Updated: May 7, 2021
"This painting was done one afternoon in late October in a small village called Arroyo Hondo, north of Taos. The sun was beginning to set, ...with the change in light a shadow was cast, and I started to notice the petroglyphs appear, almost as if they were moving. It made me profoundly thankful for this sacred cultural legacy." Sandra Pérez
The Southwest is a place that is very alive for Sandra Pérez. The spirit of the land and of all the people and cultures that have inhabited it move through her landscapes like the winds whispering through the cottonwoods. Often painting en plein air, as she did for this painting, she moves with nature's time - the sun - as it changes the colors and reveals things heretofore hidden. Yet, as an artist, she knows that she must encapsulate the whole experience in one piece. Here the mountain is shown in full sun, revealing the markings on it. While in the canyon floor, shadows are being cast. The reflections in the water begin to darken; a plant casts a purple shadow of itself on the banks of the stream; and the tops of the grasses catch the sun while the bottoms of the conifers are already in dark shadow. The sky provides a celestial southwestern unity, and just as it is darkest before the dawn, it can be brightest before the sunset. Pérez says that she was very concentrated on the sky while doing this painting, and she indeed achieved a perfect heaven of pure Sleeping Beauty turquoise balanced by a touch of Kingman Blue turquoise in the stream.
One might think that Pérez had spent her whole life among the hills, rocks, canyons, and valleys of the Southwest. While she did grow up among the almond orchards in and around Chico, California, a large part of her adult life was spent in her successful interior design business in Seattle, WA., a profession she took with her when she moved with her husband to Santa Fe, NM. Wanting to be an artist from early childhood, through her studies for a BFA from University of Washington School of Art, she was able to live her dream of combining art and design into a career. Through it all Pérez always also did fine art, winning awards from the New Mexico Masters 2002 Show; recently First Place in juried landscape in the Associated Arts of Ocean Shores Fine Art Show in Washington State; two other awards were received from the Santa Fe Trail International Art Show in Colorado: Best of Category, Pastels and Third Place (overall show), as well as an American Artist Magazine award in Gig Harbor, Washington State. She is also an active member of the Pastel Society of the West Coast and Plein Air Painters of New Mexico.
"There is an artistic vitality to this country, and with my soft pastel palette, I love to capture the vibrant colors of Northern California, Washington State and New Mexico." Sandra Pérez
In Warm Sunset, Pérez captures the absolutely golden environment of a setting sun in autumn. When she speaks of the soft pastel palette, she means her wonderful array of soft pastels from Sennelier in Paris, the very place that made pastels for one of Pérez' art heroes Edgar Degas.
In fact in looking at this Degas, Landscape with Rocks, 1892, there is something in the loose, rather abstract handling of the grasses that has obviously come down to Pérez as seen in how she handles the ground cover in Warm Sunset. Her trees blend into an area of subtle variation, flushed with the rays of the sun as it begins its descent. The tops of the green hills pick up the light yellow of the trees in much the same way as Degas, the master, takes the cadmium orange seen in the foreground grasses of his painting and uses it in the distant rocks. Pérez captures the idea of the descent of the sun with a shaded area that comes at an angle across a stand of trees, some of which have the same warm orange/brown colors seen in the foreground. That line of shadow moves at a diagonal from right to left and has a counterpart diagonal going in the opposite direction, running across the field of grasses. The same movement can be seen in Degas' painting above. Pérez, like all good artists, has incorporated into her knowledge of the medium the wisdom of a great master who came before her.
