Culture Vulture: Ivan Gabaldon

As published in Issue 1_2019 of Mid-point Magazine

Ivan Gabaldon has lived in Mexico for 10 years and in Merida for the last five. During that time, he’s photographed whale sharks off the coast of Quintana Roo, exotic birds in Calakmul, led National Geographic photographers on the hunt for jaguars and, more recently, collaborated on several pieces for the Palacio de la Musica. We met up recently to discuss the direction his photography is taking, his love of Merida and her culture, and what he’s on the hunt for next.

What led to the shift from nature photography to capturing performance artists in Merida?

Shooting bands and musical and theatre performances is something I’ve done since I started as a young photographer. When I became a professional journalist, I was hired by magazines and newspapers to do the same, so you could say it’s second nature.

What were the first concerts you saw when you moved to Merida?

Salif Keita (Teatro José Peón Contreras) and Teresa Salgueiro, the amazing Fado singer from Portugal (Teatro Daniel Ayala), made us realize the level of international performers who were coming to Merida, and how accessible it was to see them. We decided immediately to start documenting these artists and to date, have captured over 40 performances.

How do you find out who’s coming and where they’re performing? There doesn’t seem to be a singular arts and culture portal with all the information.

This is where Rose comes in; she’s a producer with a background in radio, TV and film, so her research skills are invaluable. She has her antenna working all the time, and searches online for festivals and cultural programming. From there she curates the information to help us decide what to shoot. Some performances are more visually dynamic so our research helps us determine what best to document. Even then, events slip under the radar and many of the shows we see are sadly half empty.

Taking photographs of moving subjects, at night, under varied lighting and weather conditions must be hugely challenging. What do you do to prepare for these shoots?

Having great equipment and fast lenses help, while a new generation of LED stage lights can hinder, but the technical challenge is only one element in the equation. Framing and composing while working around the action, the audience and all the stuff on the stage is really where it gets interesting. My focus is simple—capture the emotional moment—if the artist and the audience are feeling it, then we’re feeling it, and that’s usually when I get my shot. To be invisible is also part of the challenge. We dress in black so as to not take away from the performance, we’re mindful and respectful of both audience and performers, and we move quietly to minimize our presence.

Ivan, that sounds not too dissimilar to photographing in nature!

You’re right! (laughs)

Tell me about one or two performances that really stood out for you.

One musician who was new to us, Ala.Ni, a jazz singer from the UK, is an incredibly unique performer, and was a real revelation for us as music enthusiasts. On a beautiful night at the outdoor stage in Parque Santa Ana, accompanied solely by a guitar and harp, Ala.Ni showed us all that night why she is a rising star in the world of jazz. And I just have to say—these beautiful outdoor plazas in centro historico are one of the great things about the cultural scene in Merida.

Another memorable performance we photographed was a contemporary dance company from South Korea. The K Arts Dance Company performed at Teatro José Peón Contreras during the Festival Yucatán Escénica, and for one magical evening, flew their bodies across the stage in choreographic splendor. It was exhilarating to watch and very challenging to capture in pixels.

Do you ever get to meet the artists you’ve photographed?

Artists are more accessible now than ever, but we prefer to stay in the background and just do what we love. Sometimes we get to hang out with the performers but it’s pretty organic when it happens. We had a great night with the uber talented Orquesta 24 Cuadros from Mexico City, and spent another evening with the musicians who performed with Dutch jazz trumpeter, Maite Hontelé. We also post our images to Instagram (@kinetropico), which has led to some new friendships.

What’s coming up for you in 2019?

We’re excited about rida Fest, which runs from January 5th to 27th. With 140 events showcasing 600 local, national and international artists from Canada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, China, Japan and Spain (among others), I think we’ll be busy! The Culture and Tourism Offices are doing an excellent job in bringing diverse world-class talent to Merida, and best of all? It’s very affordable or free!

On February 16th and 17th, I’ll be taking part in the 2019 Merida English Library Artist Studio Tour. Although this is my second year on the tour, I’ll be teaming up this time with fellow artist and collaborator Ric Kokotovich. With 40 artists in 32 studios, the 2-day self-guided tour will be a great opportunity for people to meet all kinds of artists in their own environments.

