Smoke the Moon, which moved from its original Marcy Street location to Canyon Road in March 2022, uplifts emerging artists and cultivates young collectors and artists in Santa Fe.
Smoke the Moon often hangs paintings from previous shows in its back gallery. I walk through the space and pause in front of a piece from Paige Turner-Uribe’s 2021 solo show Southwestern—two clusters of violets against a purple-red background.
The violet’s leaves dominate the small canvas, nearly crowding out the diminutive petals. The scientific purpose of foliage is to draw light, but as I look, I realize how rarely my eyes rest there.
I mention the painting to Smoke the Moon’s co-director, Alison Nitkiewicz.
“Paige finds magic in the mundane, which is one of my favorite aspects of art, and you can see it in the way she works. Paige layers and removes, and layers and removes, so whatever she paints has a luminous quality.”
I ask what inspired the work in Southwestern.
“When Paige’s mother passed away, she was cleaning out the attic and came across a box of photos. Paige’s grandmother had asked her mother to go through the photos, but her mother hadn’t. The box was completely sealed. It missed a whole generation. Many of the photos were from Paige’s grandfather, who was a traveling salesman, and many of the photos took place in New Mexico, so she painted them into the show.”
I wonder what you learn about someone by painting scenes from their photographs—if you begin to notice what they would see in a room, a neighborhood, a stranger’s face… if your perspective shifts in that direction.
The next day, I find more of Turner-Uribe’s paintings on social media. Ι see a neighborhood cat sitting upright with wind-ruffled fur and a fixed expression, a single pearl earring resting in the middle of an open-faced shell, a woman sleeping on an outdoor bench, dressed in all lavender, bending forward, chin to chest, both palms resting gently on the purse in her lap.
Alison and I sit down near a pair of French doors. I ask if she can describe the gallery in a general way.
“Smoke the Moon tries to highlight and uplift the work of emerging artists… the gallery has become a meeting ground for young collectors and artists, not just artists who show work here, but artists who come to the openings.”
Smoke the Moon tries to prioritize the local arts community. In December 2022, it hosted 500 Below, an affordable arts fair, and donated 25 percent of the proceeds to the Food Depot, a Northern New Mexico food bank. Alison hopes anyone who is curious about new ideas in painting and sculpture will feel welcome to come and engage with the gallery.
“A lot of amazing artists live in Santa Fe, but there aren’t many gathering spaces or places to connect with your arts community. The openings and events we have at Smoke the Moon create a space for that.”
At the end of February 2023, Smoke the Moon will return from winter break with Soft, a group show curated by Alison.
“In the past, Smoke the Moon did shows like Planes! Trains! and Automobiles! or Chrysalis and Metamorphosis. Pretty literal prompts. One had pictures of planes, trains, and automobiles and the other had butterflies. Soft is a little more conceptual—it’s a vaguer idea.”
Sean Hudson’s solo show Living Desert is up in the front gallery on the day I visit. Alison and I pass through a small courtyard to talk with him there.
In 2020, Sean moved away from more traditional landscape painting. In his current process, he creates a gradient of color on a block of wood, then sets a piece of paper on top, draws an outline of a desert archetype (such as a canyon or cactus), and carves the drawing into the wood with a router.
I look at Sean’s painting of an ocotillo cactus. The color descends from lavender to pink, from pink to sand, from sand to pale green, from pale green to a burning orange. The piece mirrors the feeling of a sunset in New Mexico, when everything becomes part of the sky.
“I moved to Albuquerque to go to graduate school for studio art. I came from an abstract, conceptual background. I think moving to New Mexico, probably the biggest change was finding my spiritual path in the landscape here, which is why I paint landscapes. If I hadn’t moved to New Mexico, I would never have become a landscape painter.”
I look around the room. Each painting in Living Desert seems to distill the experience within a landscape to a single image or sensation.
“I love the relationship between traditional landscape painting and what I want to portray, which is more spiritual or metaphysical.”
As Sean and I speak, the light moves quietly across the wall, highlighting one painting and then the next.