by Lauren Tresp
THE TRIP TO TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES BEGINS WITH A PERUSAL OF the Rio Bravo Fine Art website. The discovery of Noël Hudson’s exhibition, Ornamental Abstraction, which fell on the town’s second Saturday art walk, is quickly followed by the wrangling up of a willing travel companion and a call to Riverbend Hot Springs to book a quiet, private soak overlooking the Rio Grande.
Truth or Consequences is no idyllic destination. It’s run down; it’s bare bones. The sun-bleached, peeling paint that pervades downtown rings with the city’s emptiness like a long, sighing exhale. However, underneath the fallen-on•hard-times crust is an eccentric hardiness and happenstance charm that is relished by some, lost on others.
Fortunately, my travel companion and I, like so many who find themselves in New Mexico, prefer the gritty crunch of crumbling sidewalks to the click of heels on pavement, and so we are rather undeterred passing by empty storefront after empty storefront. This place does not, cannot, pretend to be anything else. This place wears its heart on its sleeve. For those willing to look under the skin of things, Truth or Consequences offers a special kind of romance involving eccentric charms and gravity. Truth and Consequences sounds more appropriate.
However, in the midst of this economic slump there are distinct, buzzing points of light. Seeking them out necessitates meandering, so we meander. We leave the dusty, coffee-scented shelves of Black Cat Books and Coffee with arms full of used books. At Passion Pie Cafe we order brunch: flaky croissant, fresh fruit, and the show-stopping pear, feta, and walnut waffle sandwich. The Geronimo Springs Museum offers a cobbled-together take on local history (we spend most of our time here looking at the photographs of every graduating class of Hot Springs High since 1939. We contemplate personalities, probable fates, with whom we would have gone to the prom... We soak up healing waters and sunbeams at Riverbend Hot Springs. Overlooking the Rio Grande, this rustic retreat feels like another world. A quick nap on a chaise in sun-speckled shade helps us transition back to life.
Rejuvenated, we head out for the Second Saturday Art Hop. We see small groups join in on the meandering to which we’ve adapted so well, but locate most of the crowd at Rio Bravo Fine Art. The gallery, a sprawling, multilevel space, was founded by the artist Harold Joe Waldrum in 2000. The gallery has been owned and directed by Eduardo Alicea since Waldrum’s death in 2003, and represents a handful of local New Mexico artists. Several gallery artists have work on display throughout the building, including Delmas Howe, Dave Barnett, Joel Smith, and Waldrum himself.
The main first-floor gallery is filled with the colorful, exuberant abstract works of Santa Fe–based artist Noël Hudson. Ranging from collage and acrylics to monoprints and monotypes, Hudson’s works capture an energetic impulse that feels of a piece with—and makes sense in—the milieu of Truth or Consequences. Her paintings, cathartic and frenetic gestures of color, vibrate like exercises in dissipating the muddle of the everyday. They seem to represent a clearing, or transitional experience. In contrast, her collaged squares offer up a sense of order and calm by collecting and holding pattern together with organic papers and handmade prints and paintings.
The artist’s paintings on paper and monotypes reflect an overriding concern for emotion and expressionistic gesture. The prints are identified in series with titles including Refraction, Reflection, and Infusion, suggesting an alchemy involving explorations in spontaneity of gesture and a curiosity about the play of two-dimensional forms.
More compelling is Hudson’s Fragment series of collages. These diminutive squares are comprised of collaged papers and prints, as well as prints and paintings made by the artist. On each floating panel, expressionistic gesture is confronted with and tempered by pattern and fields of color. Each square feels like an experiment with—or meditative contemplation of—the materials at hand. When the artist hits on that alchemical moment (such as in Snowing in Moonlight and Bamboo in Mist) the results are sweet and serene. In some pieces, that moment gets lost in the flurry of process and competing media.
The artist cites influences from disparate times and places, reflecting a wide variety of references that unite along a central conceptual thread. From Japanese printmaking and kimono to medieval Islamic vegetal abstraction and the Nabis school of Post-Impressionist painters, these influences show up in Hudson’s work through a driving concern for pattern, surface, and the powerful confluence of palette, form, and texture.
Emerging from Rio Bravo Fine Art is like leaving an oasis, but we decide to continue our newfound love of meandering, this time in the direction of dinner. Tomorrow is filled with more plans for soaking in hot springs and embracing the unwinding sensation incurred by this quirky place, augmented by Hudson’s world of contemplative ornament. —Lauren Tresp
Noël Hudson, Bamboo in Mist, collage on panel, 6” x 6” [, year?]
APRIL 2015 the magazine | 53