Monday, December 28, 2015

Happy Birthday Hugh Mesibov!


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On December 29, 2015, Hugh Mesibov turns 99. 
 

Hugh Mesibov in the Gallery May 1, 2010, with the monumental Siege of Leningrad, 1943.
  
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From 1937 to 1941 Mesibov worked on the painting, mural, and printmaking sections of the Philadelphia Works Progress Administration. In 1941 Mesibov made the mural Steel Industry, for the Post Office, Hubbard, Ohio, under the US Treasury Department. While on the printmaking division of the WPA he was instrumental in developing the carborundum mezzotint technique (with Michael J. Gallagher and Dox Thrash), and the subsequent innovation of color carborundum printmaking. His drypoint, Pieta, 1937, was shown at the New York World's Fair, 1939. Mesibov's work from this period reflects social issues of the day and is drawn in a lively and bold style influenced by the modernist works he knew from the Barnes. In 1940 he had his first one-man show, at the Carlin Gallery, Philadelphia. 

The Wartime Shipyard, Surrealist Works of 1942/45, Paintings and Drawings, was on view at the Gallery May 1 – 22, 2010. During World War II Mesibov was a First Class Ship Fitter at the historic William Cramp & Son Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia. That day-to-day experience, combined with horrific wartime news, resulted in a body surrealist works depicting dangerous post-industrial wastelands. A work by Mesibov from this period was included in Surrealism USA, at the National Academy of Design Museum, NY, 2005.

In 2008 work by Mesibov was included in the landmark exhibition, The American Scene, at the British Museum. In 2012 it was shown in America @ Work, at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, Connecticut College, New London, and this past summer, 2015, in WPA*Jobs, at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking, Norwalk, Connecticut.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

MIAMI REPORT


Finally back in NYC along with the inventory that arrived at the end of the week. It was nice to be away but it’s nice to be home too. And this time coming back to Cirkers really did feel like coming home. 

In Florida at the INK Miami Art Fair, 2015, we made groupings for the Urban/Industrial Scene (Peggy Bacon, Lou Barlow, Isabel Bishop, Alexander Brook, Michael J. Gallagher, Gwyneth Leech, and Angelo Pinto), American Modernism (Will Barnet, William Baziotes, Axel Horn, Louis Lozowick, Alice Trumbull Mason, Jackson Pollock, and Anne Ryan), and an Atelier 17 wall (Howard Daum, Dorothy Dehner, Peter Grippe, and Franz Kline). Somehow I think Grippe’s work managed to find a way onto every wall.


We were especially pleased to have a Baziotes gouache next to the Pollock Mexican Bandits holiday card. Old pals and painting collaborators together again in our booth – we were THAT pleased! And both works are from the late 1930s, exactly then they and Gerome Kamrowsky are becoming friends and planning a painting together. Above is a shot of that part of the wall with, clockwise from the far left, Baziotes, Charles Burchfield, Barnet, Lozowick and Pollock.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

National Miners' Day

Turns out today was not only the last day of INK Miami, but also National Miners' Day.


Michael J. Gallagher, Sunday Evening, 1937



Saturday, December 5, 2015

INK Miami Art Fair, 2015


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Room 156 at the Suites of Dorchester, 1850 Collins Avenue at 19th Street.

Howard Daum, Combat, 1947
We are exhibiting at INK Miami. There are groupings for the Urban/Industrial Scene (Peggy Bacon, Lou Barlow, Isabel Bishop, Alexander Brook, Michael J. Gallagher, Gwyneth Leech, and Angelo Pinto), American Modernism (Will Barnet, William Baziotes, Axel Horn, Louis Lozowick, Alice Trumbull Mason, Jackson Pollock, and Anne Ryan), and an Atelier 17 wall (Howard Daum, Dorothy Dehner, Peter Grippe, and Franz Kline).

INK Miami Ballloon

Thursday, November 19, 2015

LYND WARD Exhibition



Illustrated by LYND WARD

An exhibition of books, jackets, and magazines, conceived by and/or illustrated by Ward, from the collection of Robert Dance. 
Now on view at The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, NYC.

