The Next Chapter

Musician/painter Jake Trujillo finally has gallery representation—and it’s about time

Jake Trujillo’s take on the New Mexican landscape feels magical yet real all at once. (Courtesy the Artist)

In a small live/work space right around the corner from Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery, artist Jake Trujillo leads me into a small side room to show me his woodworking equipment.

“You have to get it into the most enclosed place possible,” he jokes about his powerful saw. “That way you can breathe it all in.”

Trujillo has called this place home for roughly four years, and says, for the most part, he loves it. He shares a couple walls with other artist types, but he’s never heard them, nor have they complained about his use of power tools. Seems everyone here is on the same page as far as making art goes, and Trujillo mostly uses the equipment to build his own frames for his acrylic/oil landscapes; a finished product, he explains, is more likely to sell.

This is perhaps a lesson Trujillo picked up in business classes at the Santa Fe Community College and Las Vegas’ Highlands University. Or maybe he’s just right—it’s so obvious once he’s said it, and I think of the pieces in my own collection that didn’t come in frames, languishing in the corner, never destined for the wall.

I ran into Trujillo at the memorial for artist Mikey Rae at Meow Wolf some weeks earlier and asked what work he’d been getting into. I’ve long been a fan of his music, writing in 2017 that his album, Bloom Delicacy, produced under his then-moniker Dreamcastle, was “among the best we’ve heard in ages—local or not.” But I had heard through the grapevine that his paintings had really matured in recent years. All things considered, he’s a relatively new hand at visual arts, having started in earnest in 2014 or so. With a fairly bold willingness to seek out the lesser-captured colors of the sky—teals and hot pinks, for example—he’s zeroed in on what you might call a signature style. Today, in his home, I learn part of that came from his grandmother, a bit of an artist herself with whom Trujillo grew up and who encouraged him to be artsy. His grandfather, a general in the Army at one point, helped instill Trujillo’s work ethic. As of now, he has developed his own life/work balance, and much of it revolves around the creation of art.

“The periods of time when I’m really engaged with music are the times I can give visual art more space,” he says of Can You Believe How Much I Am In Heaven?, his most recent album released a few weeks ago through “I’m never locked into any one that the pressure is too high.”

This, too, makes sense once Trujillo says it out loud. His painting goal, if he particularly has one, is to almost recreate the feeling of a landscape rather than a 1:1 representation; a moment in time tied to the experience rather than the specific sight. But this is no easy feat, and Trujillo’s process involves site visits, photo reference and experimentation—you won’t often see acrylics and oils mingling so harmoniously on canvas the way they do in a Trujillo piece. It can feel overwhelming to capture the viewer’s broader senses, so, when the painting feels like too much, Trujillo can retreat into the world of songcraft. He self-produces his records in the same space he paints, and his most recent sounds like the weirdest but most pleasant combination of early-aughts emo, Brit-pop and by way of Radiohead before Thom Yorke became a computer.

It’s almost annoying, then, that Trujillo’s effortless musicianship exists in parallel to his painterly pursuits. He gets it, too, and doesn’t subscribe to false modesty. Still, he says, “As much as I’ve developed the practice of putting in the horizon [of my landscapes], my life’s work has been the gradient.”

In other words, there’s space to grow, and he’s discovering how that works all the time. One piece he’s hung on his own wall, for example, finds the sky shining in the deepest blue-green of billowy, sea-like colors, while the clouds reflect a neon shimmer over the Sandias. Ultimately, each piece is minimal and composed of three-ish focal layers stacked atop each other horizontally. What he achieves is like the dream memory of a place that’s familiar yet fleeting.

“It’s...when you’re in the moment of being there, you really do experience it that way,” says Emily Spykman of Sun & Dust (616 Canyon Road, (603) 801-5732), a new gallery space on Canyon Road and the first to ever showcase Trujillo’s work. “I’m really blown away by how brilliantly and uniquely he captures the intensity of the sky and land here. He’s already selling, and [the work has] only been up a week.”

Spykman, an experienced jeweler, says she pictures Sun & Dust almost like an egalitarian antidote to the Canyon Road pretense. Not everyone feels welcome over there (or like they can afford anything) but a gallery giving artists like Trujillo a break feels like a step in a more universal direction. Sun & Dust strips artifice for accessibility, and much of that is Spykman following her gut when it comes to whom she’ll show—an ethos that fits well with Trujillo’s general attitude toward his own practice.

“I’m developing a design object, something that has a purpose in a house the way furniture would,” he explains. “I don’t mind thinking of it like decor. It should serve a purpose within the space of the person it belongs to, and it needs to have meaning to them; my intention is that there’s a functionality to it; you can have an emotional response of your own rather than having me tell you how.”

Well, whaddya know, an artist who recognizes that intention is actually secondary to viewer perception. That shouldn’t be novel, but it is. Trujillo is eminently likable.

“I try not to hit people too hard with language about the product,” he says, “but we might imagine the distinction between craft and art more than we think we do.”

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