Magic in the Land of Enchantment

Alchemy and art!


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MAGIC AND MYTH are terms that have true meaning but are often misused as examples of unreal energies and fictitious events. From the quotidian legerdemain practiced by stage magician illusionists to the almost constant confusion of myth and lie in ordinary speech and writing, magic and myth have been consistently denigrated by our linear culture.

Despite collective ignorance and misunderstanding, true magic and meaningful myths are vibrantly alive in the art and philosophy of many New Mexican artists. Nick Abdalla, Susan Contreras, Santiago Perez, Emily Trovillion and Erika Wanenmacher are just a handful of the many artists who embrace and celebrate the transformative and healing power of art through its ability to distill the archetypes of the unconscious and capture occult energy. Natural magic and true myths are merely metaphors for natural forces that shape humanity’s experience and help us to connect with the living universal consciousness.

When particle physicists try to explain the adhesive that holds together the subatomic world of matter they use terms like particle affinity and charm. Universal attraction and correspondences between great masses have been named gravity by some scientists, while string theorists describe infinitesimally small vibrating ring shaped strings as the true substance of the subatomic realm and correspondently gigantic galactic super strings.

Alchemists like Isaac Newton and occultists like H. P. Blavatsky searched for correspondences between natural phenomena in the physical world with human perspectives on the spiritual plane. Cultural phenomena like the visual arts often act as bridges between earthbound and spiritual realities.


Abdalla: Desert

Image: © Nick Abdalla
Desert Shiva, mixed media, 42" H
Albuquerque Studio: 505-243-7488


Retired UNM studio arts professor Nick Abdalla explores the connection between art, nature and human perception in his mixed media freeform constructions. While hiking, Abdalla studied nature’s silent language of form that may be the literal and figurative roots of all calligraphy and the structural blueprints of symbolic language. Exposed tree roots, reflections on water, erosion-caused landscape features, stones, plants and rustling leaves become part of a mystical dance of color, raw energy and shape that may be embraced and translated through sculpture. Abdalla came to his current body of work through an epiphany he experienced in Australia. “I was standing in front of a beautiful natural rock face filled with blues, reds, blacks, whites and oranges that made it a work of art on its own. On its surface were layer upon layer of pictographs that were meant to teach, communicate and tell stories. What I felt in my body informed me and allowed me to experience being there. Intellectually I knew nothing but my body understood everything,” Abdalla said. This physical revelation ended Abdalla’s career as a picture painter and led him toward constructing triggers for visceral experiences.

(Mr Abdalla had a one-person exibition of this work in April-May 2007 at Artspace 116 remote in Albuquerque.)


Susan Contreras was born in Mexico where art and daily life are inseparable. Her paintings celebrate the transformative power of masks, costumes, rituals and dance within the context of quotidian activities. It’s the juxtaposition of transcendental transfiguration within an ordinary environment that makes mask imagery powerful. “Masks offer an unlimited range of transformative experiences that I re-contextualize into mundane surroundings. Though there’s a real person underneath the mask, they take on the animal or spiritual persona of the mask. The transformation of the individual is where magic comes into play. The world is full of masks that all have different potential personas for the wearer. That’s why I haven’t begun to exhaust masks as a source of inspiration” Contreras said. (See Parks Gallery)

Santiago Perez peruses comic strips, children’s fiction, animated cartoons, art history, museum collections and popular iconography to create magically mysterious paintings. Retirement from a 24 year career in the United States Air Force opened the creative floodgates for Perez. His inspiration comes from fairytales, story lines from pop culture, historical paintings and cues from other artists’ styles that form an amalgamation in his work. “My latest imagery having to do with the shamanic world began when I was painting a lot of queens with their bustled skirts. Out of that skirt shape grew a mound of leaves and out of that mound grew a deer skull with huge antlers. This shamanic image became the spirit of the forest that relates to Norse and other Northern European mythologies including the green man. The green man was left over from the ancient goddess cultures and even found its way into Christian architecture,” Perez said.


Perez: Return

Image: © Santiago Perez
Return of the Yellow Wizard to the
Court of the Crimson King

Courtesy of the artist and Nuart Gallery remote


Trovillion: Waiting

Image: Image: © Emily Trovillion
Waiting for Songbirds, Oil, 25 " x 35"
Courtesy the artist and the Parks Gallery remote

Emily Trovillion examines media icons and photographs of superstars to uncover the human spirit. Her sometimes haunting paintings are in private and public collections including the Minneapolis Art Institute. “Mystics describe much the same things as physicists. My job as an artist is to allude to the ultimate mysteries in order to honor and preserve the beauty and evocation of those mysteries. I paint figures in landscapes to personify some of the power of those feelings I get from the natural world. Expressing beauty and intelligence are my goals, an activity that may ultimately be subversive in our current culture,” Trovillion said.

Erika Wanenmacher is successful in a multitude of media. Her paintings, sculpture, collages and assemblages are exhibited in New York, Linda Durham Contemporary Art in Santa Fe (see #129) and other venues. Wanenmacher’s “Grimoire” installation at SITE Santa Fe in 2001 celebrated the fool from the Tarot and the spell books of witches. “It is sheer arrogance that makes us think that we know more about how things really work that ancient people did. Contemporary physicists are constantly proving what witches knew generations ago. Particle theories, cellular information transfer, intuition, the sixth and seventh senses and a lot of other energies are just now being quantified. We still have a long way to go to understand the correspondences between living matter, our senses and how phenomena come into being,” Wanenmacher said.

The ability to communicate with plants and animals is something lost to us but still plays a strong role in the survival of rain forest native people who know the medicinal qualities of local plants because the plants told them what they’re good for. Spells are just an expression of the power of positive thinking. Abracadabra means say it and make it so.

These New Mexico artists believe as Buffy Saint Marie once sang; “magic is alive, magic is afoot and magic never dies”.


Thanks to Wesley Pulkka, artist, critic and arts writer for New Mexico and national publications.

Originally appeared in The Wingspread Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque – Vol 20

Related Pages

Art Over the Edge article

Rhyme and Reason - Music and Art article

Collector’s Resources


Gallerie Imaginarium rem 301D Central Ave NW |
Weyrich Gallery | 505-883-7410

Santa Fe

Nuart Gallery | 505-988-3888

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