s love for anything prehistoric.” Glancing at the artist’s nonobjective paintings, such as Category X, Fire Willow, Tasseega Sube, and Together, one immediately determines that Melero has a thing for warm-or hot-color schemes. “When I visualize my pieces, I see them all in earth-toned colors, and somehow that all changes when I start working. I think I started using an abundance of red when I was working on a series inspired by the controversial use of the term ‘redskin.’ I did some political pieces that required my palette to be bold and angry.”
Angry, naughty, or nice, Melero believes Indian Market has advanced her artistic career and given her the opportunity to meet a number of people she would never have encountered on her own. “It is the only market of its kind where you can meet so many people all interested in the same thing. I love talking art all day; there’s nothing better— besides making it,” she said. “As far as helping my career, it seems that whether I sell out or sell only one item, I would be there regardless, because this is where I have met all the people that have helped me along the way.”
The Red Onion, Aspen, Colorado, 1962 © Bob Gomel
Hullabaloo With Chuck Berry, New York, 1965 © Steve Schapiro