Why make art? For locals, the reasons are many

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” — Gloria Steinem

On Saturday, March 23, the Sideshow Emporium & Gallery in Dolores hosted an opening “Rural-Gothic: Music, Art & Video.” Featured on the walls were graphic prints by Hardison Collins, photographs by Ole Bye and Dustyn Lyon, dimensional art by Rosie Carter and oils depicting the Hollywood Bar by Lara Branca. A video by Sam Lyons was projected on the wall, along with slides of rural America.

Most of the visual artists are also musicians. The Holy Smokers feature Rosie Carter and Chuck Berry, Kustom Fronts is Hardison Collins’ solo act, and Ole Bye and Lara Branca both perform solo.

The event was jam-packed. It was standing room only inside, and a large huddle of folks milled about on the porch. Even though it seemed like everyone was chatting, a substantial number of people were listening intently to the music, watching the video, misting up with memories triggered by Branca’s oils, and examining the intricate details inside Carter’s frames filled with flying birds, stars, wires and clouds.

On that same night, the Dolores River Brewery had a full house dancing to the Damn Quails’ brand of bluegrassy rock, and the Cortez Chamber of Commerce hosted a speakeasy with a room full of costumed, feathered, suspendered and frilled gamblers.

Over in Durango, Oliver Mtukudzi filled the Fort Lewis Community Concert Hall with his African beats, and a group of Montezuma County musicians – the MoeTones – headed to Utah to play at Frankie D’s in Moab.

A chocolatier put the finishing touches on her tray of hand-dipped morsels for Easter. Hand-made metal vultures hung over Belt Salvage in Cortez.

Earlier that week a muralist asked the town board if she could paint some art on a wall in Dolores, and children drew all over the sidewalk with colored chalk in Cortez. Mancos has been rocking for weeks with the Millwood Follies, the Mancos Hoedown and Mancos Melt activities, and in Farmington, N.M., there are weekly concerts at San Juan College throughout April.

It seems spring has brought out all kinds of artists. Whether they work with scrap metal, gemstones, fiber, movement, paint, or musical instruments, the Four Corners region is alive with creative people. What motivates them? Especially here, far from the so-called centers of art and culture?

Musician Chuck Barry of The Beautiful Loser Society, who had their first local show in over a year on March 30 in Cortez, answered: “It certainly isn’t for the money.” But if it isn’t the quest for the almighty dollar that moves artists to make art, then what is it?

Singer-songwriter Deb Hilton of The Porchlights, a Dolores duo specializing in original acoustic music, said, “It lets me break through walls in my mind I don’t think I otherwise would.”

Silvia Pina, creator of Bootylicious, explained: “I’ve been a dancer and painter all of my life. But, at this very point, dance is my art. When I hear good music, I tap in. I get that inexplicable feeling of connecting to the source. . . .

“From that creativity, anything is possible. It’s that creativity I feel when I dance. When I feel that urge to dance, I express. I rejoice. And, if there are others around me, I wanna rejoice with them. And I wanna spread the love!”

Lara Branca took her loss and turned it into beauty. When she locked the door of the Hollywood Bar in Dolores last August on her way home from a bartending shift, she had no idea she’d never return. The fire that devastated the Hollywood and the Fusion Art Gallery & Studio also took a heavy toll on the lives of the people who worked there.

But Branca was able to find healing through her oil paintings. When asked why she makes art, there is one simple answer: “Because I have to.”

Jaime Nicole Becktel paints bright and bold. The Mancos artist displays her work locally and regionally, participating in group shows. She is also a face painter, frequently seen bringing smiles and color to children’s faces at local fairs and festivals.

Like Branca, Becktel said being an artist isn’t a choice. “Why do I do art? Because I’m compelled. . . . One might say that I get high on doing art. That I have a subtle kind of addiction, socially normalized, like Splenda. I’m okay with that.”

This is not uncommon – to be compelled and to have some kind of desire to share with others. Linda Robinson, a landscape architect and visual artist, explained, “A great product of creative people is the creative products put into the world. Art performances or objects communicate visions and truths and aesthetics (sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, always demonstrating an inherent value about something) to the rest of the society. It adds a dimension to human material culture and to the development of culture as a whole, even pedagogy. Just as science adds, or history adds.”

Most artists believe art is necessary to human culture, and that they are the ones who have been given a vision and a mode of expression. Some artists are inspired by where they live, but others feel they would be an artist no matter where they happen to be.

Art is a lifestyle, an orientation that shows artists how to belong in the world. Most of the local artists said there really wasn’t a moment where they decided to be an artist. Instead, it’s just who they are – an extension of self that they’re willing to share.

“You just hope to be in the zone,” said guitarist Wild Billy Kneebone, “to go deep and feel the connection, no matter who is there or where you are.”

Robinson agreed. “Creating is just how some people are geared to explore reality, to explore possibility, to create a vision, to communicate all those things that come through creating.”

Do yourself a favor this month and get out and see what an artist is up to. You may be educated, inspired, and uplifted. Just what spring is all about!

From April 2013.