Living Life as Art
By David A. Fryxell
It's hard to pigeonhole Las Cruces artist Ouida Touchón, this issue's cover artist. She resists easy categorization, sliding from one genre to another as easily as her loose, fluid brushstrokes seem to move across the canvas. Here she's capturing New Mexico landscapes in bold swaths of tan, orange and blue, or the lustrous browns and yellows of adobe buildings, like the "Mesilla Doors" series she did with fellow artist Tauna Cole. Next thing you know, she's zooming in for close-ups of figures—a pregnant belly, a foot in a high-heeled shoe—or luxuriating in the blues and greens of a "Desert Garden" series. And don't forget her large, handmade woodblock prints, often details of plants, which have an almost Asian feel.
It's all part of "Living Life as Art," which Touchón has taken as her artistic motto since she was an art student in the 1970s, along with her goal: "Exploring the realm of observation around its edges."
If this seems a bit high-falutin' and artspeaky, the artist herself is anything but. A tall, imposing yet elegant, red-haired presence, Touchón sweeps into her studio with her two standard-sized poodles and a grandly welcoming smile. She explains her move to New Mexico, two years ago, with a touch of self-deprecating humor: "After 13 years, I was tired of Kansas City and the weather. Finally, it hit me like a bolt of lightning: I could leave! I made a list of criteria for a place to move to, and realized I was sunlight-dependent. I liked the proximity to Mexico here, the altitude. I put it all together and this made sense to me."
Despite her lengthy Kansas City tenure, picking up and moving comes easily to Touchón. As of March 1, in fact, she's moving her Cruz Nopal Studio out of a renovated 1860 adobe in Mesilla ("It was not charming when I bought it," she cautions, adding, "I wanted something very, very Mexican.") to a new location at 1175 W. Picacho. The larger, easier-to-find space will accommodate a full printing studio with two presses, open studio tours at various times throughout the year and private mentoring sessions.
Touchón will also be easier to find beginning this month because she'll start exhibiting at the Mesilla Farmers' Market, on the plaza. Starting March 9, she'll be painting en plein air and showing her works on Thursdays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Before her search for sunlight brought her to New Mexico, Touchón earned a BFA in painting at the Kansas City Art Institute and a Master of Arts at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She's also studied in Italy and in Texas, lived in Spain, and earned an undergraduate degree in studio art and art history from the University of California-Long Beach. Between then and now there was a semi-detour into fashion design and various other art careers; she's been painting again in earnest since 1998.
Her artwork keeps her on the move, too. Last summer she spent a month painting cliffs in the Piedra Lumbre (shining stone) area of northern New Mexico, hitting the canvas every morning at 7:30. She recalls, "Renting a small cabin, the dogs and me, with a few clothes, dog toys, and a carload of art supplies, I set to work. I made a 'nest,' put away the phone, and let it happen to me for a month of listening to the ravens, watching the sky, and painting away the mornings, reading through the heat of the day, and carving new images on wood or linoleum in the cool dusk."
Another painting trip took her to the little village of Valencia in Mexico, where she painted this issue's cover. "The church there is wonderful," she says, "but the walls and shadows are what caught my eye."
She explains that notion of "observation and its edges" and her tough-to-categorize range of subject matter: "What is the distance between the observed and the invented, the real and the poetic? There is a space therein that engages my mind and urges my expression through plasticity and mark making. This exploration ties into my ongoing interest in the figure, and the psychological nuances of gesture, posture and pose. Observed humanity; daily life becomes a window to inner life.
"I am passionately involved in the craft of painting," she adds, "retaining translucency no matter the medium, and portraying an emotionally rich world through observational imagery and poetic space."
As for her handprinting, she describes these works as "large and free-spirited images," confessing that they "puzzle" her and "seem to have little to do with my painting voice."
New Mexico State University art historian Stephanie Taylor tries to pull some of the many sides of Touchón's work together, explaining, "Her recent representations of desert botanicals represent a link to her past work, and show how she has remained observant to the natural world around her. Instead of the lush paintbox colors of her former Midwestern garden, however, Touchón finds inspiration in the tenacious breeds that have conquered this less-hospitable Southwestern terrain."
Touchón, notes Taylor, "celebrates the spines and thorns that come with the sun-saturated territory of her newly adopted home, recognizing the new growth that can occur among the challenging beauty of this environment."
The same might be said of the artist herself,
as she finds new ways to "live life as art" in the sunlight-drenched