PUEBLITOS—Sandwiched between the hum of the interstate and the rumble of the freight trains, is a sun-lit kitchen where art is created.
When the Belen native Brian Wood took up the paint brush a few years ago, he chose his kitchen because it was the only room without carpeting. The lush New Mexico light from a south-facing window and a skylight overhead makes the ad hoc studio much more than a repurposed kitchen.
As a child, Wood drew all kinds of things, he said, from his favorite cartoons to airplanes. Growing up and considering future careers, he didn’t envision himself as an artist.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. In high school, I was in building trades and I enjoyed that. But I was also in drafting classes, which I also enjoyed,” Wood said.
When he enrolled in Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, Wood initially decided to take drafting classes.
“What I didn’t know was in those drafting courses was engineering,” he said with a chuckle. “I wasn’t good at that, so when I found out they had a graphic arts program, I went into that.”
The quality program at ENMU launched Wood into a career as a graphic designer, including several years with the Valencia County News-Bulletin and 18 years at the Albuquerque Journal. The results of graphic artists are seen everywhere, from television to magazines, billboards and the internet.
After he retired from the Journal, Wood happened to visit the Belen Art League Gallery on Becker Avenue a few years ago.
“I talked to the people there and told them I was an artist. They said ‘Do some art and bring it in,’” Wood recalls.
That year, the gallery held a competition for car-themed artwork; Wood entered and won first place.
“It’s relaxing, it’s fun. It’s kind of interesting to see what it’s going to look like,” Wood said of painting. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like before it happens.”
Wood works primarily in acrylic paint after some initial ventures using oil paints.
“Acrylic is easier. I just smeared (oil) paint all over the place because it takes a really long time to dry,” he said. “I prefer oils but I don’t know how to use them yet.”
Wood’s paintings are primarily scenes of his native New Mexico, featuring roadrunners and lizards, cacti, silhouettes of wildlife against brilliant sunsets and cowboys.
Some of his paintings are places he’s been and photographed, while others are purely imaginary.
One imagined scene, titled “It’s Gonna be a Long Night,” is a faceless cowboy watching over a heard of longhorns during a raging storm.
“I thought of that one at night when I was sleeping. I woke up and thought, ‘OK, that’d be a cool painting,’” Wood said.
Other paintings, such as “In Trouble Again,” of two young Native boys attempting to ride a buffalo calf, come from others — in this case the idea was his mother’s.
While he regularly has pieces hanging in the BAL Gallery, Wood also does commissioned pieces.
His cousin was in town visiting from California and saw his piece, “Dat’s a Good Apple!” showing a donkey gleefully chomping on an apple.
“She bought it and her friend loved it; her friend and her daughter had dogs who were getting old and wanted me to paint both of them,” he said.
Another cousin in Texas connected him with the owner of a shopping mall made out of train cars. He commissioned Wood to do a painting of a train for a barber shop in one of the train cars.
A train piece he kept for himself hangs in his kitchen and depicts a steam engine crossing one of the bridges in Abo Canyon.
“That’s the model of train that would have been in that era; I researched that specifically for the painting to get the time period right,” he said. “I used a photo for the scenery.”
Although finished in a barnwood frame made by Wood and on display, he still feels like something is missing from the piece.
“Maybe I need to make it greener … I don’t know. There’s something that’s missing but I’m not sure what,” he muses. “It’s just not there yet.”
A skilled wildlife and outdoors photographer, Wood takes pictures primarily for his own enjoyment. He does use them for reference in his painting.
While he is making a name for himself as an artist, there’s at least one thing many probably don’t know about Wood — he’s a certified scuba diver.
“I haven’t gone in a while, but I’ve been to the Florida Keys, Cozumel, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands. Santa Rosa Blue Hole is kind of cool,” he said. “On a night dive, at about 80 feet under water, the water is so clear you can see the stars in the sky.”
Wood said he wants to try different media and grow his skills as an artist. He recently tried a three-dimensional metal piece — a scorpion that hides on the floor near a large houseplant.
“It took me a long time. I had to learn how to weld better,” he laughed.
His fellow artists at the gallery are a talented group of people, Wood said, who are very good at what they do.
“The artists there are really, really good and they can do things really quickly,” he said. “It takes me forever.
“As I was learning as a graphic artist, it’s really detail oriented. Painting, I’m trying to be too detailed. They’ve taught me there’s something called ‘implied detail’ where it looks like there’s more detail than what’s actually there.”
Wood has also set up an online shop using a service called Threadless that lets customers buy products such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, magnets, stickers and even skateboards with his paintings printed on them.
Wood offers prints of his original paintings at brianwoodcreative.com. His Threadless shop is brianwoodcreative.threadless.com. For original works or to commission a piece, email him at [email protected].
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.