Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

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


75 Years Ago – Chicago, Ill.

Taos 2/2019 – It is a long, long journey from wanting to be an artist to actually earning a living in that chosen field. The general impression is a dreamy person in clothes covered with paint picking up a brush every now and then and somehow a beautiful image will magically appear on the canvas.  Being an artist isn’t a choice, it is a vocation – almost like taking religious orders – one has a calling to make art from childhood.  At least that is the way it was for me.   Guardian angels, school teachers, the dear old man who gifted me with his battered wooden box of oil paints and brushes at the age of eight, Jan Herring’s encouragement, all led me to my life’s work.  The strangest and most amazing outcome of being a single mother of three small children was my determination to provide their needs by supplementing my income with the sales from my work.  Learn fast, work fast – every day in every way try to get better – improve.  I had three little reasons to work hard. Never stop painting – just DO IT!

My large trunk is full of loose papers, books and magazines relating to my “brilliant career”.  It definitely was an active life.  Sorting the pages in separate boxes – 1970, 1980 and 1990 – almost makes my heart stop.  The word to best describe these years would be “striving”.  Not totally comfortable revealing a good portion of my life in those years.  What started out as my way of survival – provide for the children, pay my bills – morphed into a beautiful obsession.   I was lured by the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – recognition. What I know now from sorting all these memories is that the minute I got close to the “prize”, I turned my back on the buzz and retreated to a quiet corner of my studio to just make art.   Painting just for the sake of painting – if you paint it “they” will come.  The Law of Attraction….

So much to learn.  It would be years before I felt some measure of comfort in all of the newness.  Only after I made that first move to Truchas ten years later did I find my comfort – a true sense of place, a passionate attachment to the land.  In the meantime I got caught up in the striving – so far from what I thought my ideal art life should be.  It was not simple.  So many lessons.

What does it take to make art?  Learning this takes a lifetime – I am still open to new thoughts and experiments as I near my eightieth birthday…it never ends!  One must always stay open to change, inspiration, new ideas.

In the meantime I needed to recognize the steep learning curve from wanting to be a painter to making real art.  Painting is a craft!  Underneath all my finished paintings were lessons learned.  This process is pragmatic and basic.  Deciding what to paint – what I call “Heart Work” takes another lifetime – it is a growth process, always shifting and evolving.  I needed to train my eyes to SEE!  My North Star was always the intimacy of Andrew Wyeth’s work and his attachment to his home – they are Love paintings.  I wanted to be able to do that  – to paint what made my heart leap – to paint my love for this place.  I haven’t always succeeded, but once in a while I really hit the mark!  Each time that happened I was eager to face that new blank canvas….

1969/1972 – The Santa Fe Art Community – like herding cats. Serious artists prefer to work alone.   With my children and my job at the law office, all my spare time was spent painting or trying to sell paintings.  There were “leaders” who tried to get a group together – strength in numbers – they deserve great admiration for their efforts.  I was a total beginner in New Mexico, being a single mother, learning to make art.  Wherever there was an opening to show my work, I took it.  Since there were only two art galleries in town, group shows, bank shows, art auctions were really the only venues to show work for us “lesser” folk.  The competition and the backbiting was fierce.  My saving grace was the Albuquerque Arts & Crafts exhibit.  My little Hallway Gallery filled in the gap when there were no other sales. It became apparent to me that making art was one thing, Marketing Art was entirely another.  I had to learn to do both at the same time!  Determined….