American Art Collector
CONNECTING TO THE STORY By John O’Hern
The Santa Fe home of Elvis Duran and Alex Carr is filled with artwork that they connect to emotionally.
When Elvis Duran was growing up in Texas, the culture of Mexico was part of life. His family toured Mexico every year and he became familiar with the tradition of Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. On November 1 and 2, families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration. The ancient tradition is a favorite subject for art.
The theme appears in paintings and sculpture throughout Elvis and Alex Carr’s home. “It’s a beautiful tradition,” Elvis remarks. “In the rec room there are paintings by Brandon Maldonado. We were attracted to his paintings not only for the theme, but the way in which he uses cubism.
“We collect in series of works by artists as well as themes. Another theme is portraits of Frida Kahlo,” continues Elvis. “I read the crazy story of her life when I was a kid. She was a strong and determined person and shot from the hip.”
In the couple’s kitchen is a remarkable stretchable paper bust by Felix Semper that expands like an accordion. Made of
10,000 pieces of paper; it was commissioned by Alex for Elvis’ birthday. Next to the bust are three portraits of Frida made from feathers by Daniel Gastaud.
The magic of the collection and its themes carries over to the magical way Alex proposed to Elvis. Born on a Friday the 13th, he chose Friday the 13th for the proposal. Rather than an unlucky day, it was a lucky one. Alex tempted fate by opening an umbrella in the house—a no-no destined to bring bad luck. When the black umbrella opened, white letters read “Elvis Will You Marry Me.”
Elvis is the host of the nationally syndicated Elvis Duran and the Morning Show originating on Z100 in New York. He has been inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Alex has been senior keeper at the State Island Zoo. The couple comes to their Santa Fe, New Mexico, home to relax. Elvis recalls his first “encounter” with art on a family trip to Lake Como, Italy. “One of the huge old villas was a museum. As we walked through, I saw one painting that caught my eye,” he says. “It had a bench in front of it and I sat down. I kept staring at this scene of a Renaissance lady in her bed obviously passing away. A priest was giving last rights. Her husband or lover had his hands on her cheeks with a look that was both adoring and frightened. That look of love caught me. I’d never been moved like that before. I kept filling in the blanks—how fortunate he was to have her in his life. It was the first time I saw art that moved me. Ever since, I find myself taking way too much time looking at art that moves me.”
Prominent among the works in their home are paintings by King Saladeen who is a self-taught artist born in West Philadelphia. Saladeen says, “My inspiration comes from a place so deep within that the only way to express it is through art.” Elvis has interviewed Saladeen on his radio show. “It’s interesting to talk
about visual art on the radio,” he admits. “Saladeen grew up playing basketball and making art. His dad was a great influence encouraging him to do both. He began showing in outdoor shows and eventually his career took off. He worked with some Philadelphia youth organizations encouraging the kids to use whatever was in them to put art on canvas.”
Among the Santa Fe works in the collection are cast glass sculptures by Charlie Miner of Tesuque Glassworks. “We’ve also purchased works from the artists who work with Charlie. It’s been great to watch them grow over time,” Elvis says. They were encouraged to visit Alexandra Eldridge’s studio, which began a friendship and brought a number of paintings into the collection.
“We didn’t set out to be collectors,” he says. “We just kept buying things we liked. I’m attracted by emotion and color—something that wakes me up and makes me happy. When I first started out, I brought things that were bright yellow and bright red. They’re now at our farmhouse in the country.”
They buy from galleries and from the artists as well as at local consignment shops. The collection of Chulucanas pottery from Peru was bought at the wonderland of Jackalope that has been highlighting indigenous art in Santa Fe for more than 40 years.
“On my radio show I talk with musicians about how and why they wrote their songs. That turns the song into something much more special,” he relates. “Getting to meet the artists and hearing about their art makes its worth go up in my heart.”