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The work of painter Jerry West
"Jerry West" was also a pseudonym used by Andrew E. Svenson.
Jerry Alan West (born May 28, 1938, in Chelyan, West Virginia) is a retired American basketball player who played his entire professional career for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers.
 was once described to me as (I'm paraphrasing) the only dependable visual guide for navigating Santa Fe's uncommon history and collective modern psyche. West's art, which varies in content from detailed New Mexico landscapes in the 1970s to deeply personal and political narratives, is inspired by his own colorful life and dreamscapes and also by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carl Jung, and Francisco Goya -- whose imagery has influenced West throughout his life.

This weekend, the Santa Fe Rotary Foundation for the Arts pays tribute to

West during a ceremony on Saturday,

April 17, at St. Francis Auditorium The St. Francis Auditorium is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the Museum of Fine Arts at 107 West Palace Avenue, and is the venue for various cultural and musical organizations, including the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Santa Fe Community Orchestra.  in the

New Mexico Museum of Art The New Mexico Museum of Art (formerly the Museum of Fine Arts), the oldest art museum in the state of New Mexico, is one of four state-run museums in Santa Fe. It is one of eight museums in the state operated by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. , when he receives the foundation's 2010 Distinguished Artist Award. The honor, which has been bestowed upon a local artist each year since 1981 (though no award was given in 1988 or 2007), puts West in the company of other esteemed recipients, including Fremont Ellis (1981), Eliot Porter (1983), Agnes Martin (1999), and Santa Clara Pueblo artist Nora Naranjo Morse (2009). Proceeds from ticket sales to the award

presentation benefit art-education programs

in Santa Fe. Also on Saturday, a 20-year

retrospective of West's work, titled Psychological Landscapes: The Alchemy of Memory, opens at Linda Durham Contemporary Art. The exhibit hangs through May 15.

Last week -- 20 minutes after emancipating a collection of his paintings that had sat dormant for decades in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Bank building on Washington Avenue (they

will now hang in the bank indefinitely) -- West spoke about the award, the retrospective, and his longtime fascination with the people, art, and cultural quirks of Santa Fe.

West, who has lived in New Mexico for more than 70 years, expressed feeling awkward about being the center of so much attention. "I'm not used to this," he said. "It's an honor, of course, but having struggled with so many other deserving artists over the years in this town, you kind of look at it two ways. There's a sense of recognition and maybe a hint that some folks might be a little weary or sick of the slick gallery world, but at the same time it makes an impression that, well, this is it -- a finality." West isn't finished yet, however. Currently assembling 35 years' worth of work for a series of online "books" about his career, he is as eager to keep painting as he is to make some chronological sense of his expansive body of work.

Much of that work is informed by something that many Santa Feans can relate to: "For a long time when I was younger," West said, "I struggled with loving this place while entertaining a strong interest in getting the hell away from it. There was a sense of never being able to figure out how to sever myself from the world I was living in."

That world has much to do with family and where that family dwelled. West's dreams and memories of childhood have become an indelible part of his art. The ghosts of his past, reaching well into adulthood, make for an endless supply of narratives that span the emotional spectrum from nostalgia and whimsy whim·sy also whim·sey  
n. pl. whim·sies also whim·seys
1. An odd or fanciful idea; a whim.

2. A quaint or fanciful quality: stories full of whimsy.
 to dark and unnerving un·nerve  
tr.v. un·nerved, un·nerv·ing, un·nerves
1. To deprive of fortitude, strength, or firmness of purpose.

2. To make nervous or upset.
 meditations on the subconscious. West, who is also an accomplished builder, explained one of his pieces from 2008, in which a large mechanical crane hovers behind St. Francis

Auditorium in the dead of winter, during the construction of the New Mexico History Museum. "I think it's a great metaphorical moment for how Santa Fe's identity has taken shape. The History Museum is gussied gus·sy  
tr.v. gus·sied, gus·sy·ing, gus·sies Slang
To dress or decorate elaborately; adorn or embellish: gussied herself up in sequins and feathers.
 up to look authentically adobe and keeping with the Santa Fe Style, while at the same time a gigantic piece of modern construction equipment looms in the background. It's a visual account of how the old meets the new here, and I play with that kind of imagery a lot."

In a painting from West's ghost series, which resurrects people and events from his past ("an homage to the disappeared," he calls it), a long-gone adobe brick maker is hoisted onto a crane so he can lay authentic adobe along downtown Santa Fe's Pueblo Revival skyline.

In a painting set in the late 1960s, West depicts former Santa Fe City Councilor coun·cil·or also coun·cil·lor  
A member of a council, as one convened to advise a governor. See Usage Note at council.

 Lee Rubenstein gaping into a hole underneath the contentious obelisk-shaped Soldier's Monument on the Plaza. "Rubenstein and others had come across information that, in 1867, a time capsule was buried underneath the obelisk," West said. With the consent of the city council and under the direction of architect John Gaw Meem John Gaw Meem IV (November 17, 1894 – August 4, 1983) was an American architect based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is best known for his instrumental role in the development and popularization of the Pueblo Revival style. , an excavation crew searched for the capsule underneath the monument in 1968. When nothing was found, Meem shut the project down. But Rubenstein was determined to

find the capsule.