Below is a drawing for the dust jacket of Hunky Johnny, 1945, from the Estate of the Artist.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

PARIS, November, 2015

Our thoughts are with Paris.



Alfred Bendiner (1899-1964), Kiosk, about 1950, lithograph, 7 x 6 inches

Saturday, November 7, 2015

New York PRINT FAIR

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Saturday, November 7 (Noon to 8) and Sunday, November 8 (Noon to 6.) 

This year we will celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the signing of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) into law in 1935 as well as the founding of the New York Atelier 17 in 1940. We hope to see you at the Park Avenue Armory between 66th and 67th Streets. Booth 116 -- that's the north-east corner of the room -- go to the far left aisle and walk towards the back, to the Lexington Avenue side of the building.


We were in a bit of a rush setting up, and I still haven't shot the whole booth, but this is a view of the East Wall (Lexington Avenue Side) showing, at the left, the two states and final version of the Howard Daum's Combat, 1947. It is a perfect storm of Guernica tribute, Hans Hofmann inspiration, Indian Space composition, and Atelier 17 technique, combined with Daum's relationship with Stanley William Hayter, Picasso's friend and printer.




Saturday, October 24, 2015

ART FOR EVERY HOME

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 This week I received the brand-new publication Art for Every Home, Associated American Artists, 1934-2000. Hats off to Elizabeth G. Seaton, Jane Myers, and Gail Windisch, who stuck with this project and saw it to completion. Special congratulations to Windisch. She catalogued the nearly 3000 AAA editions. 



Until now the world has had only the list compiled by Meg Dunwoody Hausberg in, well, after the Selectric typewriter but years and years before the personal computer. That precious document has saved me many times. But now, NOW the book has a complete checklist of the AAA prints as well as instructions for downloading the FREE complete catalogue. The book is beautifully designed with tons of illustrations including two shots of Meg’s and my ol’ boss Sylvan Cole.

Eventually there will be lots more about this project, but for now let’s just celebrate and say an enormous thank you to Liz, Jane, and especially Gail who worked on it the longest and initiated the catalogue. It’s a HUGE job well done.

The related exhibition is currently on view at the Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, through January 31, 2016 – still kicking myself for not going to that reception. It will be in NYC in the spring, at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University, from April 19 through July 9, 2016.



#ArtforEveryHome, #AssociatedAmericanArtists, #AAA, #ElizabethSeaton, #JaneMyers, #GailWindisch, #MegDunwoodyHausberg, #MargaretDunwoodyHausberg #SylvanCole.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

BLACK MOUNTAIN

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Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957, runs from October 10 through January 24, 2016, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. 

Josef Albers, Prefatio, 1942

Of course, Josef Albers was a key figure; he taught there from 1933 to 1949. 


Fannie Hillsmith, The House, 1946
Fannie Hillsmith (1911-2007) taught at Black Mountain in 1945 at the invitation of Albers. In 1996 she and I travelled together to Asheville, North Carolina, when their archives honored her with a one-woman show. We visited the college grounds and even though it had been turned into a summer camp she could still see traces of the original layout. 





Peter Grippe, Death of the Heros, 1952








In the summer of 1948 Peter Grippe taught sculpture there; in addition to Albers his colleagues were Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, and Beaumont Newhall. 



Franz Kline (1910-1962) taught there in 1952.
Franz Kline, Bather Drying Her Hair, about 1945

Link to Gallery site:
http://www.susantellergallery.com/cgi/STG_art.pl?artist=btmt

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Appreciating the New Whitney

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--> The new Whitney Museum of American Art’s inaugural exhibition, America Is Hard to See, closed on September 27. It was a great start. Of course, most of my time was spent in two places.

Peggy Bacon, Lloyd Goodrich

On the first floor there was the wonderful room dedicated to the history of the museum, with Peggy Bacon’s Whitney Studio Club drypoint – PERFECT! Bacon knew Lloyd Goodrich, art historian and long-time Whitney curator who became director in 1958.



