There’s something unexpected leering from the roof of Ellsworth Gallery, a new establishment on East Palace Avenue. You’ve probably noticed the dragon slithering from the top, grinning down at you on your way to El Palacio for a sandwich or to Nicholas Potter Bookseller to find that rare first edition. You may recall that the hammered-copper dragon by artist Ilan Ashkenazi was originally slated to be installed in 2012, but remodeling of the space — formerly home to Shibui, a gallery that specialized in Asian antiques — necessitated a postponement.
The dragon is finally here, and for those seeking something a little different, the grand opening of Ellsworth Gallery has been well worth the wait, not only for the dragon but for the eclectic mix of antique Japanese armor and contemporary art inside.
“I’ve always wanted to do something a little more dynamic — living artists, changing exhibitions,” gallery owner Barry Ellsworth told Pasatiempo. Ellsworth, who previously worked in the film industry in New York and taught in the film program of the College of Santa Fe after moving to New Mexico in 2002, has been dealing in Japanese art for the past few years, primarily in Europe. “I specialize in 18th-century armor and accouterments. I started acquiring and dealing in Japanese antiques. In 2005 I had the opportunity to work with somebody in Paris, which is oddly the center of that kind of collecting, even more than in Japan. I was three years in Paris with a private gallery and returned here in 2008. Since then I’ve mostly been dealing with European clients.”
Ashkenazi’s dragon draws inspiration from a beast with a long history in Japanese mythology and folklore, and its design was influenced by jizai okimono, a Japanese tradition of articulated animal sculpture. That in itself may get you in the door. Inside, the gallery is divided into two spaces: one for contemporary works and one for Japanese antiques. Full sets of samurai armor show off the craftsmanship of their makers. Helmets come replete with elaborate crests called maedates, while sleeve armor bears exquisite ornamental designs such as cherry blossoms. Even a type of surcoat worn by the samurai is embroidered with intricate patterns.
But the first thing to notice when entering the gallery are the large-format photographs by contemporary photographer Maritza Wild Chateau, a native of Bogotá, Colombia, whose exhibition, Motion and Stillness, is not only the inaugural show at Ellsworth Gallery but also her first exhibit in Santa Fe. Chateau, who now lives in New York, travels extensively to capture images that are at once ethnographic and artistic. “I studied anthropology, so I did a lot of ethnography studies in Colombia and the Amazon, and all of that was very visual,” she told Pasatiempo. “I was always recording, visually, the way people live, the inside of the houses, and the surroundings, more so than by words.”
Chateau, who received a master’s degree in media studies from New York’s New School for Social Research, has photographed in India, Vietnam, Kenya, Rwanda, Madagascar, Australia, Japan, and China and in nations of Europe and South America. “As soon as I have an opportunity to go to those remote places, there I go.” Her subjects have included interiors such as kitchens from various parts of the world as well as landscapes, buildings, and people. The images always convey a sense of commonality, of the human drama unfolding on a global scale.
Notable in the photographs is a subtle toning down of most hues to a near monochromatic look and the enhancement of a single color or two, such as the jewel-toned belt of a horseback rider or the vibrant color of a woman’s dress. Chateau’s interest in playing with color tones is influenced by the contrasts between her native Colombia and New York City. “I think it’s the fact that Colombia is very colorful. The houses are painted in pink, in blue, in green, and here in New York City there’s these huge buildings and they’re beautiful, but it’s very monochromatic.”
The images in Motion and Stillness often have a dual focus, encapsulating a sense of movement and immobility in a single photograph. Almost like street photography, they resemble what might be seen with the naked eye, such as a quick movement or blur at the limits of your field of vision. Riders in a horse race in Mongolia or people in a rushing crowd become almost abstract patterns of tinted light. “What really attracted my eye were the colors of the riders’ sashes, the oranges and all that. I captured them to show the speed and color passing, like a moment. It’s like in filmmaking, tracking the object.”
Despite Chateau’s manipulation of images to accentuate or dilute color, she always works with what is present at the time of shooting, never adding hues that were not already there. Tied to her color sense is a feeling of the vibrancy of the human spirit and the celebration of life. “Colombia is very vivid in colors and culture and music,” she said. “I mean, I love New York, but I don’t get inspired the same as when I’m in those places where I can feel those colors. It’s part of your soul.” ◀
▼ Maritza Wild Chateau: Motion and Stillness
▼ Reception 5 p.m. Friday, June 7; performances by Meow Wolf begin at 6:30 p.m.; exhibit through Sept. 1
▼ Ellsworth Gallery, 215 E. Palace Ave., 989-7900
Samurai helmet and battle mask, circa 1650, Kaga Province, Japan