Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

How I Came to New Mexico and learned about Art and Life



SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY PART III – SOUL FOOD – For the past two years I have been living in a very comfortable and “workable” little house in Taos.  Only one problem – I am visually starved!  This house is closed in – no views!  I need to see mountains, clouds, sunsets – distance, space….soul food!  On my trip to Truchas with my old friend Geraint about ten days ago, I took about 200 photos – some have been printed out and will be small studies I will work on this winter.   More memories…..

The above painting (Afternoon Visitors) was the scene from my little adobe house – the building in back of the horses is Bill Franke’s Hand Artes Gallery.  One of our neighbors would let his horses run free and they roamed the village eating all the good grass along the road.  This fine group appear in another painting called “Saturday Afternoon Stroll”.  The painting below is the view I had from my front door “Don Gregorio’s Most Beautiful Field”.  Summer, winter, fall, spring – it was a feast for the eyes – a meditation.

There is much talk in the art world these days about “cultural appropriation”.  I had an experience in Zunil, Guatemala which brought this home to me full force.  I was photographing villagers on a feast day from inside our bus.  A young girl in the crowd saw me and stared with such anger and hatred I knew I had trespassed – I had become an Ugly American.  Stunned and ashamed of myself, I put the camera down. I did about eight paintings of market places when I got home.  It no longer felt right to me.  If I was being rigorously honest with myself, I was exploiting another culture for profit.  From that time on I made it a rule to paint what I lived first hand – landscapes, views from my kitchen window in Taos.  My experience with Andrew Wyeth’s retrospective at the Chicago Art Institute came alive.  From that time on my work became very personal….the story of my life in New Mexico.

Truchas is a visual feast for me.  The light is pure, unfiltered. The skies are dramatic and spectacular.
One view can be the source for many paintings – different times of the day – different seasons.Never dull.  Summer storms, rainbows – spectacular clouds – movement – moment to moment change.  A long time ago my friend and mentor, Margaret Jamison, told me that Truchas was my spiritual home….definitely a place of healing for me.
The paintings also reflect my friendships with my neighbors.  Their stories are woven into each painting.  One special memory is the day I was invited to Delfino Fernandez’ house for a cafecita.  Mrs. Fernandez brought out her large photo albums.  I can still see the photo of her ancient mother and father holding a large American flag, standing beside the grave of their son who died in WWII.  Another memory of Susie Romero taking me upstairs in the old church and showing me the long list of Truchas men who fought overseas.  Some memories are small and some profound….never forgotten!