On the top exhibition floor (mostly the show went chronologically down from the top) there were the protest pieces from the 1930s.  There was entire wall devoted to scenes of lynching including Harry Sternberg’s Southern Holiday, 1935, adjacent to works by Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn. In more serene areas there were works by Joe Jones and Louis Lozowick.  







Harry Sternberg, Detail: Southern Holiday, 1935




Monday, September 7, 2015

HONORING LABOR

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Inspired by Randy Kennedy's wonderful New York Times article on Labor Day subjects in NYC museums, September 5, 2015, we’ve grouped a few favorites by Peggy Bacon, Fred Becker, Bernarda Bryson Shahn, Michael J. Gallagher, Hugo Gellert, Riva Helfond, Axel Horn, Charles Keller, Hugh Mesibov, Betty Waldo Parish, Angelo Pinto, Albert Potter, Ben Shahn, Mary Sinclair, Mitchel Siporin, William E. Smith, Harry Sternberg, and Lynd Ward.

This is the link:
http://www.susantellergallery.com/cgi/STG_art.pl?artist=laborday


Riva Helfond, Curtain Factory, 1937, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches.


Have a wonderful holiday!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Day Trip to FRIDA KAHLO Show at the New York Botanical

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Frida Kahlo: Art • Garden • Life
On view through November 1, 2015

The entrance alone is worth the trip to the New York Botanical Garden. They’ve done a wonderful job of making it welcoming and grand. Right off the bat, the taco truck is just past the entrance alongside the rolling lawns, the grand vistas, and the giant poster for the Frida Kahlo show on the Mertz building.

The Mertz Building with the poster for the Frida Kahlo show.

The Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life, in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, and curated by Adriana Zavala, is remarkable. It’s select but inclusive with her fabulous Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940. Her pet monkey and cat watch over her and look around at the same time – clearly they are not just pets -- they are familiars. Then there is the jungle surround. Used on the poster for the show, it makes it clear that this show is at the Botanical Garden and we better get used to it.

The paintings and drawings are heavy on still life subjects and each has it’s own magic. At once formal and luscious they lead into the more scientific part of the show: Case after case of botanical specimens, illustrations, references, and notes, all concerning the flora used by Kahlo. These speak to the most casual visitors, all manner of gardeners, professional botanists, and the hard-core Kahlo enthusiasts. Following botany are maps and photographs documenting her reverence for Mexico City. We even see her with Rivera in the ancient floating gardens of Xochimilco.


 
Reconstruction of Kahlo and Rivera's Casa Azul
A stroll or tram ride away is the second part of the show, Frida Kahlo: Garden. There, in the Haupt Conservatory, we encounter a re-imaging of Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Case Azul. Originally constructed in the garden of Kahlo’s family home, it is an Aztec-inspired construction built to hold Rivera’s pre-Hispanic collection. Here it’s used for Mexican cacti and succulents in traditional terra cotta pots. Nearby are re-created versions of their “frog fountain” and Kahlo’s desk. All told there are masses of the native species that the couple favored; in addition to the cacti and succulents, there are cock’s comb, dahlias, zinnias, and, giving many visitors an entirely new appreciation of an old standby, marigolds. These are the two-foot tall Mexican natives known as the African Marigolds; the name in Aztec means “twenty flowers.” They are also associated with death and used to decorate graves for All Souls’ Day. Outside at the lily pond a greenhouse wall hosts a pipe organ cactus fence recalling the one at Rivera’s studio in San Angel.
 
Recreation of Diego Rivera's Pipe Organ Cactus Fence
In Kahlo’s endlessly complex and fraught world somehow botanical science is layered with marriages, with Mexican art, social history, and urban life, as well as with racial and medical issues.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

BAZIOTES IN ALLENTOWN -- LAST TWO DAYS !!!

 
LAST TWO DAYS
On view through Tomorrow, Sunday, August 23, 2015

WILLIAM BAZIOTES: SURREALIST WATERCOLORS
Allentown Art Museum
31 North Fifth Street, Allentown, PA

How is it possible? The summer is nearly over and so is the Baziotes show!

The museum notes “Baziotes (1912-1963) was an important contributor to Abstract Expressionism who also upheld the mysterious, dreamlike, and poetic aspects of Surrealism.”