"He just decided to dig it up himself," West said, "but Meem convinced Lee and his crew that if anything happened to the plaque that declared the obelisk a National Historic Landmark, the Plaza would lose that national status." Rubenstein gave in to Meem's appeals, but the memory of the incident inspired West to portray what might have been. "As unpopular as his actions proved to be, I was always struck by Lee's unscrupulous spirit," he said. "So in the painting, he persuades a crane operator to lift up the obelisk, and underneath it, he's finally privy to his pot of gold. In the '70s, and still today, that monument is a source of pain and cultural awkwardness for many Santa Feans. It's important, that residue of history and how it is perceived in so many different ways today."

West found the uncertainty of life during the Great Depression and World War II to be both a blessing and a curse. He enjoyed certain aspects of his rural family life, and he considered the economic downturn and unified war effort to be great equalizers among the races and classes of Santa Fe. While he often lamented the isolation that came with country living, his home was never short on interesting visitors. But his family life was hardly a storybook affair. "Almost universally," he said, "families are a potential source of incredible psychic turmoil. There's plenty of opportunity for emotional disruption, even if it's something you can eventually look back on with fondness. Still, while my upbringing wasn't always idyllic, it was colorful, and I was loved."

West's father was an artist who operated primarily outside the mainstream art world. "He was a good and serious painter," West said, "but he wasn't highly assertive when it came to art as an occupation." West's father got some work painting through the Works Progress Administration Works Progress Administration: see Work Projects Administration.  and was employed as a prison guard at an all-male internment facility for Japanese Americans during World War II in a section of Santa Fe now known as Casa Solana. West's mother kept watch over Jerry and his siblings while the world advanced toward the nuclear age. Many memories tied to war and family make their way into West's canvases.

In his haunting large-scale triptych Home Place, two canine beasts emerge from the carcass of a cow in the foreground, while in the background the scenery fades into a calm, snow-covered prairie scene at night. "In one of my dreams," West said, "my brother Archie killed the family cow one night when we were returning home. When you lived in the country, and especially when times were tough, killing the family cow was like killing your mother! And my mother could be stern and angry, and there was a lot of loud reprimand REPRIMAND, punishment. The censure which in some cases a public office pronounces against an offender.
     2. This species of punishment is used by legislative bodies to punish their members or others who have been guilty of some impropriety of conduct towards them.
 from her. In a sense, that dream was a suggestion that maybe that metaphorical mother's voice needed to be silenced."

Examining that dream and how it connected with his childhood and then putting it to canvas led West to respect his parents in a different way. "I have faith in dreams as a means to address psychology," he said. "And painting brings out certain feelings and recollections -- not to be puzzled over, really, but just to get them out there. And, look, we were the West tribe; we didn't talk about this stuff."

In a self-portrait titled Return of the Nuclear Warrior, West, dressed in surreal conquistador conquistador (kŏnkwĭs`tədôr, Span. kōng-kē'stäthôr`), military leader in the Spanish conquest of the New World in the 16th cent.  garb that's half armor and half nuclear missile, rides a horse loaded down with ammunition and animal carcasses, in a pose that is suggestive of suggestive of Decision making adjective Referring to a pattern by LM or imaging, that the interpreter associates with a particular–usually malignant lesion. See Aunt Millie approach, Defensive medicine.  Don Quixote atop Rocinante. In the background, the New Mexico landscape gives way to a billowing bil·low  
1. A large wave or swell of water.

2. A great swell, surge, or undulating mass, as of smoke or sound.

v. bil·lowed, bil·low·ing, bil·lows

 mushroom cloud, while birds flutter in the sky. "So many of my paintings are statements against imperialism," he said. "It's a fundamental human trait for one group to want to push another group around. I wanted to show how ridiculous it can be. The image implies male domination; it's very phallic phallic /phal·lic/ (-ik) pertaining to or resembling a phallus.

1. Of, relating to, or resembling a phallus.

. New Mexico is a wonderful and tumultuous place, but it's not just a romantic thing. In the shadow of Los Alamos, where the mythology of the atomic bomb atomic bomb or A-bomb, weapon deriving its explosive force from the release of atomic energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy nuclei (see nuclear energy). The first atomic bomb was produced at the Los Alamos, N.Mex.  began, real experiences can be had. But this place is a product of the same kind of imperialism that brought on the nuclear age. And you and I are still living in it."


Psychological Landscapes: The Alchemy of Memory,

20-year retrospective of the work of Jerry West

Free public reception 2 p.m. Saturday, April 17; exhibit through May 15

Linda Durham Contemporary Art, 1807 Second St.,

Suite 107, 466-6600

Santa Fe Rotary Foundation for the Arts' 2010

Distinguished Artist Award presentation

4 p.m. Saturday, April 17uditorium, New Mexico Museum

of Art, 107 W. Palace Ave., 476-5072

$35 in advance, $40 at the door, children under

12 no charge; call 982-6256 for advance tickets

Reception for award presentation attendees only

follows at Linda Durham Contemporar
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Title Annotation:Pasatiempo
Publication:The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM)
Date:Apr 16, 2010
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