Trees Talk


Todd Chistensen has a new show up at Magpie.

I have known Todd for many years as he is the father to the son of one of my best friends.

Wanda and Rhoda Concha will forever be the two long lost and found again, soul sisters of my heart. The grand daughters of Little Joe Gomez, these women were my angels when I arrived back in Taos after a decade in NYC,  coming back and forth from here, my mind not yet made up.

Because of these women’s intervention in my life, my own children had a blessed childhood, growing up in close proximity to Taos Pueblo and its culture. When Wanda passed on far too young, Rhoda and I found ourselves in midlife, on new paths. But when ties go deep, there is never any real separation and we are forever connected.

Wanda and Todd met when Rhoda was first married to Duane Hopper and the three of them lived at the Big House, where they worked for Duane’s cousin, Dennis. Helping him (and David Hopper), with overseeing the running of the rambling house Mabel Dodge and Tony Luhan had built. 

The early 70’s in Taos was a heyday period of sorts, and much of what we take for granted here now, began then. The influx of Hippies and the influence of the Counter Culture, collided with the tri-cultural community and Art Colony, that had co-existed here for some time, and things were never the same again.

Todd had come to town to work for Ken Price, and his and Wanda’s son Joshua Concha, is truly a product of those times; the confluence of cultures running through his veins, one foot in ancient tradition, another firmly in the here and now. Brilliant, witty and very sussed, Joshua is “family” to me and my kids. Along with all of the other Conchas and their offspring. And despite all outward appearances, it’s evident that Joshua carries a healthy dose of his dad’s creative DNA!

I last visited with Todd when he came up to see Lenny Foster before he left town. We sat outside the World Cup and talked about Lenny leaving and kids (Todd has two), and other stuff.

So when Georgia told me Todd was having a show at Magpie, I was excited to cover it.  

Although the show is already hanging, the opening and reception for the artist is not until next Saturday, August 17th (coincidently and appropriately, the start of Indian Market.)

I went to see the show the other day. Called Trees Talk, it’s quite powerful in its almost Zen- like simplicity; the trees – some with roots still balled up, others showing, growing deep, some framed by grids of saturated color, and yet others, surrounded by calligraphy of a kind – almost hieroglyphic – impart their knowledge quietly to the viewer, as if to say, “here I am, still standing, after all.”

If this show were a poem, it would be Haiku.

I sent Todd (who happens to be the recently appointed (by our Governor), Director of New Mexico’s Film Office, an email with a few questions. 

1) Congratulations on your new position as Director of the New Mexico Film Office! Can you tell my readers a bit about this, and how it came to pass?

TC) I have been making Art since 1975 when I went to work for Ken Price in Taos, and after a number of stops and lots of odd jobs and art openings I ended up in Venice CA and a guy comes by and instead of buying a painting he offered me a job and I did that as a Location Professional for 23 years and continued to make Art.  it also gave me the opportunity to move back to New Mexico – Santa Fe in 2006. 

 I had done ‘Off the Map’ in Taos in 2002 and started to make a plan to move back to where I wanted to end up.   So in 2018 after finishing the Coen Bros movie ‘ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ I felt I might be done with that career and put my name in to be the NM Film Director. 

The Governor appointed me in late May and I have been on a learning curve ever since.  I bring to that work the experience of my creative life and my film life and they intersect.  I hope to lead the NMFO into a positive and growth period for the films, crews and residents of NM.

2) You have a new show up at Magpie, called ‘Trees Talk’,  Please tell us about the trees (and what they’ve told you.)

TC) I have had trees in my paintings for a long time but I started concentrating on them through a doodle on my watercolor table and before that I was posting a tree of the day on Instagram and Facebook.  I also bought a 1920 baby quilt from a friend and started painting quilt designs and one day stuck a tree in the middle. Tree’s have always been in my life as a life force – nature’s glory and the wonder of the shapes of trees and branches and leaf formations.   I honor trees with this show and will continue with them as ideas surface.

3) You are no stranger to Taos, though these days you are based in Santa Fe – you have a long and very committed connection here. When did you first arrive in El Norte, and what brought you here?

TC) I came to Taos / Talpa in 1971 out of college to take care of a house that Jim Meeker and Ken Price bought – later the house was purchased by Larry Bell.  I helped and was around for their move to Taos. They were a wonder to me and eventually helped me decide to concentrate on Art and creativity. I showed Larry around,  we went on picnics and I spent a lot of time with Kenny and Happy’s family. 

I remember I showed up at Kenny’s studio one day and said I wanted to be his assistant and wanted only room and board and I would do whatever he needed me to do if I could watch and observe his process. 

In 1972 Josh was born and even though I left Taos, I always came back.  After living in Texas, NYC and LA and now Santa Fe, I have always thought of myself as a Taos Artist because that time – those artists in the early and late 70’s shaped my life to this day.

4) You have been an artist forever, though your life took a detour- and your long standing friendships with other artists in Taos (Larry Bell, Bill Gersh and Kenny Price among them), attest to that – how did the segue into film come about?

TC) When I was asked to help a Location Manager and there was a Union and Insurance and some possible steady money – they were all foreign to me.  

I  did a pilot TV show in 1996 and I liked the process and the creativity I could bring to that discipline.   I also said that if I am going to do this I want to work on movies. Two months later I was working on ‘As Good As It Gets’ and then 30 movies later and plenty of scouting I have hung up that hat.   

I have a gifted life; Josh my oldest son in Taos, is making jewelry and writing poetry,  and Austin my youngest is here in Santa Fe and working on movies as well. I live with Pamela Thompson and our dog Louie in Santa Fe.

5) Anything else you’d like to add?

TC) I look forward to being in Taos and seeing all my friends there at the opening on August 17th.  Tree’s show their scars and continue to grow – they are an inspiration in all their small, medium and large glory. 

Thanks Todd!

Todd Christensen’s show, Trees Talk, officially opens with a Reception for the Artist on Saturday August 17th, from 5-7pm at Magpie in the Overland Ranch Complex.

For more information on the show, please visit the sites linked below.






Photographs of Todd christensen, thanks to the artist. Images of Todd’s Trees, thanks to Magpie.

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