 

Meet the Artist: Liliane Karnouk

Artist Liliane Karnouk

When visitors first come to Merida, they often muse about what lies behind the ancient doorways and grand facades of this historic city. And yet—it is sometimes the most humble of facades that contain her greatest treasure—artists and their studios.

Behind one such façade, I discovered Egyptian artist Liliane Karnouk. Born in Cairo and further educated in Rome, Montreal and Vancouver, Liliane is herself discovering what it means to be an artist in the 4th quadrant of her life.

How did you come to be in Merida?

The first time I visited, I was driving by myself in the Yucatan. I loved it as it felt very close to my homeland in Egypt—the water, the sunshine, the pyramids; the dark-skinned, brown-haired people. So when I thought of moving from Vancouver to a warmer country in the winter, I looked to Merida as my new home. I saw this house on the internet and knew I had to buy it because the tile floor in the bedroom is the exact same tile that was in my grandparents house on their cotton plantation in Egypt.

Wow, I’m getting goosebumps! And what about the walls? It appears they have become a living canvas for you.

I come from an ancient land where everything has layers, so the first day I arrived to this house, I began to uncover the stories hidden in the walls. The original colours of turquoise, ochre and crimson were there, and in some places I found stencils and patterns that I enhanced. It’s been a privilege to have huge walls to play with instead of drawing on little pieces of paper.

Which brings me to your favored medium…paper.

I’m trained in the art of papermaking and have had several exhibitions of art created on handmade paper, some up to 2 metres wide. I brought my cotton pulp with me from Vancouver and make my paper in the garden, in the pool. It’s very physical as I have to beat, prepare, and stretch it, so I make paper when I’m feeling strong. This technique of papermaking is quite primitive because I don’t have a press, consequently, it’s very textural and sculptural, much like the walls.

Tell me about the sculptural books you’re making.

Making paper is compatible with countries that have forests. I had a studio on the Nile in a houseboat where I made papyrus paper; I taught the art of papermaking in Germany where I lived for a time, and I love walking the forests close to my home in Vancouver. I wanted to honor these forests and trees by re-using them in artworks where I incorporate a variety of materials and techniques. I’m particularly fascinated with the dark side of the forest—the bark, the foliage, the monochromatic nature of light in shadow. I call them Forest Books, a restitution of a sort of dignity and pride to trees that’s in opposition to the rendering of trees as cones and geometric shapes.

When I’m feeling strong I make art, when I’m feeling vulnerable, I write.

What influenced you in your development as an artist?

I was a sick child and spent a lot of time in bed drawing so the tactile side of my art comes from that. At the age of 11, I travelled with my parents to Europe for the first time, to see a doctor. While there, we went to all the museums and my world just exploded. When it was time to decide what to be when I grew up, there was no question I wanted to study art. That said, I never had a gallery nor made money as an artist. I taught art and art history to earn a living and was invited to make art for public spaces and museums.

I never looked at art as something for sale; I looked at art as something for me.

You’ve had almost 40 solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Canada and the US. Tell me about one that stands out the most.

I’m very content-oriented in my work and often used my art for political statement, such as the fires of Kuwait, the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, as well as many environmental issues. But, it was my installation at the British Museum Hall of Egyptian Antiquities called Time Machine that for me, was the pinnacle of that expression of my work. It was an exhibition of contemporary artists and our response to the Hall of Egyptian Antiquities, and I felt the pieces needed to be in their original burial grounds. Instead, I brought Egypt to the British Museum. Working for two months with a molecular biologist from the University of London, I learned how to clone palm trees from cells, and resurrected a palm grove inside test tubes I installed around the Egyptian sarcophagus. That experience led to an ongoing fascination with the interface between art and science.

You’ve explored your creativity as an artist, theatre designer, educator, journalist and author. What brought you back to the drawing table, so to speak?

