“Evening Water,” Marcia Rackstraw. (Courtesy of Wild Hearts Gallery)
Colors swirl and ignite across Marcia Rackstraw’s canvasses, revealing underwater fish and foliage distorted by reflection and light.
The Placitas-based oil painter splashes her palette in color play, exposing the silence beneath a tropical pond against the muted break of a wave above the surface.
Rackstraw is showing her work at Placitas’ Wild Hearts Gallery through Nov. 27. She regularly travels from land-bound New Mexico to the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she studies the lush vegetation of the tropics to create small landscapes of its more intimate spaces. Viewers see close-up images of plants and water dappled in the patterns of shadows and reflections of light.
Unlike many local painters, she has never focused on the high desert landscape she lives in.
“Maybe everybody’s got it covered,” she said with a laugh.
“There’s something about the lushness of tropical subjects that appeals to me more than the high desert Southwest.”
These images portray the silence of being underwater, contrasted by the disturbance of breaking the surface – that flash of color, the muted sound of a splash and then silence again. Within that simmers the play between what is realistic and what is fanciful – the riotous colors given a black and white animal or the curious shapes of imaginary plant life.
“Reflection,” Marcia Rackstraw. (Courtesy of Wild Hearts Gallery)
In “Evening Water” a zebra drinks from a river, its black and white stripes transformed by a rainbow of colors. The image emerged first from a trip to the Albuquerque BioPark, then to South Africa. Rackstraw first drew them in charcoal black and white until she turned to color about 10 years ago.
“I really find them fascinating,” she said. “I got to see two close-up in the wild. I started painting and the colors became very fanciful.”
She began painting koi in her garden pond before traveling across the Pacific and snorkeling into their natural habitat.
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“I just became interested in the play of water, the play of light and how it distorts shapes,” she said.
“Water Shells” captures those shifts with seashells emerging half in and half out of the water, framed by foliage. Currents churn beneath nodding lotus pods.
“The light divides and distorts them,” Rackstraw said. “I like the way it changes their shapes.”
A pair of koi hover beneath the plants in “Below the Surface.”
After growing up in Palo Alto, California, Rackstraw earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of New Mexico.
“My parents were bankers,” she said. “I always drew. I always had art supplies. I always took summer art classes. In high school my focus was on art.”
“Water Shells,” Marcia Rackstraw. (Courtesy of Wild Hearts Gallery)
Rackstraw moved to Placitas from Washington State with her husband in 1981. She first visited New Mexico to attend a friend’s wedding.
“The groom’s father had a house for sale” in Placitas, she said, “so we bought the house. The mountains turn watermelon and there were so many interesting colors. We were totally taken with it.”
In graduate school, Rackstraw concentrated on the figure, then drew and painted on fabric twisted into human shapes. From there, she moved to small landscapes.
She enjoys the contrast between the cactus- and piñon-flecked high desert and more tropical locales.
“I am interested in making images that draw the viewer into an unknown space, one that can promote a quiet contemplation, perhaps a mystery to be solved or a challenge to know what is being shared.”