All art isn’t for all people. I love sculptures of buffaloes. Perhaps you favor Andy Wharhol. Neither is better or worse as taste in art is completely individual.

Fortunately, as with most areas of our relationship, Kristi and I largely agree on the art we like. When it comes to paintings, we prefer work with an Impressionist or Fauvist flavor. We are attracted to landscapes painted with bold, bright, saturated colors. We like loose, expressive applications of paint, often put on with a palette knife, and a heavy impasto left behind.

Keeping that in mind, below we share our favorite artists found on our first trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe long ago established itself as an international art mecca with over 200 galleries, a handful of museums and countless, talented, working artists. A month wouldn’t be enough time to visit all the galleries there, let alone learn all the artists. We had one week and did our best.

The first piece of art I ever purchased was a Fredric Remington bronze entitled “Cheyenne.” In that spirit, we begin our list with another sculptor of Native American motifs.

Ed Natiya sculpture in progress.

Ed Natiya not only has many of his pieces on display at Huey’s Fine Art, he uses it as a working studio. Kristi and I had never seen a sculpture in mid-creation, and what a sculpture to see. This 12-foot work is a private commission titled “Pontiac,” after the chief by the same name.

While at Huey’s, take a close look at Robert Moore. Moore’s colorful landscapes of Aspens (one of which can be seen in the background to the left of the full-size Natiya sculpture in progress) and winter scenes straddle a line between Impressionism and expressionism with an undeniable freshness to them. Looking at his pictures makes you feel like you’re there.

Big, bold, bright colors define Barbara Meikle. Stepping into her gallery approximates walking into a box of Skittles. Kristi’s favorite painting from our entire trip may be the large-scale Meikle below, which trends more toward abstraction than is typical of her work.

Barbara Meikle.

I’ve written previously about our love for Russian Impressionism. We found a surprising amount of high quality Russian work in Santa Fe with two galleries focusing on it and a handful of others featuring Russian artists. Rustem Sahurski at The Russian Art Gallery stood out.

Phyllis Kapp’s watercolors at Pippin Contemporary dazzle the eye with depth of color and vibrancy you’d expect from oils. From the paper she works on to the glittering effect of her paint, her work can authentically be described as unique.

Phyllis Kapp.

Now on to our “Best of the Best” selections

Best work under $1,000

Purchasing fine art doesn’t require a trust fund. Believe me, Kristi and I are by no means wealthy.

In general, I was surprised by how affordable the art in Santa Fe was. For a few hundred dollars Marigold Arts and Weiss Fine Art both had a number of pieces we would have been happy to call our own.

Best work under $5,000 – runner up

Frank Baalam’s tree paintings at Ventana Fine Art Gallery jump off the gallery wall and would surely do the same in your house. We looked long and hard at two of his pictures, one under $1,000, and this dynamic, fantastic, complex painting. I say complex because the painting was done to reflect the Santa Fe Opera’s production of “Rigoletto” which each tree representing a different character.

James Roybal.

While at Ventana, be sure to take time with John Nieto’s work as well.

Best work (well) under $5,000 – first place

Immediately upon entering James Roybal’s studio, we were hooked. Roybal’s paintings define what we love – expressive, bright colors, Western landscapes, heavy paint application, vibrancy. You feel the joy he has for his work and his subjects when viewing them.

The most difficult decision we had in his gallery was which one we liked most.

Roybal began his career as a sculptor, gradually transitioning to oils and pastels. He excels in all three mediums, numerous examples of which are on display in his gallery.

I was especially drawn to his more economical pastels which were the finest in that medium I saw in Santa Fe. His treatment of light and mood with this medium was dead on. His pastels “take you there.” He captured the moments brilliantly.

As with reasonably priced work and Russian art, there was a great deal of work in pastel and watercolor in Santa Fe, much more and of a higher quality than we’d seen elsewhere.

Along with being a great artist, Roybal is a heck of a nice guy as he spent over an hour with us in his gallery. Any opportunity to meet the artist takes our appreciation of the work to another level.

Best work from $10,000-$20,000 – first place

Wall power.

Mateo Romero has it.

“Wall power” is an art term for a painting which owns its surroundings. It dominates. It demands to be noticed. Even in a gallery of masterpieces, a painting with “wall power” stands out. Think John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X.”

Romero’s work, particularly “Ave Tsugeh (Choke Cherry Valley)” (right in the photo below and the featured image of this post), has wall power for days. The scale is large – 48 x 60 inches. The colors are vivid, laid on thick with a palette knife. The work is at least two paintings in one, very different when seen up close and far away.

Mateo Romero paintings side-by-side at Peters Project gallery.


Mateo Romero (Detail, side).

It bursts from the wall inside the Peters Project gallery. Painted earlier this year, it even smells good. When visiting a gallery, don’t hesitate to get right up close.

Romero’s work is part of a temporary exhibit, so hurry up and see it while you can.

Best work (well) over $20,000 – first place

Louise McElwain died in 2013, the circumstances of her death standing in stark opposition to the joy and optimism of her work.

Forget color, line and composition, McElwain’s work seems conjured out of pure energy. She captures the spirit of New Mexico’s deserts, mountains, and storms. She reached right out and put them on the canvas.

When looking at her work, you feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair.

McElwain’s primary gallery in Santa Fe is EVOKE Gallery at the Railyard where pictures of the artwork are not allowed. We also found two of her pieces at King Galleries just off the Plaza.

Spending time with McElwain’s paintings was a highlight of our trip.

Best work if money is no object ($50,000+) – first place

Less than a month ago we saw Ernest Lawson’s “Cripple Creek” in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Of all the paintings I’ve ever seen anywhere, it was one of my favorites.

Ernest Lawson. Detail of “Cripple Creek” from Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Imagine my surprise at finding another of his works, “Little Ranch, Colorado,” for sale at Nedra Matteuci Galleries – $65,000 and it’s yours. I’d start my negotiation at $50,000.

Ernest Lawson “Little Ranch, Colorado”

“Little Ranch, Colorado,” while much smaller than “Cripple Creek,” features the same unmistakable use of color – seemingly infinite small brushstrokes of innumerable colors laid down right next to, and on top of, each other, until a cohesive image magically pulls together.

Like M.S. Rau in New Orleans, Nedra Matteucci Galleries deals in very high-end, museum quality art. The only Georgia O’Keeffe we saw for sale in Santa Fe was found here. $850,000 for a flower picture the size of a dishrag. You’ll find famed Taos Russian artist Nicolai Fechin on sale here as well.

Our favorite artists from Santa Fe won’t be your favorite artists from Santa Fe. Who will yours be? I don’t know; I do know that with all the options there, you’re sure to find many.