This Friday, August 3, the Blumenschein Home & Museum will feature a small selection of large works by the late Rory Wagner.
Wagner, who was awarded the 2006 New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, was raised in Florida and made Taos his home three decades before his death. Wagner is best known for his iconic, large-scale, highly detailed portraits of Native Americans.
This exhibition will feature his classical portraiture along with more obscure, darker paintings.
Rory Wagner is remembered for his realistically rendered, figurative work that focused on the West and the people of the region.
It was not surprising that Wagner, who was raised in Florida, chose Taos as the place to hang his proverbial hat. Taos with its Frontier vibe, allowed him to be exactly who he was and to paint life as he saw it.
His early work romanticized the West; one of his favourite subjects being the cowboy, that iconic symbol of Americana, but once Wagner moved here, his intense portraits of Native Americans uncannily captured not only the living Cultural Heritage of the Native Nations, but also the centuries of oppression and the blood memory of genocide in the richly layered paintings he came to be known for.
Essentially a self-taught painter, Rory was initially drawn to the works of the Dutch master of portraiture – Vermeer, but shortly after arriving in Taos Rory happened into the gallery of the acclaimed Navajo artist, RC Gorman. Gorman became his mentor, and remained a life-long friend.
The fact that Wagner was largely a self-taught painter with a photographic memory that aided in capturing the meticulous details in his work, is difficult for many to wrap their heads around, His paintings were created mostly utilising that aforementioned, razor-sharp memory, along with a vivid imagination- often after only a brief encounter with the subject portrayed.
Being a perfectionist often resulted in him destroying a canvas, only to start anew. He was not as prolific as some artists, creating between 6-12 canvases a year, but each “glow with a magical presence that depict his unmistakable style.” Says Rob Nightingale of Wilder Nightingale Fine Arts, who has curated this very special showing of the late artist’s work.
From the mid-80’s onward, his darker depictions of Native Americans replaced the happy-go-lucky Cowboys of his youthful imagination.
Wagner was involved in every aspect of the work he made. He built his own stretchers and stretched each canvas himself. The next phase in his process was the application of titanium white over multiple layers of sanded gesso. The subject was sketched in prior to beginning the painting. He blended the complex skin-tones he achieved,by rubbing pigment onto the prepared ground. (Wagner often joked that he rubbed rather than painted.) To achieve the authenticity of beadwork and feathering Wagner often used tiny double aught brushes. “It takes me hours and hours, day upon day, to complete every one of them”. He once said.
Wagner was married twice, and involved with two incredibly talented women artists in their own right, both of whom continue to live and work in Taos.
I asked Rob Nightingale how he came to be involved with this exhibition of Wagner’s work and he responded with his usual modest humility.
“My involvement with the Taos Historical Museum’s is as a volunteer.” He said.
“She happens to greatly admire his work and an opening for the exhibition was fortunately available and voila !” He explained.
Most of the works in the Rory Wagner show are available for purchase with a percentage going to the Museum.
“Traditional to the Obscure” by Taos Artist, Rory Wagner ( 1950-2010) will be featured in the Museums Gallery with a Reception Friday, August 3 from 5-7pm
The show is open to the public with no charge and runs through Sept 4th.
For more information please visit the site linked below.
All images thanks to Rob Nightingale