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A Trail Across Oil-slicked Rainbows

A Trail Across Oil-slicked Rainbows


Cowboy Bumblebee

David Sockrider, a traveling artist currently residing in Ward, doesn’t need a lot of space to work. His studio is well-windowed, providing sightlines to the natural splendor of the trees sleeved in snow. His simple wooden desk sits in front of one of these windows, the back of the desk fortified with tubes of paint, plastic cups full of brushes, and lamps angled from the desk corners to provide light and perspective.

The notion of following the art came about a lot in my conversation with Sockrider who, for reasons beyond him, found himself on a path tread by Georgia O’Keeffe, who herself was a traveling painter who steered away from pretentious living.

How One Story Ended

Sockrider at his studio in Ward

Much of Sockrider’s story navigates the waters within the popular adage, “Adversity is opportunity.” Before the infamous worldwide reset that was Covid in 2020, Sockrider was an art designer for an independent game company in Boulder, Colorado. This gaming company attempted to make tabletop and trading card games whose aim was to take on juggernauts of the industry like Magic: The Gathering. As one might expect, the venture didn’t last too long.

“Covid happened and that kind of put us out of business,” Sockrider said. “I had a room open up at Taos ski resort, and I’m a snowboarder. And the rent is about half of what it is here, so this is a no-brainer. You know? I can go anywhere I want. If I can go to a ski resort and cut my rent in half that’s a win-win to me.”

With his path set, Sockrider packed up his van and headed for the Southwest, living out the philosophy of a Jack Kerouac poem by using his will as a guiding light. As long as he follows his love of painting as an expression of his own freedom and still make money, Sockrider is “living the dream.”

Red Rocks Primitive

Forgotten Details of the Artist’s Dream

An untold detail of the artist’s dream is the number of different odd jobs they have to work in order to keep the paint cans full.Keith Haring, an American pop artist, worked as a busboy in a New York City nightclub. Abstract painter, Marc Rothko, supplemented his income by teaching sculpting and painting classes in Brooklyn.

Sockrider’s path would often take similar turns. Sockrider took to working in a hot springs spot in Arizona, painting murals in a ranch house. Another turn had him staying in a Methodist Church painting murals on crosswalks. It’s not for want of the odd job, however, Sockrider attempted to get a regular nine-to-five, but they weren’t calling back.

“I was trying to get jobs at a convenience store. I tried to get a job at the hardware store. I tried to get a job at the art store, and I couldn’t get a job!” Sockrider said.

A Haven in Taos

Wolf Maiden

Sockrider found himself in the artist collective in Taos. The collective has roots dating all the way back to the early 1900s when two artists from New York discovered their love for the southwestern landscape. These two artists seeded the idea that would become the Taos Society of Artists in 1915.

The foundation established by this collective grew in infamy, known throughout the states as a place where an artist can get a chance to make a living. Sockrider found himself within the collective while he lived down there, traipsing across the land in the fashion of a traveling artist.

“I did a lot of camping. I lived in a yurt on the edge of a mesa for a year and a half.” The yurt also served as an art studio.

While the collective in Taos lived up to its reputation of being a haven for artists. Sockrider found it difficult to make friends during his time there due to the stress that Covid placed on society at that time. Most of the aspects of living in the southwest, like going to visit pueblos and seeing indigenous living firsthand, were all closed off due to the pandemic.

“I didn’t get a chance to see any of the [Pueblos] because they were closed.” He would go on to discuss the isolation. “There’s up to 60 artists there, but I didn’t know anybody. I ended up getting a dog. I did well in Taos, but I craved coming back to Colorado.”

Backyard Jam

The O’Keeffe Trail

During the conversation with Sockrider, we discovered we both had a connection with Georgia O’Keeffe. I had spent many summers in Abiquiu, New Mexico on the Ghost Ranch near her estate. Something that struck close to home with Sockrider since before he headed out to Taos from Ward, he revealed that she has a connection with both places.

“There’s a painting she did of a church here. And, when I was in Taos, I ended up working next to the famous San Francisco De Asis that she painted, and I was like, ‘I’m on the Georgia O’Keeffe trail.’”

Mother Nature

The painting Sockrider referenced from Ward is Church Bell, a painting from O’Keeffe’s personal collection that depicts Ward Church as it was in 1917, when she traveled there with her sister. The church still stands and serves as a community center.

The painting O’Keeffe did in Taos, however, was San Francisco de Asís Catholic Mission Church in Taos on Ranchos de Taos. And, while Sockrider attributes Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock as major influences in his work—the Van Gogh influence most evident in his painting “Paddleboarders Frisco Colorado” with “Groundation” and “Galactic” showcasing the influence of Pollock—one can’t help but notice the O’Keeffe influence his use of colors in a landscape painting like “Taos Coyotes Sunrise” that shares a lot in common with how she saw the southwestern desert.

