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D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    May 2008

Driven to Create

Coming off the road after 25 years, artist and bookmobile
driver M. Fred Barraza maps out his creative road ahead.

By Donna Clayton Lawder



Leading the way into the small building that is his Arenas Valley art studio, M. Fred Barraza gestures toward a collection of metal equipment just outside.

Artist Barraza
Barraza with some of his work. (Photos by Donna Clayton Lawder)

"That's my foundry out there. I haven't been using it much lately," he allows, then throws open the door to his painting and printmaking space. "And this is the whole rest of it!" he says with his typically understated smile. "There's a lot in here, and I told you, it's a little chaotic. . . .We were going to enlarge it at one point, but we never did, so it's just really, well, full."

In one section of the split room stands a press where Barraza prints off the etchings and linocut prints for which he is well known. A many-drawered desk holds old plates, as-yet-virgin boards and paper, paper, paper. On the other side of the room, every available surface holds small buckets and trays with collections of pencils, brushes, paints. A test run of a litho print lies on a small tabletop, the pieces of masonite board arranged on the paper. Barraza fiddles with the pieces as with a jigsaw puzzle, demonstrating the series of color runs that bring his prints to life.

An easel in one corner holds a painting in progress — a landscape, like Barraza's painting on the cover of this month's Desert Exposure. His landscape paintings will also be the focus of a show that opens at the JW Art Gallery in Hurley on June 14, with a reception from 2-6 p.m.

"I told Joseph (Wade, artist and gallery owner) to call the show 'Visual Gratification.' It's a lot of landscapes," Barraza says. "For me, that's what it is. I grew up here. I love this landscape. And for me, this is very gratifying; to look upon this landscape in many different ways, from all angles. I love to capture and share the beauty here, all around us."

On another desk lies another masonite board, this one long and narrow, with a second landscape — a wholly different view — also in process. "I always work on two paintings at a time," Barraza explains. "That way, when I get bored with one, I can go work on the other one."

Perhaps a case of Artist ADD? No, Barraza is just used to juggling disciplines, he explains.

"I love all these different mediums — sculpture, prints, paints. Oh, drawing, too," he says, running his finger along the edge of a small bucket of pencils. "I've been asked what if I had to choose just one form of art, what would it be? It's so hard to choose. I guess. . . ," he trails off, his dark eyes fixed on a corner of the room. "No. Well, I don't know. Maybe just sculpture. But then I'd miss painting!" he adds with an explosive little laugh, rolling his eyes.

In a way, life itself has forced Barraza to choose from time to time. His day job — as a driver and the manager for the state's rural mobile library program — put him on the road each week. The job, he says, "took away my big blocks of time. That meant I didn't have the kind of time I needed for sculpture. Same with etching, because that takes a different kind of time — big blocks, you know? That's part of the reason I'm doing prints and painting these days."

Well, that, and because he loves those art forms, too.

Barraza's opening reception at the JW Art Gallery next month will double as a retirement celebration, acknowledging his 25 years of working with the mobile library program. He officially departs from the job June 27.



Back in his house, Barraza leads the way from room to room, giving something of a personal retrospective of his life as an artist. Examples of his work hang on nearly every wall; sculptures rest on tables and shelves, sit on the floor, adorn a corner in the entryway.

"I'm known for a sort of Asian feel to my work," he says, drawing attention to print after print. "I decided early on that I like a lot of lines, and that's become my style. I was in the Marines for four years after high school, and I spent time in Japan. I love Japanese art! And it has influenced me in this way. Even when it's a Southwest scene I'm doing, people comment on how there is an Asian feeling to the work."

Born and raised in Silver City, Barraza did his tour of duty overseas, spent a year working in Arizona, then returned to attend Western New Mexico University. There he took art course after art course, "with maybe two classes in other subjects, like English," he says with a laugh.

"I think eventually Cecil (Howard, WNMU art teacher) just wanted to get me out of there after a while. He said something like, 'I think we must have some kind of degree for you by now,' and so I got a Bachelor of Academic Studies and fine art, a BAS."

Barraza walks past a warm, red-brown wooden sculpture on a side table in the kitchen, gliding his hand over the surface as he passes. "This is one of my wood angels. My mother also has some of these. It's juniper," he says of the material. "Local wood. I just love juniper."

On the kitchen floor sits a large, white, carved stone piece. It's a woman's head, the feel sort of ancient and perhaps Grecian.

"It's volcanic stone," Barraza says. "I got it in the Bear Mountains. Boy, people really hate to go hiking with me, because I'm always finding stuff, heavy stuff like this, and asking them to help me haul it back to my truck!"

He shows where, on the bottom, the darker natural color of the outside of the stone still shows at the sculpture's base. "I think it's nice to leave a piece like that, so people can see what the stone looked like in its natural state before I carved it."

Hanging nearby is a colorful lino-cut print called "Viticulture Harmony," a winery scene with mountains in the background. Barraza explains that it is "a made-up scene," a combination of a pastoral vineyard — a California image — with rows of grapevines leading back to a southwestern mountain range in the distant background. It is hand-colored, with lush clusters of green and purple grapes in the foreground and hanging from a vine near the top of the print, framed by Barraza's trademark intricate multi-lined clouds.



He continues down a long hallway to a room where a variety of prints, drawings and paintings hang. One is a lino-cut print of a small boy reading a book in the woods. The image is all black lines, the leaves above the boy's head and grass beneath him intricate tapestries of feathery lines. Two prints of fish, one representational and the other abstract, hang together on a nearby wall. While most of Barraza's prints are in black and white, a slightly tinted paper providing the only touch of subtle color, the fish prints look like watercolor paintings with pen-and-ink line.



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