RORY WAGNER 1950-2010
2006 New Mexico Governors Award For Excellence In The Arts
Rory’s work almost defies description. He paints primarily large canvases, but even in his smaller pieces there is a compelling, larger-than-life quality. Is it the eyes? Each face demands your attention with those incredibly luminous eyes. It is difficult to look away, to break the spell; and when you finally do, you are inevitably drawn back. Yes, it is the eyes! Mr. Wagner’s faces transcend the ordinary and explore the nobility of our human potential.
It is not surprising the Rory Wagner, who was raised in Florida, chose Taos as his home. Taos has, after all, long been a mecca for those in search of life at it’s largest; those who refuse to compromise, who demand freedom in their daily existence. Nor is it a surprise that one of his favorite early subjects was the cowboy – that American icon of don’t-fence-me-in heroism. What is surprising is the exquisite integrity of each painting. These pieces are created meticulously from Wagner’s photographic memory - often after only a brief encounter with the subject portrayed.
Essentially a self-taught painter, Rory was initially drawn to the works of the Dutch master of portraiture – Vermeer. Soon after arriving in Taos some 34 years ago, Rory happened into the gallery of RC Gorman. RC helped get Rory settled in the artistic community, became his mentor, and has remained a life-long friend.
Wagner is uncompromising in his work. If he is not satisfied with a painting he has been known to destroy it and start anew. Of the six to twelve canvases that annually pass under his intense scrutiny, each glow with a passionate presence. He builds his own stretchers and stretches each canvas himself. The next phase is the application of titanium white over multiple layers of sanded gesso. After this step the subject is sketched in and the painting begins. Rory blends the complex skin-tones by rubbing pigment onto the ground. (Wagner often jokes that he rubs instead of painting.) To achieve the authenticity of beadwork and feathering Wagner often uses small double aught brushes. “It takes me hours and hours, day upon day, to complete every one of them”.
Since the mid-eighties the faces of indigenous peoples have replaced his cowboys. As always, Wagner does his homework. With the same meticulous care used to build each image, he researches the smallest details of the subjects he paints. Wagner continues to be fascinated by the commonalities of tribes located thousands of miles apart, while living in different regions of the world.