Sometimes what appears to be a wall is actually a way in. When difficulties with aging and illness left Matisse unable to work with paint and canvass, he turned to scissors and paper, creating in the last decade of his life some of his best known works. When Frida Kahlo was confined to her bed for months on end, she asked her parents to mount a mirror to the canopy above her, painting a series of self-portraits that would come to define her as an artist. And when Renato Chacón temporarily lost the use of his painting hand, he discovered his will to paint transcended the pain, and he too found a way in.
Renato Chacón carries himself like one who’s been to the mountain and, unlike that U2 song, found what he’s looking for. Tall and lean and seeming younger than his 51 years, his self-professed search for a peaceful life seems to have been fruitful. His studio and home are a study in serenity, flowing together like his passions for architecture and painting. Renato has been drawing and painting since he was a child and even though he works as an architect, painting has become his life. As he tours me through his house and garden in Merida’s Centro Historico, we talk about this life, and his re-dedication to painting.
Where are you from and how did you find yourself in Merida?
I come from Mexico City, having lived there most of my life. It’s where I studied architecture, fell in love, got married, and built my career as an architect. When my marriage ended, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what to do next and began remembering the dreams I had when I was younger. Living in Merida was one of those dreams—I came here for a visit right after I graduated as an architect and liked the city very much. Change is often a catalyst for more change, so I moved to Merida, bought this house and started making it my own refugio, my refuge. It was here I began to paint seriously again. I fell in love, but this time with painting, with colour, with how colour makes me feel.
Color was not given to us in order that we should imitate Nature. It was given to us so that we can express our emotions.” HENRI MATISSE
So you stopped painting for a time?
Before I became an architect I lived for a while in New York City and had a gallery in Washington that sold all of my paintings. Unfortunately, they forgot to pay me for those paintings so I became a bit disillusioned about being an artist. I moved back to Mexico City and for the most part, stopped painting for 15 years…my focus was on other things. Moving to Merida allowed me to simplify my life and to find my voice again as a painter.
Do you think many architects become artists?
I’m not sure, but it seems to run in our family. My grandfather was both an architect and a painter; he loved watercolour and took it so seriously that he neglected his family. My father was also an architect and a painter but perhaps because of his upbringing, he chose to focus on the former. I’m trying to live a more balanced life—although I love the discipline of architecture, I need the freedom that painting gives me. Architecture has a very strict way of looking at the world, with many parameters, and my painting is the antithesis of that.
I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.” FRIDA KAHLO
And so…we come to the mountain. You had an accident that left you unable to paint for a time. How have you found your way back from that?
Of course I felt badly in the beginning, but then I was grateful I’d been given another chance at this thing called life. Painting comes as much from the heart as it does from the hand, and my heart is strong. I guess in some ways it’s like a new beginning but I think I’m getting good at that.
Once again, the Merida English Library will host a one day open studio tour of over 25 national and international artists with studios in Merida. This self-guided Artist Studio Tour takes place on Saturday, February 18th, 2017 and is a unique opportunity to meet and talk to artists like Renato. Visit the Merida English Library for more information on the artists and details on the tour.