Paint­ing it red in black and white

Pasatiempo - - Art In Review - Robert Nott The New Mex­i­can

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

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