March 3, 2015
January 6, 2015
January 3, 2010
December 30, 2009
The nexus in a meeting of cultures, adobe churches have dominated the New Mexico landscape for centuries. Eternally present, they’re also eternally remote. “It takes an amazing amount of concentration to pull form out of the adobe,” Raquel Underwood remarks. She brings her early training in life drawing to bear on her subjects, coupling it with a simple, largely earth-toned palette; often a raw sienna recreates the flesh-toned clay of the majestic structures themselves, their fluid, organic curves.
“The sun here obscures as much as it illuminates,” she points out. “I’m fascinated by those sorts of paradoxes: the fact that what's basically mud is used to create a classical European form, the way you’ll always find something that doesn't really belong to a given church, always something very small, a rain gutter, or the fact that every edge of the Chimayó is wrapped in cheap Christmas lights. These are signs of real life, of a structure that has lasted centuries because it is ephemeral, because the community has had to constantly re-mud it. But the most interesting aspect to me is the way so many of these churches record, without words, the confrontation of Spanish with Native American culture.”
That’s what her work is about, something beyond the history-book accounts of the coming of Christianity to New Mexico. “It’s all there in the forms themselves, a history of energy spent on creating structures that symbolize the passion and potential of the human spirit.” An obscure history, not a transparent one. It’s what the old aesthetic philosophers would have called the sublime. “It’s right there in front of us. I just try to record it.”
About the Artist
Raquel Underwood, née Escamilla, grew up in Oregon, Texas and Italy. In high school, she spent her junior year abroad in Tunisia on the North African coast; the French she learned there served her well in college where, double-majoring in French and Philosophy, she spent another year abroad, this time in Brittany in northwest France. Although she had first explored painting in college, upon graduation she initially pursued a career in intercultural relations, served as a personal assistant to a noted anthropologist, and was the arts editor of a Santa Fe magazine. Drawn more and more the arts, she began studying life drawing, painting and sculpture in Santa Fe and then New York, in the MFA program at Pratt Institute and at the Art Students League. Returning to Santa Fe, she continued her studies in various masters-level classes, taking time as she always has to travel with her family and honing her innate skills as an artist and observer. She has recently traveled the state of New Mexico studying the churches that form the subject of her latest series.