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roswell artist-in-residence program

& the
   roswell museum and art center

present in the Marshall Gallery


October- November, 2008

Ted Kuykendall 1953 - 2009

Authenticity, like artistic talent, is something innate; it can’t be acquired intentionally.  Authenticity and originality together is such a rare pairing that most of us almost never encounter it.  Ted Kuykendall was perhaps the most authentic and original visual artist I have ever known.  His work affects the receptive viewer viscerally and unmediated.  The effect is powerful, if not always welcome, because Kuykendall produced work that stabs at the emotions while leaving the question of intention unanswered.  His images are daring, palpably disturbing and occasionally baffling but never accommodating or predictable. This photographic work is also as unpretentious and unglamorous as was its maker.

Ted had integrity; a vanishing commodity in this day of rampant self-promotion in the quest for fame.  Real integrity is a burden that most of us couldn’t carry if we tried.  Ted lived by a code of personal conduct that we haven’t seen around here for over a hundred years.  He never mediated what he had to say in order to advance himself professionally.  For most people in the art world, his attitude was shocking and for some of the more faint-hearted in the commercial art world, frightening.  His work and his person were stern indictments of flabby thinking and phony pretence. 

Ted Kyukendall was in many ways a self-taught artist.  For all intents and purposes he was just another man looking for work when his path crossed that of contemporary art in the persons of Luis Jimenez and Richard Shaffer here at the residency in his hometown of Roswell.  Unlikely as it may have first appeared, he had the courage, energy and intelligence to push his way out of the confines of his rural hometown and onto the front edge of his craft.  No small accomplishment for a young man with a troubled life and limited prospects.

Kuykendall was a genuine Western man.  By that I mean a product of the actual West; not necessarily the wholesome fantasy popularised in commercials for big banks or chewing tobacco.  He was a product of hardship and long periods of isolation, where personal resourcefulness, keeping your word and a respect for the natural world were a way of life not just an excuse for empty boasting and greedy self-advancement.  He had no patience with the image of the West promoted by wannabe macho men, pious hypocrites or the big wig fat-cats who tarnish the land and the legend for their own gain.  Ted was real sinew and bone; a hard man, who held himself to a higher, older standard, who never judged a person on anything other than the amount of truth that they could handle.  His blunt and at times, gruff manner, were perhaps better suited to a person who was less sensitive and perceptive. But driven by some kind of relentlessly interior vision, he was just deeper and more mysterious than most people could understand.

Ted was a crack shot. He could gentle a spooky horse or build a house but he also carried around some kind of heavy burden that was just too personal for him to share and he had too much pride to gripe at his cards or the dealer. If Cormack McCarthy were to imagine a character, raised up in a remote corner of the West, flaws and all, he couldn’t have written a more vivid portrait than was the real-life Ted Kuykendall.  It's true that he was something of a hell-raiser back in his day and hard luck followed him around like a hungry dog. In the end, it all must have worn away at his fragile heart.

Any artists' residency, and the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program is no exception, is naturally pleased when one of their artists becomes successful and we’ve had our share. But few have commanded our respect and admiration like Ted Kuykendall.   We are proud to have played a part in this artist’s life and proud to claim this man as one of our own.

Stephen Fleming, Director
Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program

October 7, 2009




All images are:
9" x 9"
toned silver bromide prints


 kuykendall 16  


kuykendall 17

kuykendall 18

"Ted Kuykendall’s photographs are psychologically dark and perplexing, invoking memory and perception on a subliminal level. His imagery is dense in meaning, amplified by what the viewer brings into a personal conversation with these works. Kuykendall relies on unusual juxtapositions of found items—dolls, toys, and discarded junk—to build layered and nuanced theatrical dramas. The stage is one of spatial illusion and the cast of recycled characters pays homage to decay and resurrection. The relationships that develop from these juxtapositions are often marked by whimsy and ambivalence. Kuykendall states, “Working with the found object has been a mainstay in my creative process. Finding things, fragments disconnected from their origin, speaks to my own fragmented sense of self.”

Like a conjurer, Kuykendall is reliant on chemical processes in the darkroom where he coaxes unusual and unpredictable outcomes onto the photographic surface. The metamorphic process is one that relies on artistic vision, manipulation, and chance. Ultimately, the resulting work is distinguished by a rich tonal quality that is bewitching and melancholy. Van Deren Coke noted, “Ted Kuykendall, like a clairvoyant impresario, creates puzzling pictures full of wonders that draw us into a fragile synthesis of anonymity and frightening intimacy. As a consequence, his pictures provide an escape from the mundane world into surreal spaces.”

Ted Kuykendall was first a fellow with the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program in 1985-1987. He bought his first camera in 1975 when working for sculptor and former RAiR fellow Luis Jimenez (1972-1973). His work has been exhibited at the Denver Art Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, National Gallery of American Art, Museum of New Mexico Art Museum, and the Fine Arts Museum of the University of New Mexico. In 1991 he received the Willard Van Dyke Memorial Grant in Santa Fe. Kuykendall is a native of Roswell.

Laurie Rufe, Director
Roswell Museum and Art Center






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