ALBUQUERQUE – What began as Harwood Girls School in Albuquerque in 1925 is known today as the Harwood Art Center. As an outreach program of the Escuela del Sol Montessori, Harwood serves many functions, all of which aim to nurture the center’s vision of the art as a force for social justice, a cornerstone of community, a path to healing and essential part of what it means to be human.
Harwood hosts annual art exhibitions for emerging and established artists in New Mexico, offers 39 newly solar-powered artist studios, operates an apprenticeship program, hosts art workshops, and hosts schools and summer art camps. Beloved local artists like painter and muralist Reyes Padilla, author and illustrator Zarha Marwan and portrait painter Natalie Voelker all have ties to Harwood, which prides itself on nurturing artists throughout their careers.
The directory Surface The exhibition focuses on showcasing emerging artists from the state, and the 2022 edition opened in late June with works by 11 artists working in a variety of mediums. In the nine years the show has been on, more than 100 former artists have participated in the program.
Besides the exhibition, Surface artists receive the “New Mexico Emerging Artists Award,” which comes with a micro-grant, as well as the opportunity to participate in a professional development workshop.
“We invite artists who apply to self-identify as emerging, we don’t have any parameters on what that means,” Julia Mandeville, director of programming at Harwood, told Hyperallergic during a recent visit. “Artists tell us why they fit this label and what they would gain from benefiting from the program. It’s a wide range of ages, backgrounds, experiences and identities.
From these disparate voices and from diverse backgrounds, the jurors find that a common theme emerges. “Elements come to the surface of the show. There is always an element of color that occurs; this year it’s surprising because it’s phosphorescent orange and lavender purple”, explains Mandeville.
Bright orange, neon pink and soft lilac tones command attention in the tactile tufted works of Audrey Montoya, an Albuquerque-based artist. Montoya, who begins his process with digital collages, describes his pieces as monsters, born in reaction to the current state of the world. “Self-Portrait in Purple” (2022), which occupies a significant wall space of 120 inches by 36 inches, is a textile work that resembles a giant, drooling purple wolf spitting out smiley faces, stars, and hearts.
Surface communicates the feeling of now, where humanity is at the moment. “There tends to be a reflection of the larger world and ether we all find ourselves in,” Mandeville says. “We are capturing a cross section of consciousness.”
This year, the emerging theme in Surface is an examination of existential ideas. Artists explore what it means to belong, what defines home, our bodies as vessels, and what it means to feel safe and secure.
Vanessa Alvarado, a Mexican American artist based in Albuquerque, approaches the idea of the body as a vessel in her paintings. A multifaceted creative who also works as an arts educator, Alvarado has a long history with the Harwood, where she attended an apprenticeship over a decade ago.
Her self-portraits tell her story of recovery. “The world felt that [Alvarado’s] woman’s body, her woman’s body of color, her plus size woman’s body, belongs to them,” Mandeville says. “They feel entitled to make the comments of the complaints appropriate. So she brings him back to his own sphere with a powerful and singular tone of voice and perspective.
The painting “Mi Cuerpo Contra Mi/ My Body vs. Me” (2022) depicts Alvarado wearing a luchador mask, contorted as she struggles with her own leg. The background is sunset orange, creating a striking juxtaposition between the color-saturated background, Alvarado’s skin, and the blue luchador mask. Alvarado writes in her Artist Statement that she tries to transfer her deep love for painting to a part of her life that she never loved: her body.
Multimedia artist Courtney Metzger also centers her work on the body as a vessel. She applied for the Surface a jury they had never seen before, a jury that combined ceramics and video. Metzger spent her summers growing up on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma, where she created the works exhibited in Surface. In her video performance “Lake Shore” (2019), Metzger wades through gray water one misty morning on the reservation as she smooths the clay over her body.
“All these works are little biographies, little self-portraits,” says Mandeville. “These artists say, ‘I’m ready to be seen. I’m ready to be heard, and through my identity, I claim that claim, I’m ready to surface as an artist.
During Hyperallergic’s visit, the 2022 participants of Learning for Art and Social Justice were having lunch outside, under a well-deserved soft and gentle drizzle of rain. Aged 17 to 24, these young people learn to create public and community art while Harwood pays them a living wage.
This summer, they are working to revitalize Mesa Verde Park in Albuquerque’s International District. They plant a healing garden and make tiles to create a mosaic on a park bench. Each tile features symbols that tell the oral histories of some of the neighborhood residents.
Some have been in the program for years, like Isabella Ortega who grew up in the international district and is now a second-year apprentice in the program and a junior at the Art Institute of Chicago. “I love this program so much. It’s always nice to come back and give back and continue the relationship I have here. It’s so personal and home.
Creating a space where emerging artists can show their work, where young people can use their creativity to support and invigorate their communities, reserving space for artists’ studios is essential to making Harwood what it is: a starting point. anchor for his community, a voice amplifier, a force using his power to make the world a better place through art.