Artist was known for colorful depictions of people, animals
Former Santa Fe resident John Nieto, who became known for vibrant artworks reflecting his Hispanic and American Indian ancestry, died Wednesday at his home in Texas. He was 81.
Connie Axton, whose Ventana Fine Art gallery represented him in Santa Fe, said he died after a protracted struggle with congestive heart failure.
Although he also did bronze sculptures, etchings, lithographs and silk-screen prints, Nieto was perhaps best known for paintings in which his liberal use of primary colors, his distinctive style and his subject matter focusing on people and animals native to North America appealed to collectors throughout the U.S. and abroad.
“In addition to being a great artist, he was also just a nice man,” Axton said Thursday.
Among the institutions that have included his works in their permanent collections are the New Mexico Museum of Art; the Heard Museum in Phoenix; the Denver Art Museum; the National Museum of the Marine Corps. near Washington, D.C.; the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and the Whitney Western Art Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo.
His Buffalo Dancer painting was installed in the Albuquerque International Sunport’s Great Hall in 2002.
Nieto was born in Denver in 1936 to Natalia Venegas Nieto, who was of Mescalero Apache and Hispanic descent, and Simon Nieto, a Las Vegas, N.M., native of Navajo and Hispanic ancestry who retired from a government job after World War II and became a Methodist minister.
He grew up in Roswell before pursuing his education in Texas.
According to one online biography, in 1969, Nieto went on a “vision quest” to Paris, where he became impressed with the Fauvist techniques of vivid color and bold outlines. He did not find his significant subject matter, however, until he returned home to New Mexico.
During his career, Nieto served on a number of advisory boards, including those of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, the American Indian College Fund in New York and the Native American Preparatory School in
In the early 1990s, Nieto also served on the board of trustees of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he received a bachelor’s degree in fine art in 1959 and a distinguished alumni award in 2006.
After participating in an exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Nieto met with President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office and presented him with a painting that hung for the duration of the president’s term in office and now is included Reagan’s presidential library.
Axton said Nieto made his home in Santa Fe in 1980 before moving to a home and studio in Corrales in 1985. He lived in Laguna Beach, Calif., from 1997-98, then came back to the Albuquerque area before finally moving to the Dallas area after a massive stroke in 2002 left him nearly comatose.
He did not resume painting until 2005, though he continued to deal with health problems. A statement by Ventana Fine Art said that after heart surgery, Nieto regained enough physical strength in mid-2017 to begin painting again with a new creative impetus in the cubist style of Pablo Picasso.
John Nieto, Self-Portrait. Courtesy Ventana Fine Art
Nambe, by John Nieto.