In a letter penned to artists Arthur Dove in 1942, O’Keeffe wrote about the landscape of the Southwest:

“I wish you could see what I see out the window—the earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north—the full pale moon about to go down in an early morning lavender sky . . . pink and purple hills in front and the scrubby fine dull green cedars—and a feeling of much space—It is a very beautiful world.”

The Uzumaki Swirl

Wild Nights

The spiral is a recurring shape in Sockrider’s work. As an image, the spiral embodies a nearly primordial power, as it is amongst the oldest geometric shapes discovered within historical artifacts that predate even the roots of many modern religions. One of the more interesting aspects of the shape is, while it can suggest both great power and movement, it is also neutral in nature, meaning it can be viewed as a positive or negative force depending on one’s perspective. An article from Comic Book Resources covers how the Japanese interpret one end of the spiral with their analysis of the shape also referred to as “Uzumaki” or Uzumaki swirl. According to CBR, from a lecture at Heidelberg University in 2014:

“The Uzumaki swirl was commonly used on pottery and to engrave caves and in or at least around graves in the Jomon, prehistoric era of Japan. Its meaning has not been uncovered, and the symbol itself drastically changed in use as Japan’s religion changed from Shintoism to Buddhism sometime within the 10th century.”

The focus of the article is on how horror manga-ka, Junji Ito whose work of the same name, “Uzumaki,” brought the shape of the spiral into subculture just outside of the mainstream by emphasizing the darker angles of interpretation. The story is set in a town that is under a curse that leaves all its people tormented by the sight of Uzumaki swirls with many driven insane. The interpretation is almost a play on words as the characters follow the shape and “spiral” into madness. As Ito took the spiral in a negative direction, Sockrider respects the power in the brighter interpretation of the shape.

“Even before I even went to Taos. It was the Van Gogh influence, you know. As a designer, we study basic shapes: circles, squares, triangles, and spirals. But, spirals are a good representation for growth.”

Sockrider is particularly invested in ideas pertaining to the cycles of “rebirth,” giving inspiration to Sockrider’s goddess and maidens series: “I have the goddess of marijuana. I have a summer maiden. I have a wolf maiden. I have mother nature.”

For many indigenous cultures, the spiral marked their migration as they searched for their homes.  The spiral suggests movement, called the eye to trace a path. Poetic then that this shape is a favorite of Sockrider’s. The spiral is a calling card, allowing him to leave his mark as he passes along his travels.

A.I. – Something All Its Own

Coffee Owl

Considering that Sockrider’s sole avenue for income is painting, one might be surprised to find out that he doesn’t consider AI much of a threat.

“With AI imagery now, that’s not what we do. We paint pictures. I have this discussion with my artist friends because a lot of artists freak out. You can just text-prompt up anything you want. And, I’ve tried it. It definitely has limits, and it’s never going to produce exactly what I want. You don’t have an original painting. It’s all ones and zeros in there.”

To Sockrider’s point, Sora OpenAI sent a brief but powerful shock through the zeitgeist, this past February with its mind-bending ability to use assets to create short videos that have the appearance of something created with a team of people behind a camera. Yet, these images can be created using simple keystrokes.

However, even considering the initial impact, the weaknesses in graphics became apparent. There is also the fact that all of these images are created from existing assets. So far, AI can only produce a flawed recreation of something that already exists which, as Sockrider pointed out, is not what artists do.

From Ward to Taos and Back Again

Who Are You

One of the first signs you’ll see when flying into Albuquerque, New Mexico reads “Land of Enchantment.” It is as kitsch as any other slogan; however, almost anyone who has experienced the area noted that there is an intangible truth to the statement. The Ghost Ranch is just that. The artist collective in Taos is just that. It’s the turquoise-red-yellow dirt of the desert. It’s burros chewing cud, cabins with adobe walls, and pueblos with feast days where they dance until it rains.

O’Keeffe was drawn to land hidden behind a wall of mountains because of its natural beauty — the ranch is mud, and dirt, and snakes, and tumbleweeds all recluse from the modern world. This lack of pretension is another aspect of O’Keeffe’s path that calls to Sockrider:

“I’ve been a web developer for twenty-five years. I was creating websites down in Taos for high-end galleries. But, when it comes down to it, I really want [to] spend my day painting. And if that can pay the bills. I just want to live comfortably and do what I want. This is the path I’ve taken. And, if it requires me living out of a vehicle and doing the best I can, you know, I’m going to learn along the way and try and figure it out.”

Sockrider’s statement lends itself to the poem “For the Traveler” by John Donahue, that listening to silence, along a  “journey can become a sacred thing.”

Sockrider invites you to come out and support his artist dream by attending a showing of his work at Purple Haze in Denver at 15th and Curtis, starting July 5, 2024. Prints of his work can be found at Kind Mountain Collective in Idaho Springs, One Brown Mouse in Ned, and, of course, at Purple Haze, 15th and Curtis, Denver.

Bear Pond

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