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Artist Michael Poncé studied art and worked in New York City and London but chose to return to his native Las Cruces to paint, teach and open a gallery.
“I was born here. I love it here,” Poncé said. “I decided to move back here, not to follow any trends, but to paint from within and just enjoy what I do. I honestly feel like I’m not really an artist, but just somebody who loves to paint. I just love creating things. My passion is creating.”
At the New York Academy of Art (NYAA), Ponce said the instructor from whom he learned the most was acclaimed artist Steven Assael.
“He put the canvas up and had the model there, and he said, ‘watch,’” Poncé remembers. “It was amazing to see the paint come alive (even though) most of the time he (Assael) couldn’t describe it. There’s no vocabulary for art.”
“It’s very easy to learn how to paint,” said Poncé, who has been teaching art for 15 years. “It’s not easy to be an artist. There are some technical aspects that you teach. Art history helps and knowing paintings and painters. I think painting’s just like anything else – you can teach anybody how to do it, but you have to have the passion.”
Poncé teaches art privately and at Doña Ana Community College. He has also taught at NYAA and at Vista College and the Museum of Art in Las Cruces, and he was, for six years, a member and curator at the National Arts Club in New York City.
Poncé said he is especially drawn to works by artists from the Romantic Period, including English artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746-1828). “I always feel a connection to them just because of the way they studied and the way they used paints,” he said. “It’s really, really deep.”
Poncé grew up in a poor family in Las Cruces. “My parents had many jobs, cleaning houses, cleaning yards. We always worked,” he said. “I didn’t start painting until later in life. I used to draw a lot – since I was a kid, I was always drawing. My teachers and my mother always loved my drawings [and] that would motivate me to keep drawing.”
After he moved to New York City, Poncé said he began studying artwork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other museums.
“I really loved those religious paintings and I tried to copy them,” he said, adding that after he enrolled in art school, “it all came together” in his mid- to late-20s.
In addition to graduate work at Oxford University, he has an BFA from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and an MFA from NYAA.
In New York, Poncé said he was inspired to paint everything from workers in the fashion industry to horses at Aqueduct and Belmont Park racetracks.
One of the reasons he returned to New Mexico was “to get away from that kind of painting,” Poncé said. “My paintings here are more idealized and more from imagination. A lot of my paintings right now have been of Trisha, my girlfriend. I also love the colors in the sunset.”
Poncé recently opened the Mandrake Gallery to exhibit the works of artists from the Las Cruces area and some of his friends from New York City. The gallery is located at the corner of Mesquite Street and Hadley Avenue in the Mesquite Historic District, where he grew up.
“It’s coming full circle,” he said. “It just seems right.”
For more information, visit www.michaelponce.com/biocv.