TOBY PUTNAM WAS SEARCHING for something different.
The path he’d been on was long and bumpy. Putnam left his Montana home at 18 for the Utah desert and stayed there. When his older brother passed away in 2015, he closed his Salt Lake City auto-upholstery business and lived on the road for what felt like a lifetime.
A self-taught artist, he got serious about his craft, drawing inspiration from traditional and contemporary tattoos, Japanese anime, and life in the Southwest. “I’ve always made art,” he says. In 2020, Putnam returned to Montana and was painting a series on animal conservation for the United Nations 75th anniversary show when Covid-19 hit and canceled it.
The artistic setback, along with the death of his beloved dog at the same time, sent him searching again. Although he’d traveled throughout the West, he’d never ventured into New Mexico. But something was calling him. “People were telling me that I belonged here,” Putnam says. “I figured I’d open a studio, but something felt off. It needed to be more than that.”
Putnam found the answer when he opened the Lun + Ojo space in early 2021, just off the Taos Plaza, as a communal place for art and art lovers. “I’ve always felt like the moon has played a big influence in my life,” he says of the name, which also pays tribute to vision and the crosslike staurolite rocks that can be found near Taos. In addition to his own paintings, which layer washes and acrylic inks on distressed wood, Putnam shows 40 local, national, and international artists. “I’ve kept an open-door policy,” he says. “I try to showcase everyone’s work in a curated fashion.”