Joyce Robins Gallery<br /> 201 Galisteo Street, Santa Fe
"Desert is a loose term to indicate land that supports no man," writes Mary Austin, but "whether the land can be bitted and broken to that purpose is not proven."
This insight seems particularly appropriate looking at Mary Silverwood's show at the Joyce Robins Gallery. Silverwood contemplates the desert through three series of pastels: Desert Fragments, Desert Shapes, and my favorite, Desert Greens, which depicts scenes of a golf course near the artist's home, just north of Albuquerque. A golf course in any environment is an ecological nightmare, but in a desert where water is scarce, it is irresponsible. Silverwood, however, doesn't dwell on the idea that a golf course has no business in a desert, but rather she has a field day with the shapes and colors afforded by it.
In the Desert Greens series, the greens cut fine lines across a desertscape before arching into the negative space of a sand trap. The controlled, well-manicured lawns contrast with the wild, raw desert. Yet there remains a quietness about the artwork that doesn't overstate this juxtaposition or force a political reading on the viewer. This may be due to her treatment of light in these compositions-Silverwood's desert is not a harsh desert-and the light plays on the landscape in early morning or early evening hues.
Silverwood's use of color is remarkable. She works on Arches black rag paper, layering it in delicious, bold panels of colors a peacock would envy. "My passion is color," says the 76-year-old artist, "and picking the colors that excite me personally is one of the best privileges of old age." She keeps hundreds of pastels at her fingertips in her studio. "I'm always anxious to experiment with powerful colors," she says, "and for the Desert Greens series, I got to use shades of green that have languished in my pastel box."
Silverwood has an art for finding angles in the terrain to create a balanced composition. And she admits to manipulating the images she captures with her 35mm camera in order to get the look of a composition "just right." How far you can push the landscape to get it to do what you want it to do is an interesting issue. She too manicures the natural world-not to the extremes of a golf course-but to express her joy in color and design.