In the Reading Eagle art critic Ron Schira wrote “This impressive exhibition of Baziotes' early work offers insight toward understanding his enigmatic later work; the pieces are painted lightly but the subject matter is dark in a bold, tragicomic irony.”

Figure with Sunlamp, 1936-39






These drawings are early, 1936 to 1939. They are pre-Abstract Expressionism and pre-World War II. It is Surrealism of swimmers menaced by lightening, bulls raising their fists, and struggling pictographs. Sometimes, however, there is a bizarre joie de vivre: sunbathing girls with multiple body parts on city rooftops. The frequent use of gouache adds brightness and intense color.

Greek-American William Baziotes (1912-1963) was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania, where an early mentor was the poet Byron Vazsakas. In 1931 Baziotes saw an exhibition of work by Henri Matisse at the Museum of Modern Art. It was a defining experience and he moved to New York City in 1933. He attended the National Academy of Design and worked with Charles Curran, Ivan Olinsky, Gifford Beal, and Leon Kroll. He graduated in 1936 and then worked on the Works Progress Administration. He was a teacher at the Queens Museum of Art, 1936-38, and an easel painter, 1938-40. 


 
Baziotes around 1940
In 1936 Baziotes met the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico and he showed his work for the first time, at a group show at the Municipal Art Gallery. By 1940 he knew Jimmy Ernst, Gordon Onslow-Ford, Gerome Kamrowski, Andre Masson, Roberta Matta, and Jackson Pollock. Also in 1940 Baziotes exhibited with the surrealists in a group show at the New School.

Baziotes attended Stanley William Hayter’s printmaking studio, Atelier 17, which opened its New York venue in 1940. It was a gathering place for the European ex-patriots and the American modernists; automatism was a frequently used technique and subject of endless discussion. The work Collaborative Painting, an exercise in automatism, made by Baziotes, Gerome Kamrowski, and Jackson Pollock, is dated 1940-41.

In 1941 Baziotes married Ethel Copstein; they lived in Morningside Heights. Also that year Matta introduced Baziotes to Robert Motherwell. In 1942, at the invitation of Masson, Baziotes showed with Motherwell and David Hare in the First Papers of Surrealism show at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion. However, he was gradually drawn to abstraction and eventually became one of The Irascible Eighteen (artists who protested the more traditional views of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Baziotes’ first one-man show was at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in 1944. A show in 1946 at the Kootz Gallery established representation that continued until 1958. In 1948, with David Hare, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko, Baziotes founded the Subjects of the Artist School on East Eighth Street. He taught at the Brooklyn Museum School, the Museum of Modern Art, Hunter College, and New York University.

Creature on Red Ground, 1936-39

In 1962 his work was in the landmark show Ten American Painters at the Sydney Janis Gallery. In the 1965 the Guggenheim Museum held a Memorial Exhibition.

In 2012 the Reading Public Museum held a 100th Anniversary Exhibition, and William Baziotes, A Centennial Exhibition, Drawings of the 1930s, was shown at the Susan Teller Gallery, New York, NY.

#WilliamBaziotes #Baziotes #AllentownArtMuseum #AtownArtMuseum #PeggyGuggenheim #SydneyJanis #Surrealism #Motherwell #Matta #Kamrowsky #Pollock #Pittsburghborn #Pittsburg, #Pittsburghartist #Reading #SubjectsoftheArtistSchool #TheIrascibleEighteen

Saturday, August 15, 2015

MoMA's Jacob Lawrence Show

The Museum of Modern Art did a wonderful job with the Jacob Lawrence One-Way Ticket show. They are presenting the entire 60 panels of The Migration Series, 1940-41 (made when Lawrence was 23). Shown in one room, the tempera drawings on hardboard panels are single-spaced in clockwise order, all in simple wood frames. Clearly modernist in style, they were conceived as a narrative at the very time that the New York art world was moving away from storytelling.

