Perhaps best known for his depictions of street life in New York City, John Sloan also produced a sizable body of art inspired by the landscape and people of New Mexico. In 1919, upon his first visit to Sante Fe, Sloan found immediate inspiration in the magnificent mountain and desert scenery. Initially borrowing Robert Henri's Sante Fe Studio, Sloan later purchased a home to which he added a studio in the adobe style. For nearly all of the next thirty years, Sloan returned each summer to Sante Fe, where he often remained for three or four months at a time, making the town a second home for himself and his wife.
In addition to his renditions of street life and the Indian pueblos nearby, Sloan delighted in painting the landscape itself. Writing in his book, The Gist of Art, Sloan emphasized his fascination with the formal challenges presented by the place: "I like to paint the landscape in the Southwest because of the fine geometrical formations and the handsome color. Study of the desert forms, so severe and clear in that atmosphere, helped me to work out principles of plastic design, the low relief concept. I like the color out there. The pinion trees dot the surface of hills and mesas with exciting textures. Because the air is so clear you feel the reality of the things in the distance." (Grant Holcomb, "John Sloan in Sante Fe," American Art Journal, vol. X, no. 1, May 1978, p. 45)
In his New Mexico landscapes, Sloan often included men and women going about their daily tasks. In this work the artist paints an elderly man riding a burro down a mountain arroyo. Before him he guides a second burro, laden with wood. Depicting a brilliantly clear day, Sloan sharply outlines the ridge against what he once called "the booming blue of a New Mexico Sky." He adds vivid color in the form of red rocks tumbling into the foreground, and conveys a sure sense of desert light and air in the landscape. "The clarity and power of the desert forms certainly aided," writes one art historian, "and perhaps initiated, Sloan's interest in rendering the sculptural and tactile forms of nature on canvas adding that, "all in all, Sloan's paintings from Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Sante Fe, New Mexico, as well as his late city paintings and figure studies, are representative of his finest accomplishments as an artist." (Holcomb, pp. 34, 43)