An air of serenity envelops Jerry Wellman. He is sitting inside the roving Axle Contemporary, the immersive gallery housed inside a retrofitted 1970 step van, which he's manned with partner Matthew Chase-Daniel since 2010.
Wellman has chosen to park the van on the 600 block of Canyon Road, seemingly a world away from its regular Railyard location.
Our conversation starts by asking if he feels out of place in the stretch of land that is considered by many as the quintessential Santa Fe art experience.
"You call it the quintessential art experience, so I should be here, right?" he interjects. "If it's about having an art experience, this is a good thing for those people coming up Canyon Road."
He continues, "The whole mission of Axle is to bring art to people that might otherwise not experience contemporary approaches to art."
Wellman cites historical references in his by the people, for the people approach. "If you think about it, there was a time when art was experienced virtually everywhere by everyone in the time of the early Renaissance, when every church had art in it," he muses. "That was the chief place to experience art back then."
The 63 pieces that surround him in his mobile art church, as it were, are drawn by his own hand and together are the core of Emblems of Hidden Durations , an exhibit born from the grief Wellman experienced when he lost his cousin Ronny—who he considered a “brother in spirit”—to cancer 35 years ago.
Though sprung from a deeply personal moment, the self-professed "pragmatic mystic" is sure the exhibit possesses a broad appeal.
"In terms of being personal, it's like when you look at Frida Kahlo or something—I don't see her work as personal—it's universal," he shares. "Good personal work is also good universally."
Wellman cites the shared experience of being in your 20s and thinking you're invincible as one of the themes of the exhibit.
"My brother passed away when I was 27. It's the end part of this portion of your life when you think you can do anything. And me and Ronny thought that," he says. "This has been an accumulation of trying to understand and I realized why it was so impactful to me, because it happened during that period in life before you're 30 and the sky's the limit."
Three decades in the making, seeing Emblems of Hidden Durations come to fruition was an intense moment for Wellman.
"I don't know if I would call it cathartic," he says, taking a long pause. "Actually…wow. Emotional, very emotional," he continues, getting noticeably choked up.
The effect, Wellman points out, is contagious. "Many people have come in here and also felt that same emotional quality," he says. "Their eyes tear up and stuff. To me, it's an amazing time and gift to be able to do this."
Probed about the presence of more underlying themes present in the exhibit, Wellman cites Eastern teachings, embracing mystery, "finding serenity in the inevitable" and the writings of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza surrounding "death and deathlessness."
Wellman takes a second to soak up his surroundings and smiles. "Even after Ronny died, in a sense he's still with me. You're meeting him right now, Ronny's right there behind me and he's seeing you in a way—or, you're seeing him…for sure."
Housed with Axle's aluminum walls though Nov. 9, Emblems lives on in a limited-edition book and an upcoming operetta led by Molly Sturges, co-founder of Littleglobe.
"It's gonna be amazing, I have to say," the wandering gallerist advances. The show features "chance" compositional techniques and is set around a dead piñon tree.
"Molly does a lot of hospice work and we we're talking about deathiness—a word I made up—and we resonated on that," he says.
"I was joking with Molly, we've gotta take this thing on the road," he says, immediately noticing the innate relation to his space.
"Movement, man. It's all movement, you know? That's the one truth that we cannot deny. There are a lot of other things we can argue about, but that's one that would be very difficult to squirrel out of."
An Experimental Operetta
6:30, 7:30 & 8:30 Sat., Nov. 2. Free.
CCA , 1050 Old Pecos Trail,
Emblems of Hidden Durations Book reading and signing
6-7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 5. Free.
Collected Works Bookstore,
202 Galisteo St.,
Santa Fe Reporter