Contemporary painter Harriet Yale Russell has lived in New Mexico for the past 25 years. Currently in Santa Fe, Russell spent the first 22 of those years off the grid, living in the badlands of Cuba, New Mexico. She and her husband built a home on alluvial sand about two feet from Mesa de Cuba, a three million year old sandstone formation embedded with petrified wood and trees. This is the mesa Russell refers to in her artist statement: “I awake in the morning looking out my bedside window at a three-million year old mesa edge that looks like it was once poured out of bucket. It looks like if it rained it would start flowing again. It looks soft as if a child folded it with their small hands…”
Geology became a big inspiration for Russell, who had just finished graduate school in San Francisco before moving to the southwest. “I had many new tools to experiment with and new ways of applying paint,” she says of the time. The beige, black and cream paintings at Evoke are inspired by Cuba de Mesa and the treasures that are held among its folds. Embedded features uneven brown shapes among beige, white and grey formations, possibly insinuating the petrified wood found on the sandstone mesa. Other monochromatic pieces like Henge and Slaty Cleavage also reference the geological spectacle that Russell came to know so well. These pieces are created with cold wax mixed into oil paint, providing a thickly textured medium for Russell to work with. “You can layer it and carve through it to find color that was put down earlier,” she says of her material. “It’s kind of like an engraving or etching. I’m excavating into the mesa.”
While Harriet Russell’s work is strongly influenced by the southwest landscape, her artistic lifestyle has led her all over the country and even around the world. She spent three years in Portugal on an artist fellowship, which influences many of her vibrant oil paintings. Sintra is a city Russell visited during her time there and is the title of an abstract oil painting with vivid orange forms, soft blue shapes with wandering lines. “I have very romantic feelings about Sintra,” says Russell. “I like the word. Because my work is very personal, the shapes and the marks, I feel like my titles should be the same.”
Russell was born in Rochester, New York; her mother was a painter and her father a chemist, both of whom left a lasting influence on her artistic practice. Russell grew up painting alongside her mother and inherited an adoration and knowledge of materials from her father. Even though she’s influenced by the landscape, other cultures and her own inner psyche, paint is the true subject of Russell’s work. She has a deep understanding of the chemical components of her material, which gives her a sense of control without taking away the spontaneity that is so integral to her process. “It’s a very personal practice of looking for shapes and marks,” she says. “I never know or want to know where a painting is going to go. It always goes through just a stage of horror,” she laughs. “I think I can never save it, but then I have to rescue it. I’ve been painting for years and I think it’s all about faith.”
Evoke Contemporary is proud to now be showing the work of Harriet Yale Russell at the gallery. Her paintings and drawings portray an exciting exploration of shape and line in an energetic, yet sophisticated color palette. Click here to browse her available paintings.