Photographer Lenny Foster left Taos last winter for St. Augustine, Florida, and some of us haven’t quite gotten over it. After more than 20 years of his iconic gentleness and wide-eyed wonder permeating the Taos ethers, it’s been hard to imagine a Taos without Lenny.
Well, we can put off coming to grips with the loss of Lenny for one more week, because he’ll be back in Taos Saturday (Aug. 5) from 5-7 p.m. for the opening reception of his exhibit, “El Año Pasado,” (“Last Year” in Taos) at magpie gallery in the Overland Ranch Compound at 1405 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado.
While the move has given him a long-needed rest from the unending duties of growing a gallery, he said in a phone interview last week he has needed more closure on leaving Taos. “It wasn’t an easy task getting out of Taos,” he said. “I felt like an Apollo 8 astronaut being rocketed out into space with the boosters blasting, and the shaking … all the noise. The gravitational pull of Taos was crazy!”
He said he had “wonderful years in Taos, but I got more than I bargained for. You get to needing a place where everyone and everything is familiar and everyone knows you. So then you leave and it’s like dying. Once disconnected from everything that defined you, your ego, your persona, has to die a little every day.”
His last show in September 2016, a partial benefit for Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, was standing room only and replete with wall-to-ceiling hugs from decades-long friends and collectors uber reluctant to let him go. The exhibit was titled “Enchanted Land: A Taos 20-year Retrospective” and featured imagery from his art book of the same title with a foreword by Rick Romancito, Tempo editor, and an afterword by Taos’ own glitteratus, novelist John Nichols. The art book will be on sale during the show.
“I wanted to leave feeling complete. I wanted to be finished, the (“Enchanted Land”) book helped with that,” he said. “For this show I wanted to honor the last year, the intensely beautiful last year’s work in Taos – being more purposeful and more exact, just focused on what I see as the essence of that time, that year, that place.”
In his artist statement, Foster highlights the events leading up to his departure last winter. “At the beginning of 2016, there were no plans for moving, although I did sense that change was imminent. It felt as though 23 years in Taos was good enough. I consciously chose then to shoot select medium-format film images that would detail my year, but wasn’t aware it would be El Año Pasado. Reflecting now on this body of work, I now see a common theme of peace, stillness, maybe even a quiet mourning.
“There is imagery that is somewhat representative of my various bodies of work, but not the typical sense. I feel they have more reverence, a more succinct and refined homage to my time here. As always, I feel the importance of leaving something that is relevant to this period of Taos creativity and will last long beyond my years, not so much for my friends and contemporaries, but for posterity’s sake … an inspiring visual journal, that may foster another’s creative time in Northern New Mexico’s magnificence.”
Magpie gallery owner Georgia Gersh said she is “thrilled to be hosting this special exhibit. When Lenny approached me about having a show it was a no-brainer. But it’s different because it’s the first photography show I’ve had at magpie.”
Foster said this is his first show in his 23-year-career that is curated. He sent 40 images to Gersh and photographer/ master printmaker Keith Shreiber, and Shreiber and Gersh ultimately ended up with a total of 19 images for the show. “We’re doing each image in limited editions of eight that are 14-by-14 inches in size,” Gersh said, making the work enticingly rare and affordable.
“They’re just gorgeous,” Gersh continued. “These are Lenny’s last year photographing New Mexico, like paying tribute to his last year here. It’s really special. They’re all beautiful. Some are iconic images like the hands on the elk skull. He spent a fair amount of time at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house, and there are a couple from Georgia O’Keeffe’s House. It’s not all Taos. He traveled around a little here and there.”
Foster says he’s working with his Hasselblad film camera and all the images are either sepia-toned black and white or just black and white. All the work in the show is on his website, plus other series he’s been known for over the years, like his renowned “Healing Hands” work, “Dreamtime of Horses,” “Fleur de Soleil” and many more.
He said throughout his career to date, he’s struggled with the fact of not being an artist-activist; rather, just trying to see what’s there and share it – “Sometimes it’s hard to know where you are when you are not there.”
“I don’t take my time or experience in Taos lightly, it’s formed who I am,” Foster said. “Right now I’m rested, I’m tanned and I’m ready to rock. I’m ready to go back to work, not for it to be all-consuming, the way I was before, accumulating collectors, and the adulation and all the fans. Now I want an easier, more relaxed approach. You get older, you savor it. You find what you love and you do it.”
He’s looking forward to having a lot of hugs and kisses; and Chicken Calabacitas at Orlando’s is already on his to-do list.
If the past is any indication, Taos is only too ready to oblige.
The exhibit will be on view through Aug. 30.
For more information, call (781) 248-0166. Visit lennyfoster.com and magpietaos.com.