NORMAN — People should worry about an artist who completes a painting in 45 minutes to an hour, Tony Abeyta says.
Yet the crowd watched as Abeyta finished in an hour's time on Sunday, an autumn-inspired landscape featuring aspens hit by shimmering sunlight.
Abeyta, who has studios in Santa Fe, N.M., and Chicago, was one of five artists who offered live art demonstrations during a Community Celebration in honor of the James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
The collection, a gift from Bialac, who lives in Arizona, contains more than 4,000 works representing indigenous cultures across North America, especially the Pueblos of the Southwest, the Navajo, the Hopi, many of the tribes of the Northern and Southern Plains and the Southeastern tribes.
Abeyta talked of the importance of art patrons such as Bialac while he mixed oils, then put brush to canvas to create a painting “from memory” of what aspens look like as they change colors in the fall in New Mexico.
“A lot of what I do is based on memory. It's my emotional response to the landscape,” Abeyta said.
Abeyta said he does not usually complete an oil painting in a small window of time.
“The true magic happens when you step back and think about it for a couple of days,” he said.
Abeyta, who is part Navajo, was raised in Gallup, N.M., where he watched his father, Narciso Abeyta, paint on weekends.
“It didn't matter to Dad whether other people liked it. He loved what he did. ... He'd sell a painting, and we'd get a T-bone. I didn't think at first I would be an artist, because I didn't think you could actually make a living at art.”
His views changed when he left home at 16 to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He later studied at the Maryland Institute's College of Art in Baltimore and the Chicago Art Institute. Thanks to a Ford Foundation grant, he also studied in the south of France and Italy.