Artist was known for col­or­ful de­pic­tions of peo­ple, an­i­mals

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LOCAL & REGION - By Howard Houghton hhoughton@sfnewmex­i­

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.


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