Santa Fe Artist: Denise Williams

Santa Fe artist, what does it mean?  To me, it is an influence that has shaped my art and has brought me up from imitating to creating on canvas.  When I arrived in Santa Fe in 1988, I didn’t understand expression, nor did I realize what it was to translate my soul in art, to bring forth a message in a work whether it was an abstract, figure, sea or landscape.  Honestly, in 1988, I didn’t even realize art could render a message as I was under the impression that art was something outside myself, a skill of composition, color, and light perfected, and nothing more.

Upon arriving in Santa Fe, I came to understand then that I didn’t know what art was, but I knew it was something more than what I was doing.  Seeing Phyllis Kapp in her gallery standing next to her art, I became aware that art was an extension of the artist’s soul.  Thus began my search to truly create, to make a visual display of the love I wish to free from distortion, to raise innocence above torment, much like Gauguin wanted to free love in his works, only different.

Though knowing what I wanted to do and the expression I longed to free from my soul, I had no idea how to do it.  My work was stiff and lifeless while my son’s, who was four years old, rendered work so truthfully, so honestly, that people often mistook his work for mine and mine as his. It was a day when we were working side-by-side painting the masks we had made, that my heart broke.  Although I admired the beauty he created, I could not, at that point, do it myself, and felt I never would despite my effort. 

The realization was so overwhelming, I slumped on the floor with an endless stream of tears forthcoming.  My sweet child stepped down from his ladder and asked me why I was crying.   I explained to him that I was so in love with the way he painted that I could not express the joy that came into my soul at his lovely creations, and if the closest I ever came to art was knowing that he was of me and making these beautiful masks, then I would live in that joy for all my days, but how my heart wept that I wasn’t able to do it myself. 

He stood there, in all his age, pondering me for a moment, when he purposely climbed back up on his stepladder and gently told me to come here.  He then took my hands in his so small and told me what I was doing wrong, as he began to paint with me, was that I was trying to control the paint, that I merely had to become one with it for it has a life of it’s own.  I cannot describe the love that filled my heart in that moment, the student becoming the teacher, my son as my master, but it transformed me as an artist.

From that day forward, my art has never been the same.  When I paint now I always think of that moment, and what my son said to me that day, and how his tiny hands felt over mine so freely guiding me in paint, and then something moves in my heart so tremendous, so sweet like a melody, that I can feel it physically within and it becomes a part of the canvas as though I didn’t paint it all, but rather put forth an extension of my love for my child.

As my son grows into an adult and faces a world not as soft as his heart, I now texture the canvas and paint innocence upon the tormented terrain as a prayer that love will survive all for him. My son is the purpose, the inspiration of my art.  Trying to give to him beyond what I am able, even if it only is in a dream on canvas.