The Southwest Contemporary team visits Roswell to do studio visits with the residents of the renowned and generous Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program.
ROSWELL, NM—“Don loved towers,” smiled Larry Bob Phillips, the director (and a former resident) of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program, when I inquired about the purpose of the lookout tower above the common area. I mounted the stairs to take a look. It was sweltering up there, but as I stepped out onto a small patio, I breathed in the fresh air and surveyed the grounds, with prairie grasses, alfalfa fields, and the artist residences and studios encircling the tower, bathed in golden light from the setting sun.
Don Anderson also loved art, and was an artist himself (as well as a successful oil man). But rather than jetting to the international art worlds of New York or Los Angeles, Anderson brought international art to Roswell. In 1967, Anderson (who died in 2020) conceived of a program that would bring artists and their families to New Mexico for a year-long, funded, no-strings-attached residency, what he called a “gift of time.”
Each artist is afforded a studio attached to a three-bedroom house, access to a ceramics studio, woodshop, and print studio, and plenty of peace and quiet away from the hustle of big-city art scenes. A family-friendly affair since its inception, the Roswell residency is known for its generous accommodations for partners and kids, a rare offering for most artist residencies.
Once you’ve been accepted into the RAiR community, the perks continue even after the conclusion of your residency year. Former residents are invited to live in the affordable housing/studios located on the old residency campus. “The ‘old’ compound allows RAiR to basically double its cultural footprint in Roswell and is a ready-made community for new residents,” says Phillips. These artists are welcome to use the shared studios at any time—Manuel Alejandro Rodríguez-Delgado was working in the woodshop when we visited.
Given the many benefits, the length of the program, and its long history of supporting artists, the RAiR program is one of the most esteemed residencies in the United States, and one of the most competitive. “There’s been a kind of feedback loop with an easier application, the pandemic, increased social media presence, and higher profile artists; we’ve seen a dramatic increase in applications,” says Phillips. In the last two years, RAiR has received more than 600 applicants, from which six artists will be accepted.
Part of a tour of southern New Mexico art spaces in early October, the SWC team came out to Roswell to do studio visits with the residents. We first met with Shanghai-born sculptor Wen Liu, who came to Roswell from Chicago. She was busy producing work for her upcoming exhibition at the Roswell Museum—a solo exhibition opportunity offered to all residents. Found objects gathered from estate sales, dripping with the emotional residue of their previous owners, form the basis for much of Liu’s work, along with ceramics, a solitary, attention-focused practice she first undertook during the pandemic. Little cups of Chinese herbs were laid out on one of the tables—Liu incorporates the herbs in her sculptures, in clay and in transparent resin. While in residence, Liu has experimented with molds in her work, the products of which will be on display in her exhibition.
Liu led us across the compound to Nima Nabavi’s studio. Nabavi, who is from Dubai, had just returned from an international trip, but unrolled for us the massive drawing that has occupied his time at the residency over the past several months. Nabavi wanted to use his time at the residency to experiment with taking his drawing practice to its largest scale yet. Taking up most of the floor of the studio, the work is an intricate geometric meditation that is mesmerizing to look at, drawing the viewer deeper and deeper into its many layers.
Nabavi delivered us to Victor Yañez-Lazcano, who had just arrived at the residency from Wisconsin about two weeks prior. On the wall, he had arranged some of his photographic work, a map of the United States with his road travels marked like a web across the country, and a moving blanket—an object marked by stress and labor that figures prominently in his work—hung across a corner of the room. There was a heap of moving blankets on the desk and stacked on the chair. Yañez-Lazcano looks to objects and actions as ways to make visible the invisible, chronicling his own family’s history dating back to his grandfather’s arrival to the U.S. as a Mexican migrant worker.
Finally, we visited the studio of Nicholas Moenich, a painter from New York who had traveled to Roswell with his wife Lauren Clay. Clay is the official residency grantee, but as the residency goes out of its way to welcome families, they also provide studio space to spouses of residents. Moenich’s style is influenced by punk and metal aesthetics, with each canvas rendered in monochrome—a sinuous viper the main motif. Since arriving in Roswell, Moenich has begun experimenting with his palette, expanding from primarily black and white to other hues.
Lauren Clay’s work is currently on view in the exhibition Phantom Stair at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, an impressive 50,000 square-foot museum with twelve galleries and a fascinating collection of historic, regional, modern, and contemporary art, which we visited the next day. In Clay’s exhibition, hand-painted, symmetrical relief sculptures line walls separated by striking, sheer curtains printed with images of stairways and other architectural elements, rendered with the artist’s signature marbled aesthetic. Gauzy and dreamlike, Clay’s work evidences an obsession with Giorgio de Chirico-like archways and plays with the flattening of space and the emphasis on surface, with a smooth, twilit palette.
That night we were treated to a celebration—Phillips organized a potluck cookout on the residency grounds. Steve Fleming (former RAiR director) and Nancy Fleming (director of the beyond-eclectic Anderson Museum, which collects work made at the Residency) regaled us with stories about the residency and living in Roswell. Rodríguez-Delgado manned the grill, and recent residents Eric J. Garcia and Kate Turner came with their families. With joviality in the air, it was clear that the Roswell residency not only grants a gift of time, but a gift of community as well.