by Tamra Testerman | November 18, 2021
The chiaroscuro of Margaret Nes
A 1939 photograph of a bell pepper by Edward Weston in Life Magazine was one of many photographs that influenced the aesthetics of Taos artist Margaret Nes. “I was very nearsighted as a child, so I saw things that were close, and saw little detail in the distance. Photographers brought focus to simple things, like a bell pepper. They opened up for me new ways of seeing that western art, with its large grandiose images, did not. That is how we see. The glimpse of light on an adobe wall with its wonderful organic shapes and rounded corners. We don’t see a landscape in full detail, or buildings complete. We see glimpses of light and shadow.”
Margaret Nes was born in France in 1950. Her parents were in the U.S. Foreign Service and she spent much of her childhood in North Africa. Nes moved to Taos in the late 1960s and began painting the stark landscape and adobe architecture reminiscent of her childhood in Africa. Her primary medium is pastel, which she “uses in a unique and powerful manner. The pastel pigments saturate the entire surface, and are worked and blended in with an almost sculptural quality. Her palette ranges from the richest and most luminous of hues to the most subtle and delicate of shades.”
Nes said her artistic influence developed from childhood, studying photographs and recognition that she looked at the world in the same way. “I felt an affinity with the glimpses their cameras caught of just a shadow around a corner, a simple object, or some unusual perspective. When I started drawing as a teenager, I would often lay on the ground under a building or stairway, and draw that perspective, or a shadow cast on a wall that interested me.
Photographers were the first to show images that weren’t full frontal images that had been so traditional in western paintings, like a house in a field with trees, sky, clouds, or people posed in formal positions. So much of art is about ‘seeing,’ and I always felt that photographers brought a dynamic way of seeing to the fore that I could relate to.”
Nes works in pastels because “it feels like sculpting sometimes, and that hands-on element suits me. Paint brushes felt too distant for me, but pastels were perfect. The word ‘pastel’ often brings up images of pale colors, but the actual sticks of pastels used by artists include the purest and richest of pigments. Since these full pigment pastels have no oil or other substance mixed with them, they hold a richness and brilliance like no other. I was drawn to pastels early on, and always loved their tactile nature, using my fingers and hands to blend the colors and shades.”
Nes said she works during the winter months, preferring to be outdoors digging in her garden and walking in the summer. She said her creative process starts with going “to a place where I am not judgemental, not thinking about where what I’m working on will end, just starting with an idea, a shape or color. I keep going until something pleases me. In that ‘other space’, I’m not critical or analytical. There is curiosity, and freedom.”
Nes sees “art, music, dance, poetry, play as all part of our human experience. They can bring joy, comfort, inspiration, and many wondrous things, but can also be used for propaganda and destruction. Intention is important. At its best, art can help us see new things, or see the world, ourselves, in a different and deeper way.”
Chimayo Trading Del Norte began representing Nes after the success of “Eleven,” the first exhibit of modern work in the new wing of the historic gallery. Nes said the show was inspirational and motivational being with old friends and surrounded by the talented artists she’s known for years. “There is a powerful community of women artists in Taos and we all support each other.”
Gabriel Abrums, the gallery owner said he’s always known about and admired Nes’s work, and he is pleased she will be joining Chimayo. Nes is excited to be in the historic gallery. “The space is beautiful and I like what they are doing. Showing indigenous art work and older Taos artists with current artists, bridging and coming into the future.”
For visual details about Margaret Nes’s work visit the Chimayo Trading Del Norte website chimayotrading.com or visit the gallery next to San Francisco de Asís Mission Church, a historic and architecturally significant building on the main plaza of Ranchos de Taos.