Suzanne Betz, Artist
Creativity isn’t about one thing. It is cumulative – always alive, moving — snatched from moments of personal clarity. Taos today isn’t just about its incredible landscapes, its unique architecture, or even the mountain, although they are all part of it. Creativity and Taos are combined in a unique, ongoing chemistry that pre-dates us all and defies description. They just are, and the people who choose to create here are part of that inspiring, ever-changing flow.
Choosing Taos as a base for her life and art in 1993, Betz did so for a variety of reasons, including its reputation as an art colony. “Taos is a place where individuals can be themselves and pursue what that means,” she said. “That’s not necessarily the case in our society – and particularly not in the professional art world.” She tells of the time in her early career when winning an award at the prestigious Easton, MD Art Museum brought raised eyebrows at the bestowal. “They thought I was a man, because I’d used my first initials rather than my full name,” said Betz, “and it became clear at that moment the importance of creating in a place that didn’t limit or judge me because I was a particular type of person — or because I happened to be an artist who was a woman. Taos is that type of freeing place.”
Betz found that Taos granted the “twenty-four hours a day of paying attention” that her process required. Early in the twentieth-century, artists from the East and from Europe came to the area, and the sublime power of the natural beauty made them stay. They formed their own society, and the community grew in such a way as to support and celebrate art. Perhaps those original colony members also felt the spirit of creativity going back through the ages to ancient people. Betz observes how visitors, who haven’t so much as dabbled before, come to Taos and find themselves reaching for a piece a paper and some paint or some rocks and sticks — anything with which to make something.
Always working “from the inside out,” she found that her new home resonated with a feminine, generative energy that was palpable. Painting along a continuum of abstract to figurative, Betz discovered that Taos was uniquely favorable to her artistic aspiration to make visible the invisible.
Since she was a little girl, Betz had been drawing horses, and she promised herself that one day she would have one; but the conditions of her adult life never made it possible. That is until she moved to Taos. Go beyond the main square, and you’ll find a parallel community of horses grazing in pastures between houses or in stables at the outskirts of town. In 1996, the opportunity came in the form of a retired polo pony, Mister, whose arrival afforded an entirely new perspective and a way of life. With acres of nearby BLM land and national forests, a rider has access to miles of trails as well as horse-friendly bushwhacking terrain, and the artist took to these beautiful and diverse wide-open spaces.
Until she journeyed on horseback, Betz had no idea of the extent and breadth of these preserved and untouched lands. High up in the surrounding mountains, there are valleys filled with wildflowers or golden aspens, where one can gaze upon verdant valleys below. The artist remembers how much her beloved horse “loved the ‘lookout experience’ as much as I did as he stood quite still gazing over his domain.” Mister proved to be more than a low-impact form of transportation. Challenging and fulfilling, he taught the artist about herself. In turning to horses as a subject, Betz didn’t portray a specific animal or stallions in a Western landscape. In the black and white paintings for which she is best known, the luminous equine forms embody a life force that evokes a primal connection.
Someone once asked Betz if her horse was white, and they looked confused when she said “no.” She quickly added, “My inner horse is white.” In Taos, the light transforms the most ordinary scene into an almost visionary experience. Combined with the utterly fantastic aspects of the topography, and you can easily feel you’re in touch with another reality. Here Betz can readily access her imagination, or another level of consciousness, for her exploration imagery, techniques, and materials. In recent work, she situates figures involved in enigmatic, open-ended narratives in a color field or ambiguous pictorial space. Without moorings, the viewer enters a dreamscape in which they can bring their own meaning. Just as the artist suggests, “We are all the designers of our own destiny.”
Included in the Harwood Museum’s 2011 exhibition “New Mexorado,” Betz shows locally at Walden Fine Art Gallery. This summer she will be in “Taos Contemporary” at the Center for Visual Art in Denver as well as in a 3-person show at the PACE Center in Parker, Colorado.
Among Betz’s favorite Taos locations you can visit today are Kit Carson Park for a daily walk (around the Kit Carson Cemetery which is very interesting); the UNM Harwood Museum of Art; Trading Post Cafe in Ranchos de Taos; Taos Pueblo on feast days; Lighting of Ledoux Street during December; and World Cup Coffee on Taos Plaza.
To find out more about Suzanne Betz and view her art, go to www.suzannebetzart.com.