Tell me how you started these new abstracts?
A few years ago, my best friend Dave Nesbit died and I wasn’t very happy, with myself or with my painting -- I felt landscapes were a prison, I’d done so many of them. Looked at myself in the mirror and thought: “You’d better be having fun.” For weeks I’d wake up in the morning thinking about doing large abstracts – I’d done small abstracts on paper some years ago. Finally I ordered a bunch of canvas and stretcher bars and just started. I saw an old friend, Ron Lopez, an abstract painter and sculptor, and I asked him to come over. In the studio I had a big piece of canvas and a can of paint, he put the canvas on the ground, poured a bunch of paint on it and grabbed a piece of 2 x 4, scraped it across the canvas and said, “Now you’re started.” I thought that was just great. It opened the door. That was about a year ago and I’ve been progressing ever since. I trying to not think. You can stand back and instinctively know what it needs in turns of balance and color. I’m really happy doing it. Shambu, another friend, told me once – “As soon as it feels good, put it away. It takes two people to paint – one to put the paint on and the other to tell you when to quit. I’m taking my time much more than I used to. When one is done, rather than rushing it out to a gallery I’ll put them away. I want to get a bunch of them together and show them as a series.
Does it feel like you’re in familiar territory?
Yeah, I’ve always felt that abstract painting was closest to me. I think a good abstract will talk to a brick layer from across the street. It’s all about color and shape and balance, and if you can get those things to tie together anybody will respond to it. And something about it is healing. People talk about color healing. Your body responds to color. Visual things – if you see something that makes you feel good, it affects the body.
How do you title the pieces?
Actually, I can see why so many painters have just called them Untitled and give them a number. But people seem to want titles, so at the last minute, when I’m asked to title one, it’s just instinct, whatever pops into my head at the moment.
I’m 72, on my last trail, and I only want to do things that feel good. The subject of my work has always been -- it’s about putting paint on canvas. I’m driven to do that. Put down color that makes me happy. Earl Stroh said that with my background I should be painting dark things. But I just can’t go there. It’s not me. So it’s down to the basics now. My paintings have been loosening up for some time now – birds on fields of color, for example. The aspen painting I did, What a Day, started out as purely abstract and then I saw the trees.
Are you aware of any influences in terms of abstract painters?
Well, the guys around here, Peter Parks, Tom Dixon, Larry Bell, who has a tremendous natural sense of balance and composition. Of course I’ve always loved Motherwell and Polloch, but I don’t think about them.
Steve Parks and Jim Wagner, November, 2012
Click on a thumbnail to enlarge…
Jim Wagner Resume
Born: 1940, Wauseon, Ohio
San Jose City College, San Jose, CA
Moved to Taos: 1963
Media: Paintings, prints, sculpture, furniture and jewelry.
Selected One-Man Exhibitions and Awards:
2010 "Jim Wagner, Taos: New Paintings of Home," Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
2009 "Jim Wagner, 60s Survivor," Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
2008 "Jim Wagner, Both Sides Now," Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
2007 "Jim Wagner, One Man Show," Creamery Arts Center, Hotchkiss, CO
2007 "Jim Wagner, New Paintings," Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
2006 “Jim Wagner, New Paintings,” Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
2005 “Jim Wagner, New Paintings,” Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
2004 “Jim Wagner, New Works: Painting, Furniture and Sculpture,” Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
2003 “Jim Wagner, New Paintings,” Parks Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM
2001 “Jim Wagner, Then and Now,” new paintings of Taos and classic works from the Rancho Milagro Collection, Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
2000 On Location: new landscapes by Jim Wagner, Parks Gallery, Taos, NM
1999 "Jim Wagner: New Paintings," Parks Gallery.
1997 "Jim Wagner Retrospective," Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM.
1996 "Paintings from Colorado," landscapes and trains, The Parks Gallery, Taos, NM.
"The Bug Show," paintings & drawings, Munson Gallery, Santa Fe.
1995 "Works in Wood," sculpture and furniture, The Parks Gallery.
1994 "Jim Wagner's Taos," landscape paintings and drawings, The Parks Gallery.
"Jim Wagner," paintings, drawings and sculpture, Munson Gallery.
1993 "Flora and Fauna of the Wagneric Age," ceramics, The Parks Gallery, Taos, NM.
"Jim Wagner: 30 Years in Taos," Retrospective at the Harwood Foundation Museum, Taos.
"Wagner in Love," paintings and drawings, The Parks Gallery, Taos, NM.
"Jim Wagner, 30th Anniversary Exhibition," Philip Bareiss Gallery, Taos, NM.
1992. "Her Dream as a Little Girl," mixed media drawings, Philip Bareiss Gallery, Taos, NM.
1991 "New Beginnings, New Works," works on paper, Philip Bareiss Gallery.
1986 Furniture displayed at Bloomingdale's, New York.
1985 "Santos and Retablos," collaboration with Tony Martinez, Philip Bareiss Gallery.
On the Way to Grandpa's House, selected as poster image for Taos Arts Festival.
