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Blood on the Gallery Floor: A Murder Mystery Leads to Canyon Road

Posted on Aug 13, 2012 in Recent News | 0 comments

Published online courtesy Pasatiempo – The Sante Fe New Mexican

August 10, 2012

 

Blood on the Gallery Floor: A Murder Mystery Leads to Canyon Road

by Craig Smith for the New Mexican

 

“The thing is, when you write an involved character, you find yourself examining your own world and your own morality.” – Mark Sublette

 

Great art has great power, but it sometimes seems to bring out the worst in people – from greed, envy, and swindling to forgery, false reputations, and horrible obsession. A seminal painting, powerful sculpture, or stored piece of pottery may have sprung from pure ideals, but more than a few have wound up with figurative blood splattered on them.

Fortunately, even the most fought-over pieces of art seldom have real deaths attributed to them. So you can imagine the shock for Santa Fe art dealer Charles Bloom when the best and most promising of his artists, Willard Yellowhorse, dies under particularly macabre and revolting circumstances in New York. His attempts to unravel the mystery lead him to the Navajo Nation, where he meets Willard’s sister, Rachael – and all hell breaks loose, in more ways than one.

Paint by Numbers is Mark Sublette’s first published novel. The book, from Just Me Publishing, draws deeply on Sublette’s own experiences. Like Bloom, he is a gallerist, owner of Medicine Man Gallery in Santa Fe and Tucson. He primarily sells Western art, works by contemporary artists, and Native American art, including black-on-black pottery.

“I’ve always loved murder mysteries and always loved thrillers as well,” said Sublette, who gives three signings of the new book this week – at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe (during the Santa Fe Show art fair), at Bookworks in Albuquerque, and at his Santa Fe gallery. “I first put pen to paper – and at that time it really was pen to paper, now it’s keyboard to computer – probably about 10 years ago.

“This particular book is the second murder mystery I’ve written, but the first in a series about Charles Bloom and his life as an art dealer. I’ve written five books in the series, but this is the first one to come out.”

A New Mexico native, born and raised in Portales, Sublette was exposed to Native American art and loved it from an early age. He remembers buying his first piece of pottery under Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors portal when he was about 7. But later, his life took a different path.

“I was a medical doctor before I was an art dealer, and it’s given me insight into different types of humanity. I can delve into areas of the human psyche that other people can’t.” His specialty is sports and preventative medicine, although “I worked in a lot of emergency rooms, and as a naval doctor I used to have to do the brig. Some of (the prisoners) were really bad-ass people.

“I was practicing for six years and realized where I wanted to be was art. The basic ways to put it is, I stopped dreaming about medicine and started dreaming about art. I got an offer from a professional medical group that worked with the Phoenix Suns. I had an epiphany at that moment that if I took that job, I’d be a doctor for the rest of my life.

“I was already selling art on the side, and I thought I had to go with what my gut and heart said. I have a great wife, and she was kind of my Rachael Yellowhorse. She supported me in every way – she was in medicine too. Eleven years ago she got out and now is in the gallery business.”

Sublette doesn’t regret his years in medicine, and he maintains his medical license. “Being a doctor was good training for a lot of things. People say being a gallery owner is high stress. I figure my worst day as an art dealer is always better than an average day as a physician.”

Did Sublette find Charles Bloom from the moment he began to write Paint by Numbers, or did the character develop over time? He said introspection and his own experiences played a big part in it, but Bloom eventually began to move and react as his own character, and not always as Sublette had planned.

“The thing is, when you write an involved character, you find yourself examining your own world and your own morality. It’s an introspective look. I don’t care who the character might be, male or female. I think there’s part of you that shares some of their beliefs.” That includes villains, he said – though he hopes that what one has in common with a depraved personality are things one despises in real life.

Santa Fe and parts of the Navajo Nation, including the Toadlene Trading Post near Newcomb, New Mexico, play big parts in Paint by Numbers. “All the little nuances of Santa Fe are things I experienced,” Sublette said. “I can’t help walk down the street or go down to the Plaza or smell the piñon smoke without thinking, Wow, this would be great for my book. There is very much an awareness of ‘around town’ – the different environments. Looking down on the Plaza from an upper-deck gallery of a friend of Charles’ – that’s a real window I’ve looked out of. I know where it is. I used one restaurant no longer here” – Café Dominic, formerly on Guadalupe Street.

“The Toadlena Trading Post is a real post. The guy who runs it is a friend of mine. I’ve spent a lot of time out there. What inspired me there was that you see daily lives unfolding in the trading post.

Sublette believes that philosophical and moral ideas belong in books (including thrillers) as much as plot and character development do. “I think all my books have that. Usually it’s a moral statement that you make choices in your life. Those choices have consequences for you, for others. You can live your life trying to be a good person or you can spend your life on the dark side. It’s a thin line.”

As a result, the book “also shows the underbelly of the art world. There are things that happen – you get the sense of a little feel of the things in the art world that are going on. Charles Bloom… tries to be a good human being, but like all people he has his flaws. Good people have to deal with the issues that make us what we are.”

Despite the complex and often gruesome ins and outs in Sublette’s plot, in the end there is a degree of “justice and clarification” for Charles Bloom and Rachael Yellowhorse. “I like my books to end that way. I like it when you can walk away and feel good. It doesn’t mean that everything has to happen that you like. But I think overall, when you walk away, you should have a smile.”

Paint by Numbers book cover

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