Harry Sternberg, Steel, 1937-38, oil on masonite, 24 x 48 inches
Born in Atlantic City, NJ, and raised in Harlem, New York City, Lawrence (1917-2000) researched his subject with the help of his future wife, the artist Gwendolyn Knight. He went into amazing detail in both the pictures and the captions, using the First World War as his jumping off point. He analyzed the recruitment by agents for factories -- especially steel mills, and the use of railroads for transportation but also source of jobs leading to one of the first Black labor unions -- the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in spite of opposition from the Pullman Company. The travels costs were usually paid by employers to be re-reimbursed from future pay envelopes.

Lawrence drew scenes that referenced lynching and law enforcement, as well as floods and insect infestations that had drastic effects on farming. He noted the North was NOT free of racism, and that women labors and Black professionals such as doctors were along the last to make the transition. He considered the emotional toll of families now in crowded urban conditions and the lonely relatives in small southern towns that they had left behind. Improved childhood education was an important motivation, but the anxiety of the children is nearly palpable. He even discussed, with touching sympathy, the plight of communities emptied of their labor forces. His own parents, from South Carolina and Virginia, were part of this great shift north that really ended only in the 1970s, so this saga was personal. In the hallway leading to the show there’s a timeline showing the increase of African Americans from tens of thousands in the teens to hundreds of thousands over just a few decades. Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, and especially New York City, were the primary beneficiaries.

Lawrence achieved such mastery that while the works form a unified cycle, each individual piece can stand alone. The Migration Series was first shown by Edith Halpert at her Downtown Gallery, NYC, in 1942, and subsequently went on a two-year national tour. The Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection acquired half each. In what must have seemed like a flash, Lawrence’s career was established. In 1944, while in the Coast Guard, he had a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art.

In this show dealing with the “Great Movement North” MoMA included related photographs with several of Arkansas and Tennessee by Ben Shahn, additional works by Lawrence and African-American colleagues, and an extensive collection of publications, largely books of the period with their amazing covers. Music and historical and sociological information enrich the experience as well.

Above is Harry Sternberg’s Steel, 1937-38. It just wasn’t in me to use his Southern Holiday. Even Lawrence wasn’t that literal.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Return to the WILLIAM BAZIOTES SURREALIST WATERCOLORS SHOW IN ALLENTOWN

There are only a few more weeks to see the William Baziotes show at the Allentown Art Museum, so we made a return visit.







Columbia Country Courthouse
Approaching Allentown from the northwest we visited Broomsburg, the Columbia County seat.  An impressive courthouse on Main Street was begun in 1848, has an 1868 addition, and a newer  front building and facade from 1980, designed by A. S. Wagner in classic Romanesque Revival brownstone. To the courthouse’s west there is a wonderful Art Deco building, with the name of The Farmers National Bank still visible. In the nineteenth century Bloomsburg went through iron ore mining and production and textile manufacturing. These industries apparently produced civic-minded citizens who wanted a town they could be proud of, with a fountain, civil war monument, and park-like avenues. The town planning and old houses are fascinating. On Market Street the (probably) biggest of the turn-of-the-century mansions looks down on the town from it’s centered and elevated site. 

Travelling from Bloomsburg to Allentown we went through the Lehigh Tunnel through Blue Mountain. It’s wonderful country with fabulous views of the Pocono Mountains with forests, small towns, and farmland.

William Baziotes, Yellow Bull's Head, 1936-39


                      
                     At the Allentown Art Museum, the William Baziotes Surrealist Watercolors show was as wonderful as ever. Seeing it a second time was revelatory! It was all so fresh and bright. But that made the lightening threating the swimmer more dangerous and the bulls’ heads more ferocious. 

The circus-themed amoebas were outdoing themselves, and the gritty roof tiles under the Sunbather practically sparkled. On view through August 23.

