Painter captures state’s history

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Taking a trip down New Mexico old roads is just one UNM-Valencia Campus stop away.

Acrylic painter Steve Pettit has captured some of the Land of Enchantment’s most historical diners, motels, hotels and rest stop street signs in a series of colorful canvas paintings.

Courtesy of Jon Lechel: Steve Pettit discusses his favorite painting, “Lucky Boy,” during the artist reception on Nov. 20 in the Fine Arts Gallery at UNM-Valencia Campus.

The inspiration for Pettit’s art that’s hanging in the Fine Arts Gallery at UNM-Valencia came from “road trips, vacations, Route 66 (and) the Lincoln Highway,” according the self-proclaimed “road-trip junky.”

“These paintings are from a series I’ve worked on over the last three years, exploring the semiology of advertising media and signage encountered when we shut ourselves into an automobile and leave time and space behind while getting from Point A to Point B,” said Pettit, who moved to New Mexico in 2002.

Pettit’s work was originally inspired by “Western Skies Steak House, (which) was the first in this series. (Pettit) really liked how it turned out, so (he) just kept exploring the possibilities.”

Originally from Nebraska, Pettit has worked in museums in Taos and Albuquerque since moving to the state.

“I’m the curator of collections at the Albuquerque Museum, so I’m rarely not within eyesight of artwork or fascinating objects,” he said.

Though his work can be intense, Pettit still puts in time on his own creations.

“My work schedule at the museum gets intense as deadlines for exhibition openings come up, so I sort of cycle back and forth between the two,” he said. “When I’m painting I’m usually working on two or three at the same time.

“Also, I make my own frames, so as soon as I have two or three in progress, I can start work on the frames,” he said. “That way I can start placing the works in the frames near the end of the painting process and make sure that the balance of my relatively sparse images aren’t adversely affected by the frame.”

And how does Pettit put those life-like paintings together on canvas?

“There’s usually music somewhere in the house, but not in the room where I work,” he said. “However, the dog is usually sleeping in the room where I work, and the breathing of a slumbering dog is great for painting concentration.”

Pettit’s work is on display in the Fine Arts Gallery until Monday, Dec. 9, and possibly online in the future.

“(I’m) just starting to have the confidence to think about developing a web presence of some kind,” he said. “Perhaps ‘courage’ would be a better word. Stay tuned.”

Stay tuned, indeed.