ANDREW DASBURG (1887-1979), first visited Taos in 1918.
I really taught people to see: a sort of evangelist for modernism, because of my experience of seeing Matisse paint for most of an hour.
—Andrew Dasburg, 1975
Not only did Andrew Dasburg meet Henri Matisse, but he also discovered the work of Paul Cézanne in Paris (1909-1911) and became one of the first American artists to grasp the possibilities of modernism. Dasburg’s work was included in the famous 1913 Armory Show, and in the 1916 “Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters.” No other artist moved to Taos having already achieved a significant presence in the American art world.
During the 1920s, when Dasburg divided his time between New York and New Mexico, he painted landscapes and still lifes. He moved permanently to Taos in the 1930s but soon contracted Addison's disease, which left him too weak to produce much artwork. By 1947, he recovered sufficiently to resume his career and join the Taos Moderns. As he had done throughout his long career, Dasburg gave active encouragement to advanced art students such as Earl Stroh. He was greatly admired and respected by the Taos Moderns who, if they did not know his place in American art history before coming to Taos, soon learned of it. But Dasburg was also open to inspiration. According to Stroh, Edward Corbett’s startling white abstractions influenced both Dasburg and Thomas Benrimo to create their own essays in white.
Dasburg's gradual return to painting and drawing led to the period of his finest work, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. Dasburg studied the Taos Valley until he could convey its underlying geometry with an intimate precision. In his drawing, he looked beyond the smooth, feminine forms to reveal the skeleton beneath with supreme economy of line. He painted the Taos Valley not as a mass of geometric blocks but as a vital, living thing. In the land’s visual rhythm he found harmony coming out of contrasts, an artistic perception of nature and time and also an artistic attitude.
In an address to University of New Mexico art students in 1953, Dasburg spoke of how an artist should approach the process of creation:
What is a work of art if not elevation of spirit? Something that in its best instances has the power to instill with a heightened awareness of life—both its joy and enigma. Be the theme lyrical or tragic, a great work of art is always more profound and at the same time simpler than the verbiage with which we obscure in trying to describe it. Someone is always introducing the word “problem” to replace joy, a sense of play, and mystery which is the fertile soil of art. The only problem that confronts the artist beyond his daily bread is to rid his mind of cobwebs of confused thought and to throw away the crutches of theory. Work is the mother of craft which cannot be earned as an end itself but only as servant to a guiding vision. A purpose to be achieved.
Late in life, Dasburg was honored with museum shows in Dallas, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and New York. When he died in 1979, he was the last surviving artist of the Armory Show, and the last direct link to the earliest days of American modernism.
Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992)