Taos artist member of Artisans’ Co-op

The Pagosa Artisans’ Co-op consists primarily of Pagosa artists with a few who are outside our community. One such artist has come to us from Taos, N.M., and we proudly introduce our new guest artist Ouray Meyers.

Ouray’s roots go deep, not only in his family heritage and traditions, but his art. He was named after a Ute Indian Chief which means “Straight Arrow” or “Pure of Heart”. His art also reflects purity and he talks straight about his life in the arts.

Curiously I wondered how difficult it was for Ouray to make a living, raising a family as an artist. Ouray explained,

“When I was in college in the sixties, I was painting and selling and doing very good. When I decided to move back to Taos to paint, I had to make up my mind that it had to be part business and part art.”

Moving back to Taos in 1973 to paint, and after making $380 the first month, he realized that he had to do something else. So, he taught school for seven years. The third day into the eighth year, he had a heart attack and life changed drastically for Ouray.

He quit teaching and once again began painting. He made more money that year than the school superintendent made. Today he produces approximately 250 paintings in a year and sells them in his signature gallery, Spirit Runner Gallery in Taos.

Meyers’ work was already different from most other Southwestern artists, with his innovative treatment of light — so striking it almost seems three-dimensional and his gold flecks scattered on the canvas enhance the effect. He says it his original style — which he still intends to use often, especially when painting people and faces — and calls it “illuminist,” because it gives the impression of being illuminated from inside.

Ouray’s style has moved from traditional to impressionistic. In fact, Ouray refers to himself as “Ouray Van Gogh.” At first, it almost appears to be an optical illusion because the style is so different than what we’ve come to associate with in Southwestern art. But as you focus in, it becomes clearer and you can plainly see the bold, short, sweeping strokes of Ouray, the Impressionist.

Ouray comments, “My new style is more labor-intensive than my previous style. For example, light has always been a very important element in my work. Before, I was working with big blocks of light. Now I’m doing little strokes of light. My newer works are much more detailed.”

In September of 2005, Meyers was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Taos Arts Festival, only the second such award ever given. But the best recognition of all, Ouray says is when someone connects with one of his paintings.

“Every day that I paint, I learn something. And that knowledge, I think, will always take me to new frontiers.” The Pagosa Artisans’ Co-op is also a new frontier for Ouray’s work. We invite you to drop by and see his work.

Life in the Artist’s Lane

Being “self-taught.” What does that really mean and what are the advantages and the disadvantages?

I asked several artists how they came to the arts.

One artist says, “I’m self-taught. And when you’re self-taught you have less fear of boundaries and rules. To me, that’s what ‘creativity’ is all about. It is a difficult thing to pull off.”

An artist and teacher comments, “Van Gogh is one of the most amazing artists of all time and he was self-taught. Artists who are allowed to go with their own gut have produced amazing art.

“To be trained academically helps people get there faster but they learn more intuitively when they go with their own spirit and not the bias of other people. Some students try to be like their teachers and some teachers will want their students to do it their way. I believe more communication with God will cause an artist to rely on his spirit. I know when I have discovered it on my own it gives me pride and pleasure that I did it.”

Another artist and kindergarten teacher says it this way: “I have observed that a student who is told to be quiet, listen and sit still will not learn as much as the one who participates. The one who is allowed to go off by his self and figure it out will learn slower but will learn more by trying, failing, experimenting and discovering. More creativity will be brought to the child who figures out the problem for himself. Time in exploring, observing and playing will produce better results.”

When I hear someone say that they are self-taught I have the distinct impression that they are saying that they were not under the influence of anyone. They were free to explore their own “art,” the art that is lying in them that is ready to be discovered. But I have found some of this work is lacking basic techniques.

I cannot say that I was nor am a pure thinker. I have relied on many things and people for the development I enjoy today and wonder if I could have gotten there another way? Consequently, I have moved through many styles taught by many teachers and my art has evolved from tight traditional to free impressionistic, from smooth to textures, from pale to bold, legalistic to free. I am sure that my own creativity has been sabotaged at times by depending on teachers who would think for me.

A slew of North Light Art Books line my bookshelves, all of which I have studied concerning design and ideas, dissecting colors and forms. I enjoy reading about what other artists were trying to accomplish or what they needed to say.

Art classes, videos and workshops have shown me tricks of the trade and techniques. Am I the worse for wear? I know that there have been many times I have had to go deep within, refusing someone else’s thinking to listen to the voice of my own voice and dismiss what I had heard and was taught. Those are the times I have been honest with my own heart and probably grown the most in my creativity.

We consider painting a solitary career, but I think of all the excellent artists and teachers who have freely shared their lives and their findings with me. That is why I feel compelled to share with others through writing or teaching or hands-on experiences. I have always made myself available and willing to support whoever is willing to learn. We are indebted to pass it on. We are all a part of the bigger picture.

Everyone is influenced by someone. Hopefully we are giving them space to breathe in their own inspiration. I believe we all want to be good teachers and the best a teacher can do is help others find what is inside of them. We are pulling from something they already possess; we are just giving them words for their song.

Photo courtesy Betty Slade
Taos, N.M. painter Ouray Meyers is currently the guest artist at the Pagosa Artisans’ Co-op. In September of 2005, Meyers was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Taos Arts Festival, only the second such award ever given.