A World Apart
Kolpas, Norman, Southwest Art
WEATHERED AND WORN, the heavy wooden gates of the old church above the northern New Mexico village of El Rito open wide to reveal a scene that seems little changed for hundreds of years. A dirt road winds down past old adobe houses and barns with rust-streaked roofs, through well-tended little family fields, and off toward the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
REAR WINDOW presents an inviting portal into another world, another time. "We artists who paint here in New Mexico become historians," says the artist, William Cather Hook. "El Rito was a land-grant area that was settled by the Spaniards as long as 500 years ago. These little old towns preserve an entirely different culture that hasn't really changed. They're probably the closest thing in the United States to feeling like you're in another country."
Hook's depiction of the place serves to underscore the sense of a world apart. The framing device of the church gates, the richly detailed shadow that the viewer's gaze must cross to enter the secluded vale, the intriguingly winding road, the combination of detailed brushwork and more expressive daubs that helps direct the eye: Each aspect bespeaks mastery of a style the artist variously describes as contemporary realist, colorist, and impressionistic.
Regardless of what label you choose, it's difficult to deny that Hook, at the age of 64, stands at a pinnacle of his career. He's shown his landscapes in top invitationals and juried exhibitions, including the California Art Club and the Coors Western Art Exhibit. His works hang in public institutions including the Tucson Museum of Art, the University of New Mexico Art Museum in Albuquerque, and the Denver Art Museum, and in distinctive corporate collections including those of Forbes magazine in New York and Chevron Corporation in San Francisco.
Never content with accolades, Hook isn't through climbing. With success, he says, "I feel obligated to deliver even more."
HOOK WAS BORN into high artistic standards. His grandmother, Mary Rockwell Hook, was a trailblazing architect of the early 20th century, a time when men overwhelmingly dominated that profession, and several of her works are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. His father, Eugene Rockwell Hook, was a respected photographer in Kansas City, MO, specializing in documenting cases for top local law firms. And novelist Willa Cather, who captured frontier life on the Great Plains and in northern New Mexico with an unsentimental eye, was a cousin of Hook's grandfather.
During his Midwestern childhood, art "was one of those innate things," he says, recalling "sitting on the front steps of my house at 5 years old, with a pencil in my hand, drawing the house across the street and wanting to get it right." His grandmother kept him well-stocked with art supplies and also kept an eye on what he produced with them. When he was 11, she submitted a painting he'd made to a local art show in which most of the participants were adults. "Oddly enough, I got best of show," he says.
For the most part, though, young Hook kept his talents closely guarded. "I was interested in sports, primarily tennis, and didn't want my buddies to know that I was doing the art thing," he says. So he avoided any art lessons in school, enrolling instead in weekend classes at the Kansas City Art Institute.
Still, by the time he graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, KS, his path was clear. Hook enrolled in the studio art program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in 1970. While honing his talents there, he also discovered he was allergic to the fumes of oil paints and switched permanently to acrylics as his creative medium of choice.
With his father's encouragement, Hook focused on a career in advertising and continued his studies in commercial art, illustration, and design in the MFA program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. …