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Weekly Alibi Discovering Common Ground

Three Painters Explore N.M.

By Jeffrey Lee

Painters like Frederick Hammersley, Clinton Adams and Raymond Jonson remind us that art in New Mexico isn't the same thing as New Mexico Art. The Albuquerque Museum's concise retrospective of these three artists' work, Common Ground, celebrates the distinction.

Although their names are closely associated with New Mexico, and their work more beloved here than anywhere else, Hammersley, Adams and Jonson actually apprenticed in urban art centers. The early career of each is represented by images remote from the arid, pastel world of Taos and Santa Fe. But then, New Mexico shows up gradually in their work. Frederick Hammersley, the most austere and hard-edged of the three, is also the least regional. His Part With and Act One, cool abstractions of the '50s and '60s, may reflect a high-altitude purity, or they may not. Clinton Adams is a happier example. His precisionist spaces and bright, geometric compositions are as universal as circle and plane. Yet his sand and sunset tones couldn't have been painted anywhere but New Mexico.

Even more than Hammersley or Adams, Raymond Jonson dwells in New Mexico's landscape. From the cubist-influenced Pueblo Series through the more fluid Carlsbad Cavern Trilogy, both from the '20s, he lays out the modernist project through foothill and mesa. And then in the '40s, he achieved his most characteristic style. Paintings with names like Counterpoise and Synthesis embrace the "pure emotion" of Kandinsky. But they retain the soft palette of earlier canvases--watery blues, shell pinks, O'Keeffe colors. They are regional mutations of an international style; they are desert Kandinskys.

If neither Hammersley, Adams nor Jonson made New Mexico Art, New Mexico is that much richer for the happy circumstance that each made art, in his own way, in New Mexico.

--Jeffrey Lee

Common Ground runs at 2000 Mountain NW through early fall. Call 243-7255.

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