From the sprawling lawn of his home and studio, artist Norbert Voelkel finds himself surrounded by as much inspiration as he needs.
With an unhampered view of Pueblo Peak, Voelkel has spent years watching the mountain in its changing light between sunrise and sunset. From the stark shadows of high noon to the three-dimensional "magic hour" glow as the sun fades behind it, Voelkel translates those observations through a variety of media into intriguing studies of the landmark that epitomizes Taos.
In his newest exhibition, "Forty Years of Landscape," viewers will be pleased to find a bountiful assortment of those paintings on display. The show, which is presented by Bareiss Gallery, celebrates with an opening reception this Saturday (Sept. 4) from 4-7 p.m.
The retrospective, Voelkel said, is displayed in such a manner as to enhance the contrast between his older pieces and the new. Some of his more modern pieces are framed in ornate, gilded frames, their old-fashioned vibe providing yet another contrast which creates freedom to explore.
There are stark representations and abstract, cubist interpretations; all, however, celebrate the landscapes of the Southwest with particular attention on the peak that captures the heart of locals and visitors.
"In my studies of Taos Mountain I was inspired by Paul Cezanne, who repeatedly painted Mont Sainte-Victoire near his home in Aix-en-Provence," Voelkel explained. "To understand something like a mountain, and get to its essence, you have to see it in different light, use different media and explore different effects. With new possibilities and options, a different emotional effect is achieved.
"But is one more 'exact' than another? No. Such a study is never done."
It does make for a spirited pursuit, however; one which this artist embraces wholeheartedly. On canvas with oil; with chalk and pencil on paper; with mixed media incorporating heavy gesso, paper and wire: "These are among the tools I use to solve a problem."
"Because art really does come down to solving problems. How are artistic energies triggered? How do I show what I see before me? How can I best reflect the archetype?"
If his approach seems clinical in some aspects, it may be attributed to his renowned career as a physician. A practicing internist and venerated pulmonary medicine clinician/scientist, he is considered one of the premier experts in severe pulmonary arterial hypertension.
Voelkel was born in Germany and graduated from the Universitaet Hamburg, Fachbereich Medizin medical school in 1971. In 1977 he, his wife and two children moved to Colorado where, in 1981 he established a laboratory devoted to the study of pulmonary disease at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. After 25 years of practicing and teaching, he then initiated the same at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center.
Today, his disciplined nature is laser-focused on the view outside his studio windows.
"Europe has much history and many attractions, but one thing it doesn't have is this landscape of the American West," he said. "It's grandiose. When we moved [to the U.S.] I spent a lot of time in my Jeep, camping and hiking with my camera and a sketch pad, and bringing those images back to my studio to paint."
"I did try to paint en plein air but between the wind and the flies I thought, 'Well, that's not working,'" he laughed. The space he has since built for himself certainly does.
Voelkel's studio is high-ceilinged and light-filled, with the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows looking across the fields towards Pueblo Peak, of course. The panorama is truly breathtaking.
"When we first moved to Denver, the skies intoxicated me like champagne," he recalled. "In Germany skies like this which occurred rarely - would bring everyone outside to celebrate, but here, it's every day. I'm so grateful to be in Taos now, and exploring the essence of this mountain."
Easels hold a mix of both finished pieces and works-in-progress; shelves line the walls with books of catalogues referencing his inspirations like Cezanne and Paul Klee; and side tables scattered about hold small objects along with touches of art created by his grandchildren. "Assemblages," he said. "To be surrounded in such a way stimulates the eyes and the brain, and new ideas can come."
The bins which hold his prolific encyclopedia of works is a sure sign that this artist has never starved for inspiration, with no indication of slowing down.
"The process - the learning through process - is fun," he concluded, emphatically.
"Forty Years of Landscapes" will be available for the public's enjoyment through Sept. 21.