Written and photography by Carolyn Schmitz
Tucked away near the Mesilla Park railroad tracks, Art Obscura Gallery is bursting with artwork of myriad media—drawings, etchings and lithographs, paintings and prints, poignant photographs, engaging mixed media collages, metal works, intricate textiles, and wearable art. The gallery also boasts an eclectic array of antiques from many cultures, as well as those that evoke memories of the kitchens, barns, and bowling alleys of yesteryear.
More than an art gallery, Art Obscura is also a museum of sorts, chockfull of thought-provoking, sometimes outrageous pieces, such as drawings of Bonnie & Clyde, Al Capone, and Heath Ledger’s incarnation as The Joker. Eccentric personal effects can be found in thematic displays of rare guitars, mandolins, and vinyl records. An archaic tobacco pipe sits next to intricately carved religious icons, while a Coke machine from a bygone era holds house with an ancient adding machine, printmaking tools, and a brass kaleidoscope. An aluminum scale-model Zeppelin, circa 1930s, hangs from the ceiling, epitomizing a season of astounding industrial innovation while silently mocking war. Everything is marked for sale, so items in the gallery today may be gone tomorrow.
Twenty-seven-year-old gallery owner Deret Roberts contributes his own inspired artwork to the mix. In business since 2013, Deret opened Art Obscura while completing the final semester of his Bachelor of Fine Arts at New Mexico State University.
Deret has collected curious items that engaged him, held him spellbound, or whose irony made him laugh since he was young. Over time, he added more traditional works to his collection, compositions that are fresh and lively, both evocative and provocative. He also holds a soft spot for artifacts reminiscent of another time, and pieces that are silly and fun. His hope is that someone else will experience a similar response to an item and want to buy it. “It’s never sad to sell a piece I love,” he explains. “It’s enjoyable any time someone finds a piece they truly enjoy. I like knowing when they take it home, they will cherish it.”
Listening to Deret describe the origin of a piece, it quickly becomes clear that he has a profound appreciation for the art of simple things. He notes the unique wear patterns of everyday items, especially when seen a few hundred years out of context. One glass case contains 19th Century doctor’s instruments, light fixtures, and a medical tome with curious dark splatter on some of the pages. The artifacts are displayed with a subtle sense of whimsy. While explaining the providence of the items, Deret and his assistant, Aaron Saenz, were able to stitch fact and lore together to create an irreverent, albeit plausible, scenario of a surgeon and his oddly defaced book.
Each month, designated rooms of the two-story gallery spotlight compositions from a single artist, or a collection from several artists that contemplates a specific subject. Art Obscura hosts an artist’s reception on the exhibit’s opening day, providing an opportunity for the public to meet the artist and ask questions.
The Main Gallery is a roomy, well-lit space downstairs that offers a comfortable area to examine a complement of larger pieces from a close or great distance. “The Tiny Gallery upstairs allows guests the opportunity to see small pieces up close. It’s a way to experience the nuances of media, verisimilitude or light,” Deret says.
One recent feature in the Main Gallery: “Silverscape: Photographs of the Southwest,” by Nick Gialanella, featuring stunning images of the region’s natural beauty, sometimes juxtaposed with man-made marvels, in places such as Mountain Pass, Texas, and Spiral Jetty, Utah.
“Complex Relations,” by Felicia Castro, ran concurrently in the Tiny Gallery. Her small canvases are multi-media depictions of the roles people play in different types of relationships from family to co-workers to neighbors. Felicia’s subjects are depicted in black and white photography against a vivid color-faded canvas. The paper doll cutout of two human forms draped in contrasting cloths uses a rope to demonstrate the areas of interdependence, dominance, exposure, and risk. “This exhibit is about relationships,” she explains. “I wanted to discuss the trappings of the relationship with self and with others. It is also about being vulnerable in that relationship.”
Opening night patrons arrived in a steady stream to appreciate and discuss Nick and Felicia’s exhibits. NMSU alumna, artist, and patron Debbie McCurdy says, “These gallery openings are an important opportunity for us to get together with other artists, and to show our support for one another.”
Deret adds his own creations to the mix, featuring his oil paintings each year during the month of December. Last year, he designed his exhibit around an ancient Japanese philosophy that treats broken lacquerware (fine tableware) and subsequent repairs as part of the object’s journey. The art of intsukuroi, or golden repair, embraces the idea that a repair with lacquer and gold, or other precious metals, makes the broken item more valuable than before by enriching its history and extending its journey. Deret’s exhibit, titled “Fault Lines,” featured oils on glass, which he then broke in deliberate places, and repaired with gold enamel, or in some instances, in gold leaf and sizing. Many of the pieces feature women’s expressive faces.
Interestingly, the models he used—women with everyday beauty, experiencing genuine, palatable emotions—were not real women at all. “They were all in my head,” he says.
Continually expanding his artistic skills and business acumen, Deret recently added commercial sign painting to his repertoire of accomplishments. Working with text is a great way to promote a business, but it is not as easy as it looks and the paints are expensive. Deret notes with surprise, “As it turns out, I’m good at it.”
Art Obscura houses such a wide variety of art, antiques, and collectibles that it is all but impossible to leave without being impacted by a few creations. While one design may not resonate for a visitor, it is entirely possible for him to stand for an hour appreciating the piece next to it.
More than an art gallery
Art Obscura is also a museum of sorts, chockfull of thought-provoking, sometimes outrageous pieces, such as drawings of Bonnie & Clyde, Al Capone, and Heath Ledger’s incarnation as The Joker.
Art Obscura is located at 3206 Harrelson Street, in Mesilla Park. Look for the big marigold-colored building with the painted image of a boy pulling his Radio Flyer wagon packed with treasures.
Visit the Art Obscura Facebook page, at facebook.com/ArtObscura, or call 575-494-7256, to stay informed about upcoming exhibits, NMSU-sponsored Poetry Slams, (Obscure) Movie Nights, musical gigs, and other fun, engaging events hosted by the gallery.