"As I am painting a landscape, I like to visualize how the mountains, streams and trees evolve to define what is now the beauty and excitement of this colorful land." Sandra Pérez
One thing associated with the Southwest is the aspen tree. The white trunk and branches with shimmering leaves that create a delicate rustle when the winds blow are iconic emblems, as connected to the region as the maple tree is to New England. A grove of them provided a challenge for Pérez. As she says of her process, she likes, "to focus on the subject and give myself time and patience to meditate on the creation, constantly talking to myself." Here in Aspen Vista, Santa Fe, the complexity of this grove of aspens gives the artist the opportunity to work with contrasts, some subtle and some sharp. The golden leaves, once again, are done in a range of yellows, oranges, reds, and browns to give some feeling of depth and variety. The foreground is abstract and that continues through the trees into the background, which has a touch of yellow-green to it. That abstraction continues into the distant trees because what is important is the distinct way the aspen tree trunks are done. They are a white that stands out, and their limbs are bent and twisted for a sculptural effect. It seems that a strong wind is passing through. They wisely bend to its will, for it is obvious this is not the first time they have had to do it. Yet, they do not fall. They stand, and stand out from the rest of the forest with their gold and white beauty, backed by another emblem of the Southwest, a turquoise sky.
It is not every artist who takes on a pile of rocks, though we have seen that Degas found them a worthy subject. Certainly the terrain of New Mexico offers a wide variety of combinations of foliage, trees, and rocks. When I asked the artist what she learns from painting the subjects she paints, she responded, "I continually learn technique, color exploration and composition structure." This painting is a study in tonal composition and awareness of how nature has formed a collage of rocks half buried in the grasses and fallen branches. One can imagine that perhaps this is part of what might have been an old creek bed, since the way the rocks angle down makes them look as though they were placed there by the force of water. Pérez captures the effect of water-wear on the top rock, which has channels that look as if formed by rivulets of water. Again one senses a feeling for the sculpture of the rocks as Pérez shows how they have been weathered by the environment. She says, " I am fascinated by the eroding hills etched by rains, the mountain ranges with colorful rock slides and the furrows carved by the winds on the mesas." Here in this microcosmic piece, she indicates the processes that shape that larger landscape that has become so iconic in our imaginations.
Seasons in the Southwest are not quite the same as elsewhere in the country. On the Pacific Coast there are basically two seasons, wet and dry. In the Southwest technically there are four, but as one can see in this piece of an area near Durango, CO, autumn is still present even in March. The snowy Rocky Mountains make a wonderful deep blue backdrop, against the turquoise of the sky. Winter is still going on up there, but here in the foreground, it is a different story. March should be the beginning of spring. Yet here we have a survivor of the fall. Pérez describes the scene this way, "This was a vast field in Durango where I found these sad, forlorn trees still clad in dry leaves. I tried to embellish their color which was parched and dry looking." The look of these forlorn trees, as she says, is contrasted with the vibrant mountains and a distant line of trees that stand up straight, showing their whitish foliage (blossoms or new buds?). They seem as though they are prepared to march straight across that field to confront these sad trees that don't know their party is over. A little stream of brackish green water seeps past the leftovers of autumn, making one wonder what would happen here once spring actually arrives bringing a full stream of water. It is a painting full of the poetry of the changing seasons and seasons of life in general, where change comes regardless of how hard one hangs on.
Sandra Pérez fell in love with New Mexico after her first visit there in 1985, and in her words, "was so moved by the colors and intense light that I returned frequently to paint the landscape." After her move to Santa Fe, she not only painted, she studied by taking courses from a master pastel artist, Albert Handel, to continue to develop her skills. Pérez always carries soft pastels and a small sketch pad with her for impromptu sketches of scenes she might later develop into paintings. She says what she loves about art is "the challenge and possibility to create an image and the joy is in the process and the resulting product." I think it also allows her a way to express the poetry in her soul.
Here is the artist in her studio, with her works in progress, and wearing a necklace of Sleeping Beauty turquoise beads.
To contact Sandra Perez, email her at
email@example.com or call 505-577-7739
For more stories of art and artists, plus some tips on fine wines, please visit my OfArtandWine.com blog, and see more on Sandra Perez in the post, "Degas Makes Pastel Landscape Dance and Pouilly Fuisse Wine."éeé
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She also has an engaging art history blog that talks of painting and wine on ofartandwine.com
© Marjorie Vernelle 2020