By Linda Perala-Hunt
With the upcoming second anniversary of Rory Wagner’s passing, I wanted to share some Rory stories and let you know of some new images of his that Sorrel Sky currently has on display in the gallery.
It is not surprising that Rory Wagner, who was raised in Florida, chose Taos as his home. Taos has, after all, long been a mecca for those in search of life at it’s largest; those who refuse to compromise, and those who demand freedom in their daily existence. Arriving in Taos was love at first sight for Rory. He put down roots and never left. In 1978 Rory said, “Taos was exciting, wild and very inspiring.”
Essentially a self-taught painter, Rory was initially drawn to the works of the Dutch master of portraiture – Vermeer. Soon after arriving in Taos some 34 years ago, Rory happened into the gallery of R.C. Gorman.
RC helped Rory get settled into the artistic community and soon became his mentor. They remained life-long friends.
Rory refers to R.C. Gorman as his “divine intervention” – Wagner was heavily influenced by R.C. who recommended that Rory start painting the Native Americans of the Taos Pueblo. R.C. told him the subject matter would sell, but also told Rory that he needed to do his homework and learn about the people he was going to represent. Rory borrowed books from R.C. and immersed his self in the study and painting of the native peoples of the Southwest.
By the mid-eighties, the faces of indigenous peoples replaced his cowboys. As always, Wagner did his homework. With the same meticulous care used to build each image, he researched the smallest details of the subjects he painted. Wagner continued to be fascinated by the commonalities of tribes located thousands of miles apart, while living in different regions of the world.
He built his own stretchers and stretched every canvas himself. Rory blended the complex skin-tones by rubbing pigment onto the ground. (Wagner often joked that he rubbed instead of painted.) To achieve the authenticity of bead work and feathering, Wagner often used small double aught brushes. “It takes me hours and hours, day upon day, to complete every one of them”.
Governor Bill Richardson honored Rory with the New Mexico Governors Award Winner for Excellence in the Arts award in 2006 .
Maye Torres refers to Rory as a genius painter during her radio interview with him that took place in Taos, NM in September 2007. She later became his bride in their February 2008 wedding.
R.C. Gorman commissioned Wagner to do a portrait of himself that hung in Gorman’s home, and Wagner later did Gorman’s father and Aunt. Through R.C. Gorman, Rory met celebrities like Burt Reynolds, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dennis Hopper.
Wagner was a man about town in his early years in Taos, but later became a recluse and his style changed at that time as well. He wanted to depict all the indigenous people around the world, but never finished the project. Rory once heard that the valuable things that are hoarded worldwide are gold, diamonds and art and Rory was taken with the concept. He dedicated his life to painting. Rory lived like a hermit and a starving artist even though he really was neither.
Rory had a One Man Show at Sorrel Sky Gallery – the only one in 25 years. Openings were always a nerve racking experience. After the show, Rory decided never to do another one again. He spent 30 years in the Taos area painting sometimes 16 hours a day when he was at his best, and most of his pieces took up to a month to complete.
He sketched right on the canvas and then started layering paints until he achieved the final, desired effect. Rory’s work has a sense of mystery.His meticulousness – down to the tiniest detail in clothing and beadwork was vital in order to produce the intense, historically correct images that hold our gaze. Each figure’s powerful eyes can’t help but demand our attention. Rory’s level of perfection is unquestionably why his works are in public, private and corporate collections all over the world.
It is a great time to buy Rory Wagner’s work simply because there will be no more created. The supply that is available is limited and desire to purchase and own brilliant, unique and masterfully crafted fine art is always in favor.