BY RICHARD BALTHAZAR
I was drawn to art, so to speak, by my teens, though I never had any training throughout elementary or high school. (We didn’t have middle schools way back when.) The first inspiration was at around sixteen, like in 1958: a winter scene recalling my experience ice-skating with cousins in Wisconsin. It was selected for a collection of young people’s art in Arkansas and may still hang somewhere.
At last, as a senior at Tulane I took a sculpture class in the Newcomb Art School and learned to work in clay. Though I only pulled a C, I felt my work was exceptional and fondly recall a portrait head of a gorgeous sailor, an obese woman like a Neolithic goddess, and a nicely art nouveau transformation of a young man into a tree. Definitely worth at least a B.
When a married graduate student security cop with enormous amounts of time between rounds, I occasionally sketched. Though most were mere doodles, one done under the geometric influence of the lumber yard I guarded is worth showing off:
Also, while married during the first asthmatic summer my over-dosed, delirious mind got lost in a mathematical system that produces graphs of remarkable patterns. I called it ‘grafyx’ and wasted untold hours, if not days, in such doodles. I won’t bore you with any examples of these frivolous design experiments.
After the divorce in 1970 in a surge of creativity, I worked in wire, trying to make three dimensions with a single line. The pieces were elegantly simple, and I thought very expressive. Unfortunately, for the move from Milwaukee I packed them all into a nice cabinet which disappeared during my nomadic confusion. I hope someone recognized their artistic value.
The 70’s saw quick pen sketches of remembered scenes from my past or of real landscapes in DC. But with visits to Santa Fe and the West inspiring me with mountains and light, I attempted colored-pencil landscapes, again just sketches, but some were sweet enough:
While a hermit in a swank New York apartment in the fall of 1980, I started messing with always-soft clay. Using a music stand, I created a bas relief plaque called FATHER AND SON, (which I was working on the night I heard the shots that killed John Lennon). I still can’t believe that I actually used plaster to cast a hard-drying version:
In the mid-80’s, living now in Santa Fe and having just read about the Neolithic civilization of the goddess, I tackled a slab of red sandstone and laboriously carved a bas relief figure of a goddess figurine in half-profile:
In the later 80’s, as part of studying Indian mounds for my first book, I began making line drawings of pre-Columbian artifacts, many of which went into the book. For the whole collection see the Gallery of Artifacts. One of my favorites is a perfectly stunning head from a shell cup found in Oklahoma:
Unsatisfied with simple lines, during the late 80’s I also dabbled in clay, fashioning bas relief plaques of two artifacts, a shell gorget with two ‘falcon-warriors’ apparently counting coup and a repoussée copper plaque of a third with a severed head:
Around the same time, I discovered the Aztec ceremonial calendar and conceived of a deck of cards based on it. Working on a prototype, I needed images of several Aztec deities and proceeded to draw four based on original codex details. To prepare for my second book, in the early 90’s I expanded the collection to 21, as well as 20 day-symbols, all of which can be seen in the Gallery of Gods and Days. My favorite of the first four was Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror:
Once again unsatisfied by merely two dimensions, during the 90’s and well into the new century I turned back to sculpture, making found-object assemblages. (I usually found objects in ancient junk-piles or oddly discarded out in the wild.) Beyond a couple pieces which I stupidly sold without photographing, the rest of my oeuvre can be seen in the Gallery of Sculpture . My very first assemblage I call Bull of the Sun:
Like artists everywhere, I let myself get philosophical and during the 90’s also indulged in guerilla art of a transient sort. I know I’m not alone in this activity, around Santa Fe at least, but I’d find a wild place and stack stones in what I termed an ‘obelith,’ sometimes as many as seven or eight. Most would eventually fall or be knocked down by vandals, animals, wind, or whatever, but some stood for many years. One I brought home to keep:
In this century I’ve held three shows of my sculpture at the Santa Fe Railyard (entitled Opus Uno, Second Showing, and Yardart, and it was there that several of my possible masterpieces sold. I wouldn’t be averse to future offers, but mostly I’m just content if you see and enjoy them. Of course, a sold piece is a piece no longer needing storage. Please feel free to inquire about anything that strikes your fancy.
To publish my novel GYMNOPEDIE in 2006, I tried computer art for its cover. (This publication was withdrawn and after severe revisions was posted on this website as BAT IN A WHIRLWIND.) Untold hours of digital drudgery produced a Grecian-urn image of the title (which is Greek for ‘a dance by naked boys’):
Meanwhile, over the many years I’ve been an avid if unschooled amateur photographer, preferring landscapes, but also looking always for the artistic. Since it’s all in being at the right place at the right time (with a camera), photos are for me a way to capture special moments of personal experience. When I went West, albeit no longer as a young man, I found endless natural beauty to photograph, and you can see some favorite shots in the Gallery of Photography. A splendid captive moment was at dawn by the Great Salt Lake:
I can’t leave the subject of my compulsion to make art without mentioning another medium I’ve used, namely dirt. Okay, and stones too. Combining my interest in Indian mounds with a penchant for sculpture, in my later years as Grandfatherly Used Plant Man I took up a sideline job that I called Landshaping. While specializing in terraces and steps, I also laid a few flagstone patios (playing with them like giant jigsaw puzzles). The reason I mention this is that those new ‘landshapes’ I made for other people’s yards are also legitimate works of earth-art that will probably hang around for a long time.
My next major art project began just after I put up this website. I foolishly thought it would be an easy matter to turn my four-color Aztec deity drawings for my second book back into black and white and make a coloring book. I started posting them serially, completing 20 of them for an informational exhibition entitled YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities that ran for seven venues 2018-2020. Here’s one of the more boggling examples of the icons:
OCELOTL, Lord of the Animals
The icons comprise a free coloring book which is appropriately also called YE GODS! They are accompanied by an illustrated encyclopedia of Aztec deities (including mythology, history, and society) and a treatise on the Aztec Codices, both of which are available for free download.
When shot down by the pandemic in early 2020, I decided to switch tracks and started re-creating pages of the Aztec Calendar from some of the ancient codices. As they are completed, I’m posting them as blogs with quasi-scholarly commentaries and collecting them in a gallery called Tonalamatl. They are also pretty boggling, as shown by this example of the Rain Trecena:
TONALAMATL BORGIA – Rain Trecena with Tlaloc, God of Storms
GALLERY OF ARTIFACTS GALLERY OF GODS AND DAYS GALLERY OF SCULPTURE GALLERY OF PHOTOGRAPHY COLORING BOOK TONALAMATL