Saturday, July 18, 2009

Grandma Moses of the American Southwest

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Featured Photographic Artist

Aggie Villanueva, The Grandma Moses of the American Southwest

Aggie, raised her children in Kansas City, and discovered Thomas Hart Benton on a school field trip with her daughter’s class to visit the local Art Museum. She loved his style so much she bought a coffee table book of his work. She never thought about it before, but there was an influence of his style in the smoothness and 3-D visual of her own work, which they shared. Aggie was drawn to this style decades before she became a photographic artist.

Like Frank Lloyed Wright, inspired architects and designers, Aggie found her own mentor in Thomas Hart Benton.


Born April 15, 1889, in Neosho, Missouri. Died January 19, 1975, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Visual Artist
Aggie remarks, I don't photograph the world-famous. Here you won't find photo art from Monument Park, Yosemite, Soquoia and other sites that have been raped of their spirit. In the vast chasms of Southwest beauty I don't spend time shooting scenic routes and tourists parks.
I roam the wonders of my own world of northern New Mexico and the Southwest regions surrounding me. Another photographer simply couldn't find most of the places I shoot. I need my 4X4 to get to the places where my camera and I spend time.
Though there remains hardly a spot on earth unmapped by man, there is still undiscovered territory all around us, especially in the American Southwest -- a place that holds vast, yawning chasms of unplumbed wisdom, alive with it's spirit still speaking, captured by my camera. This is what my photo art depicts. The raw beauty that 99% of humanity will never see with their own eyes.
Who is Aggie?

Rural subjects in the Southwest are very different than elsewhere in the United States. We are the last true American frontier; with a gritty purity born of living close to the land. The American Southwest continually draws awe and interest worldwide.
Beginning in 1996 she lived in rural New Mexico's Madrid/Cerillos area without water, electricity or plumbing, hauling water by hand, the only light was a kerosene lamp, with no phones as cell phones don't work in the "dead zones" she occupies, past and present. Aggie spent those years roaming the mountains, sometimes sleeping on the ground under the vast, crystal expanse of southwestern skies; sometimes in her van.
In 2001 she moved to an even more remote sector with her dogs, into a tiny log cabin in the foothill forests of the San Pedro Wilderness area, getting snowed in most every winter, but now with the luxury of "water pouring right out the wall when you turn the knob!" No more hauling.
Locals say she "paid her dues to the land," but still spends time roaming the majestic mountains of northern New Mexico to know them more intimately. Locals of many generations can't recognize where most of her landscapes were taken, though they are "in their own backyard." It is in Aggie's hope that her photographic art reflects a spiritual intimacy.

The Story Behind the Pictures, as quoted by Aggie, is like reading a short story. I love the way she places you at the scene and what inspired her photograph.

Genesis 24X36
Genesis
When monsoon season collides with icy rain

I was to attend an early September artist’s reception for my friend, Corinna Stoeffl in Abiquiu, NM. I scanned the skies before leaving and was elated to find that monsoon season had once again supplied awesome and outrageous stormy skies filled with icy rains. After one skyward glance I began loading all my photo equipment (to use after the reception) with full intent of the rains drying up for a long-anticipated photo shoot, and headed out to pick up my friend Fatou.

On the way to the reception I pointed out the swirling black clouds and told Fatou that I would stay at the reception for 45 minutes only and needed to leave right at 5:00 to photograph Cerro Pedernal beneath this sky. She laughed because the freezing rain pounded around us with no signs of letting up.

But I was determined, because one hot and lazy day the previous spring I departed my usual errands and treated myself to my favorite adventure; following roads unknown, at least to me. I ended up in the beautiful, sleepy Spanish village of Canones.

The dirt road literally parted for a ridge towering above the camino and providing a broad, open view of the Cerro Pedernal peak, made famous by Georgia O’Keefe. The sun that day was far too bright for a good shoot, but I promised myself to return during monsoon season when the sky creates legends.

But today, Fatuou and I drove past the peak hidden in the downpour, though I stole many glances as I drove. The reception was wonderful, and my friend Corinna’s photos huge and gorgeous. Still, Fatou knew I was serious about my shoot.

At 4:55 she kidded me again about the pouring rain, and I reiterated that it would stop for me to get my photos. I don’t know why I was so determined, especially as we left running through the drenching rains to my truck, then looked at one another in surprise when, as soon as we shut ourselves into the truck, the rain stopped.

We drove to my spot and I was fully prepared to climb that steep ridge with 60 pounds of equipment on my back despite my bum knee. I'd waited for months for conditions to be right and nothing would stop me now.

I circled the ridge and was grateful to find a narrow rutted path barely as wide as my vehicle that took us to the top. Fatou slept while I used all my favorite lenses and snapped Cerro Pedernal from many angles for the next hour and a half in high winds, but not a drop of rain to harm my equipment.

I wasn’t even aware of the passing time. I didn’t stop shooting until the already high winds increased and blew over my tripod, and nearly me. The rains started at that moment sending us home, Fatou well rested and me well satisfied.
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USE Snow Clouds BW 16X20

Snow Cloud
"Get your head out of the clouds!"
That's what people have told me all my life. Usually it was somber, critical, unhappy people (or groups of them) who are angry that someone in their presence has the nerve to be joyful. So naturally I did just the opposite.
I now live where I can keep my head is in the clouds! One fine and stormy early April day, my friend Sue and I set off to go up the mountain for photo ops. In New Mexico everything is photo worthy. Even bad weather is awesome here, so sometimes you'll find me heading out in the worst of it.
I chose Mesa Alta, as I often do when I know the snows have not cleared from the higher roads. Not that Mesa Alta isn’t plenty high. This day we attempted to crest the mountain and loop down the other side into a neighboring village, but were blocked by snow and a fallen tree.
Sue and I were exuberant as we climbed in and out of clouds on our way to the peak. It is exhilarating to be among the clouds, as always, but this day had a special treat for us. Near the crest we drove into another cloud, but this was a first for me for this was a snow cloud.
It was not snowing when we entered it, or when we exited it. I had to just stop in the middle of this snow-engorged cloud and marvel. When I saw the white wisps of the cloud all around us I grabbed my camera (imagine that!).
What you might first think is blurred snowflakes in this picture is in reality wisps of the actual cloud we sat snuggled within. I could barely catch my breath when I realized where we were. There are moments in your life in which you are so engulfed in its surreality, you know you will never forget, nor ever experience the likes again. Those are the moments we live and die for. Why, would we ever want to get our head out of the clouds?
Aggie has an August solo exhibit in the Gulf Shores, Alabama. She doesn’t have the details yet of the local newspaper interview, she will be interviewed the evening before the reception. The radio internet interview, by Shirley W. Mitchell, is one hour and broadcasts to 209 countries and around 2 million listeners.View Aggie's site to follow the exhibit details.
Aggie Villanueva, has been dubbed by artistic peers as
Grandma Moses of the American Southwest

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Aggie, is currently working on publishing a book soon, I am sure it will be filled with lovely photographs. How exciting to follow her creative works.

1 comment:

  1. This site is put together very well. The pictures really stand out!

    <3 Lindsay

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