William Baziotes, Two Figures in Trapeze Act, 1936-39



















Doylestown was our next stop. The Michener Art Museum was showing Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection (owned by Pennsylvania State University), on view through October 25. With the exception of Rockwell Kent and Henry Varnum Poor, most of these New Deal Era artists were unknown to me, including a new favorite, Molly Wheeler Wood Pitz. Using categories of Big Steel, The Worker, and King Cole, and including glass blowing and stone quarries, the curator, Kirsten Jensen allowed the grandeur of the subjects to speak for themselves. All the drama of blast furnaces and night-shift mining comes through, along with grim realities of the soot-coated houses and hardly conscious laborers. Definitely my kind of show.  Thank you Bill M.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions


On Thursday, July 16 we visited the Art Institute of Chicago to see Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions. The paintings, drawings, and especially the prints of friends James McNeill Whistler and Theodore Roussel are on view along with letters, menus, copper plates, and Roussel frames. This wide-ranging show also explores their relationships with colleagues Frank Duveneck, Francis Seymour Haden, Paul Cesar Hellue, Mortimer Mempes, Joseph Pennell, and Walter Sickert.

Curators Meg Hausberg and Victoria Sancho Lobis wrote in the on-line catalogue, “We hope that this exhibition will remind those who already admire James McNeill Whistler of his remarkable commitment to the art of printmaking, and at the same time, we aim to inspire new admiration for Theodore Roussel, whose quieter nature and preference for process over product has kept him well in the shadow of his more prolific and flamboyant peer.” It is a remarkable privilege to stand within reach of Whistler’s beautifully inked views of London or Venice and with Roussel’s intimate daily scenes, his progressive states and experiments, or his amazingly complex color compositions.

Link to on-line catalogue:https://publications.artic.edu/whistler/reader/linkedvisions/section/409

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

On the Front Lines

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On the last day we made it to the League’s On the Front Lines: Military Veterans at The Art Students League of New York.  

Julio Girona, Farmer and Soldier, 1940, lithograph

Besides the exhibition itself, curator Jillian Russo included the names of 3751 men and 174 women who served in the military and who either taught or studied at the League.  Julio Girona and Edward Laning are among them. 


Edward Laning, Conte Biancamano, 1949, ink drawing

The SS Conte Biancamano was an Italian ocean liner built in Scotland in 1925. In 1941 she was seized by the US Navy and used for military transport under the name USS Hermitage. In 1947 she was returned to the Italian Line; her last voyage was in 1960.

Friday, July 24, 2015

NEW MEXICO, JULY 2015

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Sunday, July 12, was the last day of #ArtSantaFe2015. We loved being there and had many wonderful visitors. We were especially pleased that works by #WilliamBaziotes, #IsabelBishop, #HowardDaum, #PeterGrippe, #HughMesibov, and #AngeloPinto, (east-coasters all) were noticed and admired. Seated Woman Drawing by #PeggyBacon was one of the hits.

Peggy Bacon, Seated Woman Drawing, 1930
 
Monday, July 13, we drove to the Puye Cliff Dwellings, a National Historic Landmark and ancestral home of todays’ Santa Clara Pueblo Native Americans. The site is run by the Pueblo; the guides are members as well. The mesa is volcanic tuff, a light, easily cut material that was also used to filter water for drinking. The hollowed out cave homes at the side of the steep cliff were used in winter as the stone held the heat of the sun through the night. At the top of the mesa there were window-less homes, one, two, or even three stories, that were entered by climbing a ladder one flight up and then down into the rooms, each about nine by nine feet. These long skinny “town homes” with neighbors on either side were built of the volcanic tuff and occupied by extended families. From about 900 AD to 1580, when there was a severe draught, as many as 1500 people lived there at a time. They communicated with other mesas through runners, but in emergencies used color-coded smoke signals as well. The cliffs were clearly defensive housing. The hand and footholds on the face of the cliff were strategic: life-savers if you knew the correct pattern or route -- a death trap if you didn’t.

Puye Cliff Dwellings

On Tuesday, July 14, we walked two trails at the Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, NM. There are more than 20,000 prehistoric and historic Native American and Hispanic petroglyphs (images carved into rock) and pictographs (images painted onto the rock) in a park with a huge variety of trails. The basalt boulders along Albuquerque’s West Mesa were formed by volcanic eruptions as long as 150,000 years ago. They are dark brown close up but black from a distance; their surfaces range from grainy or pitted to smoothly iridescent. Thanks to a rainy spring and frequent thunderstorms there were green plants among the giant boulders – much more greenery than we expected.