Setting out to choose an artist to create our Best of Santa Fe cover each year is never an easy task. As it stands, we probably couldn't even count the number of talented local creatives we know and admire if we wanted to, and though we're always beyond pleased in the end, the selection process is torturous.
In recent years, we've seen custom work from Future Fantasy Delight mastermind Nico Salazar, a wildly popular jackalope illustration from tattooer Marie Sena and a dense and lush naturalistic piece from painter Sienna Luna. This year's cover artist, Erin Currier, stands with them as another example of excellence.
Dubbed "Saint. Nicholas Herrera," Currier's piece showcases her close friend, the multi-media artist, bultero and santero Nicholas Herrera. Gently holding a human heart, Herrera—whose work can be seen at Evoke Contemporary—cuts a rather empathetic figure. Currier implies much in his expression, somehow capturing a sense of the everyman. We knew it was the right artwork for the job the moment we saw it.
If you're reading this, please flip to the front cover (or scroll to the top) of the page. Drink it in. Look Herrera in the eye and note the peripheral detail, such as saint-themed playing cards forming a halo, almost hidden Lotería cards and Currier's regular use of discarded packaging materials. We think it shouts Santa Fe from the mountain; we think Herrera's the type of guy we all recognize if we live here.
Most of the magic of this city is in its people. Ask anyone who's moved around a lot, and they'll tell you that's why Santa Fe remains home base, or at least a fond memory burning brightly whenever they find themselves elsewhere. We're tradition meets contemporary in an imperfect melange of ancient history and cutting edge artistry.
"Saint. Nicholas Herrera" has that in spades.
It would be easy to identify Currier's work as feminist (a recent portrait of AOC, for example, screams "powerful woman," and she's well-known for painting powerful women from around the world, famous or not), and while such aspects are certainly present, this year's cover should easily expand any simplistic ideas that a woman painting women is solely feminist. Herrera's essence catapults Currier firmly into the "humanist" camp, instead. She sees what others miss and finds something living on the canvas; she's drawn to more ethereal presences than power or fame.
We spoke with Currier to learn more about this year's cover and how she managed to choose it from a staggering body of work.
SFR: Let’s talk about the cover art in a broad sense. What about it says “Best of Santa Fe” to you?
Erin Currier: I've seen the world's greatest works of art, and I've been all over the world, but I still feel some of the best work in the world is from New Mexico. It's my favorite in the world and, specifically, art that follows in these traditions, these lineages—like the Hispanic contemporary art and Native contemporary art that's rooted in lineages that date back hundreds of years. It's made from the heart, and it's far more inspiring to me than the post-modern work of a big city, and yet it holds its own. Luis Tapia, Cara and Diego Romero and Nicholas Herrera fall into this category. [Nicholas] has been using the materials close at hand that his ancestors have used for hundreds of years, the same wood, the same pigment, yet he infuses it with this tragic comedy, and highlights political issues he's passionate about and makes it very relevant and up to the minute.
It's also ecological at the same time. Nicholas and a lot of these artists we're talking about, like Native potters who craft work from the clays and the dirt and the soil, and bulteros who use discarded wood—as a trash artist, I feel a kinship with all of these artists. Artists have used materials close at hand for so many years, and for me, my generation, that happens to be trash. Nicholas totally embodies all of this. He's a lowrider and rebuilds old cars, and he'll used rusted-out carburetors in his work. He's a trash artist, a bultero, a santero…he's internationally renowned as well. His work, it's of the human spirit. He doesn't do anything for fame or glory or recognition. That's another thing I love about all these New Mexico artists I know, like Arthur Lopez or the Romeros—they don't give a shit about being international art stars, they're all about love and friends and family and their connection to spirit. I think in New Mexico, in general, the art scene is unique for that reason.
How did you select this piece amongst so many others?
Santa Fe and New Mexico are more about heart than other cities, I think. There's still bartering here and sharing, there's a real sense of community. I've found artists really support one another here. This piece also represents that. I think—I hope—I wanted to convey and capture a sense of his humility. That Nicholas is confident yet humble and compassionate. I think if you can generalize about a city and an arts community, those are some of the most positive qualities we have.
You could probably operate anyplace in the world, and you’ve been known to travel extensively. What makes Santa Fe home?
I'm always happy to come back here. It'll sound very cliché, but the huge open sky, the light, the sunshine, the community. Like I said earlier, I love the people. I think there's also this rogue, rebellious nature in New Mexico. I don't know how to say it exactly, but people here are original thinkers. To this day, Santa Fe persists in doing things its own way. There's so many different scenes here, from the strong culture of the pueblos to the hippie communes to the lowrider culture, the UFC culture in Albuquerque and on and on. I love it all. And the green chile.