ALBUQUERQUE — What began as Harwood Girls School in Albuquerque in 1925 is known today as Harwood Art Center. As the outreach program of Escuela del Sol Montessori, Harwood serves many functions, all of which focus on nourishing the center’s vision of art as a force of social justice, a cornerstone of the community, a pathway to healing, and an essential part of what it means to be human. 

Harwood hosts annual art exhibitions for both emerging and established artists in New Mexico, offers 39 newly solar-powered artist studios, runs an apprenticeship program, holds art workshops, and hosts school and summer art camps. Beloved local artists like painter and muralist Reyes Padilla, author and illustrator Zahra Marwan, and portrait artist Natalie Voelker all have ties to Harwood, which prides itself on the practice of nurturing artists throughout their careers. 

The annual Surface exhibition focuses on highlighting emerging artists in the state, and the 2022 edition opened in late June featuring works by 11 artists working in a variety of mediums. In the nine years that the show has been happening, over 100 artist alumni have participated in the program. 

Installation view of Surface: Emerging Artists of New Mexico 2022, June 13–July 28, 2022, Harwood Art Center (photo by Aziza Murray)

In addition to the exhibition, Surface artists receive the “emerging artists of New Mexico award,” which comes with a micro-grant, plus the opportunity to participate in a professional development workshop. 

“We invite artists who apply to self-identify as emerging, we don’t have parameters on what that means,” Julia Mandeville, chief officer of programming at Harwood, told Hyperallergic during a recent visit. “The artists tell us why they fit that label, and what they would gain to benefit from the program. It’s a wide array of ages, backgrounds, experiences, and identities.” 

From these disparate voices and diverse backgrounds, the jurors find that a common theme emerges. “Elements rise to the surface of the show. There is always a color element that happens; this year it’s surprising because it’s phosphorescent orange and lavender purple,” explains Mandeville. 

Installation view of Surface: Emerging Artists of New Mexico 2022, June 13–July 28, 2022, Harwood Art Center (left to right: works by Diego Villegas, Luke Graham, Audrey Montoya, and Jade Norris) (photo by Aziza Murray)

Vibrant orange, neon pink, and soft lilac tones grab attention in the tactile tufted works by Audrey Montoya, an Albuquerque-based artist. Montoya, who starts her process with digital collages, refers to her pieces as monsters, born as a reaction to the current state of the world. “Self-portrait in purple” (2022), which takes up significant wall space at 120 inches by 36 inches, is a textile work that looks like a giant, drooling purple wolf spitting out smiley faces, stars, and hearts. 

Surface communicates the sensation of now, of where humanity finds itself in the given moment. “There tends to be a reflection of the larger world, and the ether we are all in,” Mandeville says. “We are capturing a cross-section of consciousness.” 

This year, the emerging theme in Surface is an examination of existential ideas. The artists dig into what it means to belong, what defines home, our bodies as vessels, and what it means to feel safe and have security.  

Vanessa Alvarado, a Mexican American artist based in Albuquerque, tackles the idea of the body as vessel in her paintings. A multifaceted creative, who also works as an arts educator, Alvarado has a long history with the Harwood, where she participated in an apprenticeship over a decade ago. 

(Left to right, top to bottom) Vanessa Alvarado, “Viéndome Comer/ Watching Me Eat” (2021), oil on canvas, 30 x 24 x 2 inches; “Emplumar/ Growing Feathers” (2022), oil on Aluminum Panel, 20 x 16 x 1/8 inches; “Mi Cuerpo Contra Mi/ My Body vs. Me”(2022), oil on Wood Panel, 24 x 18 x 1 inches (photo by Aziza Murray)

Her self-portraits tell her story of reclamation. “The world has felt that [Alvarado’s] body as a woman, her body as a woman of color, her body as a woman of a larger size, belongs to them,” Mandeville says. “They feel entitled to make claims comments take ownership. So, she’s bringing it back into her own sphere in a powerful and singular tone of voice and perspective.” 

The painting “Mi Cuerpo Contra Mi/ My Body vs. Me” (2022) depicts Alvarado wearing a luchador mask, contorted as she wrestles with her own leg. The background is sunset orange, creating a striking juxtaposition between the colorfully saturated background, Alvarado’s skin, and the blue luchador mask. Alvarado writes in her artist statement that she’s attempting to transfer her deep love for painting into a part of her life she’s never loved — her body. 

Mixed-media artist Courtney Metzger also centers her work on the body as a vessel. She presented an application to the Surface jury they had never seen before — one that combined ceramics and video. Metzger spent her summers growing up on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma, where she created the works on view in Surface. In her video performance “Lake Shore” (2019), Metzger wades into gray waters on a foggy morning on the reservation as she smooths clay over her body. 

Cortney Metzger, (top left) “Traditions” (2018) local indigenous clay, traditional pit fire, 17 x 20 inches; (bottom left) “Oil Money” (2018), white stoneware and iron oxide, 17 x 20 inches; (middle) “Lake Shore” (2019), video performance (photo by Aziza Murray)

“All of these works are little biographies, little self-portraits,” Mandeville says. “These artists are saying ‘I am ready to be seen. I am ready to be heard, and through my identity, I am staking that claim, I am ready to surface as an artist.’” 

During Hyperallergic’s visit, the 2022 participants of the Apprenticeship for Art and Social Justice were eating lunch outside, under a slow, sweet drizzle of much-needed rain. Ages 17 to 24, these youngsters learn to create public, community-driven artworks while Harwood pays them a living wage. 

This summer, they’re working to revitalize Mesa Verde park in the International District of Albuquerque. They’re planting a healing garden and making tiles to create a mosaic on a park bench. Each tile features symbols that tell the oral histories of some of the residents of the neighborhood. 

Apprentice Quinn Erickson co-creating ceramic tiles with youth at the Mesa Verde Community Center for “Camino,” a public artwork in Mesa Verde Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2022 (photo by Jen DePaolo)

Some have been part of the program for years, like Isabella Ortega who grew up in the International District, and is now a second-year apprentice in the program and a junior at the Art Institute of Chicago. “I love this program so much. It’s always nice to come back and give back and continue the relationship I have here. This is so personal, and home to me.” 

To create a space where emerging artists can show their work, where young people can use their creativity to support and invigorate their communities, to hold space for artist studios is all vital to making the Harwood what it is: an anchor for its community, an amplifier of voices, a force using its power to make the world better through art. 

Maria Manuela is a Chicana writer who was born and raised in Santa Fe, where she still lives with her husband and pups. Her work appears regularly in Edible NM and New Mexico Magazine, and she is currently...