Rod Lambert usually gets about 70 to 100 portfolios when he puts out a call for artists for a Santa Fe Community Gallery show. Breaking the Block: Artists Confront Creative Obstacles, which opened in mid-December, got just over 30 submissions. Lambert, who’s the director of the Santa Fe Arts Commission-funded space, wasn’t surprised. For one, the call went out around the holidays. On the cusp of Thanksgiving gluttony and winter hibernation, the exhibition dared artists to pick up an unfinished work that had been languishing in their studio and finally complete it.

"I think artists get blocked for a reason, and they were challenged by this one," Lambert says. "There was a reluctance from artists to face the fear. The ones that did, they basically took an oath and said, 'Yeah, I've got to do this.'" Since Breaking the Block opened on Dec. 16, Lambert has seen all sorts of creative types pass through in search of inspiration. In a series of exhibition programs on Feb. 8 and 11, two visual artists and a writer will share secrets to conquering creative blocks and seizing control of your artistic practice.

The inspiration for Breaking the Block emerged from the painting studio of Lambert's friend Robb Rael. "He showed me all of this work of his that was stuck somewhere," Lambert says. "I told him that he should have an exhibit that's called Finished Unfinisheds, where he would jump in and complete them."

When Lambert pitched the Finished Unfinisheds idea to the gallery's advisory committee, a few members mentioned that they'd recently seen the exhibition Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the unfinished works from different periods of art history left them in suspense. How would these visual riddles have been resolved? Breaking the Block was an opportunity to present that question and the answer: Photographs of the works in their unfinished states appear next to the completed art.

There are about 20 artworks in the show, and many have gone through radical metamorphoses. The outcome of the presidential election provoked Darrell Wilks to transform a colorful mixed media collage into a ghostly white composition bearing the ominous message "DEATH IN A CORNFIELD." Nolan Winkler remade a portrait of the Irish singer-songwriter Fergus O'Farrell into an abstract vision of the Atlantic Ocean, in response to O'Farrell's death in February 2016. Francisco Benitez' placard recounts the long, winding path he's taken with a large encaustic painting titled "Phaedra and Hippolytus." In its current manifestation, three Greek mythological figures are covered in flowing art nouveau patterns, but Benitez writes, "It isn't over yet."

A Greek myth gets an art nouveau revamp in a painting by Francisco Benitez.
A Greek myth gets an art nouveau revamp in a painting by Francisco Benitez. / Courtesy Santa Fe Community Gallery

Next week, the gallery is scheduled to host two workshops aimed at inspiring a new round of re-creations. Albuquerque artists Bruce Warren Davis and Jami Porter Lara present "It's Never Too Late: Becoming an Artist in Mid-Life" on Feb. 8. Davis, a septuagenarian, had a decades-long career as an architect specializing in passive solar structures. During the economic downturn of 2008, his projects dried up and he went on a hunt for a new creative outlet. "I began to putter. I made light fixtures, I built furniture," he says. "One day I was painting a piece of furniture, and I began to mix some paint together and it started doing interesting things." Davis ended up showing a series of small paintings at his friend's café, and now he's a sculptor. "Suddenly I was publicly known as an artist," he says.

Lara made a similar leap, at a slightly earlier phase. At 40, she left a job as a consumer advocate (her second career) to attend art school at the University of New Mexico. In the three years since she graduated, Lara found gallery representation and prepared a solo exhibition that's about to debut at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC. "For people who think it's too late for them, I want to talk about how my life experiences have actually been advantages," Lara says.

On Feb. 11, Ariana Lombardi leads a writing workshop called "The Silent Conversation: Methods for Artists to Overcome the Creative Block." Lombardi, who graduated from the creative writing program at Santa Fe University of Art and Design in 2012, works as a writer, artist and teacher in Guangzhou, China. In her time overseas, she's sought out ways to creatively empower people across language barriers and cultural differences. "The Silent Conversation" challenges participants to communicate through written dialogues, culminating in a reading. "Everyone gets blocked," Lombardi says. "When we open our eyes and connect with the community that's around us, that's a form of creation. If you're not someone who considers yourself an artist, you can still propagate community."

The Silent Conversation: Methods for Artists to Overcome the Creative Block
1 pm Saturday Feb. 11. Free.
Santa Fe Community Gallery,
201 W Marcy St.,