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Cady Wells, Untitled

Cady Wells
CADY WELLS (1904-1954), first visited Taos in 1932.

Perhaps it is to those who do not live too long that the gift is given of fully savoring every moment.

—E. Boyd, 1956

In his watercolor paintings, Cady Wells, like his teacher Andrew Dasburg, sought to capture the geometry of the land, combining his interest in landform structure with a John Marin-like boldness. A sense of rapidity often appears in Wells’s semi-abstract landscapes—particularly the early ones. Slashed with rains of line, the paintings are as much a map of the land’s movement as of the land’s form. His cuneiform-like abstractions hold all the mystery of ancient Sumerian tablets, like a language still recognizable but not exactly remembered. Such traits led Georgia O’Keeffe on more than one occasion to state that Wells (along with herself!) was one of the two or three finest painters in the Southwest. He assimilated the lessons of Dasburg and later went through a period where the work of Georges Rouault and Paul Klee influenced his work.

Wells never was a permanent resident, but he continued to visit and work in Taos after World War II, staying at a studio owned by Taos artist Rebecca James. By the late 1940s he was working in thick, full-bodied watercolor, putting down on paper a more sensual texture than in previous work to achieve fuller definitions of space. He enlarged the closely worked details in his landscapes until they developed into his late abstractions.

Wells learned the use of colored inks from Thomas Benrimo, utilizing them for dramatic effect. Influenced by the stained glass windows at Chartres Cathedral, Wells set his work in ink within a “framework of translucence and dark contrast,” as noted in the catalog of his retrospective exhibition at the Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, in 1956. One critic understood the artist’s intent exactly when he noted that Wells was ornamenting “his patterns and intervals as though they were richly complex tapestries.”

Wells seemed to be finding an important new direction in his work after 1952, but he did not live long enough to fulfill its potential. It is a tragedy that Wells did not have a few more decades to explore such a promising direction.

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992)
Untitled, 1935
watercolor on paper
Overall: 14 1/2 x 20 1/4 in. (36.8 x 51.4 cm) Framed: 23 1/4 x 28 3/4 in. (59.1 x 73 cm)
Courtesy of Taos Municipal School Historic Collection