1984 "Religious Impressions," paintings and wall shrines, Madison Gallery, Albuquerque, NM.
1983 "Jim Wagner Paints Geese," tempera paintings, Philip Bareiss Gallery.
1981 "Frogs and Watermelons," paintings and drawings, Stables Gallery, Taos, NM.
"The Women," oils, Julia Black Gallery, Taos.
1980 "Show for a Dead 15-Year Old," mixed media drawings, Julia Black Gallery.
1976 "Jim Wagner and Mother Nature," paintings, drawings, and wood constructions, Stables Gallery, Taos.
1975 "Jim Wagner, New Works," paintings drawings and prints, Manchester II Gallery, Taos.
1968 First Prize and Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Purchase Award at Taos Art Association Awards Show.
Selected Group Exhibitions:
2001 “Expressions in High Color: Paintings of the New Mexico Landscape,” Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque, NM
1994 "Carol Pelton and Jim Wagner," paintings, ceramics and furniture, Matzimoto Gallery, Sanibel Is., Florida.
1992 "Ten Taos Women," curated by Jim Wagner, Philip Bareiss Gallery, Taos, NM.
1988 "Animals on Parade," paintings and painted wood sculpture, Milagro Gallery, Taos, NM.
1984 "Jim Wagner Invites Taos," curated by Jim Wagner, Madison Gallery, Albuquerque, NM.
1982 "Prison Perspectives," paintings and drawings, Grycner Gallery, Taos, NM.
1980 "Portraits of Brett: oil Paintings, Tally Richards Gallery, Taos, NM.
1978 "New Works in Pastel," Armory for the Arts, Santa Fe, NM.
Harwood Foundation Museum, Taos, NM.
Roswell Museum, Roswell, NM.
Capitol Collection, State Capitol, Santa Fe, NM.
1995 Rio Grande High Style, by Elmo Baca, Gibbs-Smith, Layton, Utah.
1993 Jim Wagner, Taos, An American Artist, by Stephen Parks, Rancho Milagro Productions, Taos.
1992 Interior Furnishings Southwest by Suzanne Deats and John Villani, John Muir Publications, Santa Fe.
1990 Santa Fe Design Elmo Baca and Suzanne Deats, contrib. eds., Beekman House, New York.
1987 American Design, the American Southwest, Nora Burba and Paula Painch, Bantam Books, New York.
1983 R.C. Gorman, A Portrait, by Stephen Parks, New York Graphic Society/Little Brown Books, New York.
1971 Seeing a Bear, by James Taylor, drawings by Jim Wagner, Poetry Bag Press, Pueblo, CO.
1997 "The Art of Fishing and Forgetting. On the river with artist Jim Wagner," by Peter Heller, American West Airlines Magazine.
1996 "Trains of Memory: Jim Wagner has moved to a new town but the subject of his art is the same -- his visceral response to beauty,", by Stephen Parks, Taos Magazine.
1994 "Ecstatic Portraits of Taos: Jim Wagner's new paintings capture the scintillating energy and funky charm of northern New Mexico,", by Stephen Parks, Taos Magazine.
1994 "Jim Wagner recharged: new show, new work, new direction," by Mary Stephenson, Taos News.
1993 "Jim Wagner, Taos: The town celebrates three decades of the artist's work and a book devoted to it," by Stephen Parks, Taos Magazine (cover story).
"Jim Wagner, Taos: Release of epic retrospective cements artist's place in Taos art history," by Jess Williams, Taos News (cover story, Tempo section).
1989 "Jim Wagner," Washington Post.
1988 "Hot Furniture: Salsa to Santa Fe Styles," by Elmo Baca, New Mexico Magazine (cover story).
"New Furniture from the Old Southwest," Elaine Edelman, New York Times.
"Out of Prison: New Mexico Workshop Produces Fine Art Furniture While Training Ex-Cons," by Mary Daniels, Chicago Tribune.
1987 "With Coyote Chic, Taos Furniture is a Howling Success," by Ellen Kaye, Philadelphia Enquirer.
"Artist Borrows Colors from the Sky," by Casey Ellis, San Jose Mercury News.
1986 "Furniture that's Wild, Whimsical," Pat Hanna, Rocky Mountain News.
1984 "Fishin' For Serious Stuff," by Stephen Parks, ARTlines (cover).
"Decorating Southwestern Style," Country Living.
1983 "To Live Outside the Law, You Must Be Honest," by Thom Collins, ARTlines, Taos.
The market for Jim Wagner's art is exceptionally strong, both for new work and older pieces on the secondary market. Paintings of landscapes and his singular animals are perhaps the most popular subjects, though his paintings of women (particularly those painted in the late 70s and early 80s) are also in great demand. His market has been strengthened in recent years by the publication of the book, Jim Wagner, Taos, An American Artist, by Stephen Parks. Nevertheless, his art is still quite affordable in comparison to other painters in the region of comparable reputation and skill, a fact perhaps best explained by Wagner's unpretentious attitude of himself as a "workingman." The Parks Gallery, Taos, is his principal representative for paintings.