In Modern Egyptian Art: 1910-2003, which took 10 years to write, artist and author Liliane Karnouk examines the work of over 70 artists from 1910 until the present day, tracing the parallel steps of modern Egyptian art and the social and political environment in which that art was and continues to be created.

Last year I got sick again, and after I recovered my strength, I went back to the studio to let it all out.

It’s fascinating to me that, as a young girl, you found your creative voice when you were ill, and at this point in your life, found a new voice after an extended illness.

Painting after my illness was a very cathartic experience, as well as a new form of expression for me. That said, there has always been the issue of the body in my work. Life has texture, a nervous system, an inner and an outer, so to explore the body more literally in this work seems a natural extension.

Liliane Karnouk is one of 41 intriguing artists opening their studios February 16 & 17 in Merida. Details and participating artists for the 2019 Merida English Library Artist Studio tour will be posted and profiled soon! Visit us on Facebook at MEL Artist Studio Tour 2019, on Instagram at meridaenglishlibrary and at www.meridaenglishlibrary.com.

Meet the Artist: Emilio Suárez Trejo

“Art is reality reshuffled.” Robert Rauschenberg

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

When you move around a canvas of Emilio Suárez Trejo, you can see how he’s re-imagining the world. In unskilled hands, an accumulation of text, photographs and found objects would simply be just that. In the hands of this young artist, the collection becomes an intersection of art and everyday life.

I met with Emilio at his new studio space just east of Centro Historico in Mérida. It’s here we looked at his work, discussed his influences and talked about his life as an artist.

How long have you been working as an artist?

From a young age I have always been drawing, and I knew that someday I wanted to have a career that involved drawing. I graduated from the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán in Mérida in 2010 with a degree in Visual Arts and have been working to find my own voice as an artist ever since.

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

A ‘career as an artist’ is often an oxymoron to many parents. How did your parents respond to your decision to follow this path?

Well, my father is a lawyer and so of course he wanted me to be a lawyer as well. Both he and my mother were skeptical of my choice, not understanding what ‘being an artist’ means. I believe that it’s important to do what you love, and I think they’ve come to see that doing what I love means a lot of hard work (smiles).

So at 28, are you able to support yourself as an artist?

For the first few years it was a bit of a struggle. After I graduated, I did residencies in Veracruz and Cuba that helped me develop, but more importantly, showed me that I could actually have a life as an artist. When I returned to Mérida I began teaching privately, and I now teach oil painting at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. I feel I’m a very lucky man in that I have the freedom to work on my own pieces and the opportunity to teach others.

©Emilio Suárez Trejo

What do you love most about teaching?

When I teach, I’m as much a student as my students are, in that I’m always learning something… I find that very gratifying. For that reason, I ask them to call me ‘Emilio’ instead of ‘maestro’. Rather than teaching how to paint, I teach them how to feel, and give them the tools they need to express themselves.

How do you find time to work?

I’m always working. If I’m not working on a piece I’m thinking about a piece. Teaching is simply a complement to that. I paint everyday and my students know this. I try to teach the importance of establishing a painting practice because that is the only way you will find your true voice as an artist.

Who has influenced you as a painter?

Before I went to University, I hadn’t studied much art history. As a student, I learned to appreciate historical artists from my own culture but I became fascinated by contemporary artists like Marcel Duchamp, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the New York artists from the 50s, 60s and 70s like Robert Rauschenberg.

Have you ever been to New York?

No, but if I could travel anywhere right now, it would be to New York—to see the work of the artists I most admire. I saw Rauschenberg once in France and I realized then how important it is to see the art itself—not just in photographs—to see the paint on the canvas, the emotion in the work.

This is your first year on the Artist Studio Tour. What are you most looking forward to?

I’m a little nervous but also excited. This is the first time I’ve had a studio of my own and I think it’s a great opportunity to meet people who haven’t seen my work, and to hear their opinions. I am most interested in building relationships and hope that one day, this studio can become an ‘art lab’ of sorts—a place of learning, experimentation and inspiration for others, and of course, for myself.

Emilio is one of 36 artists in 29 studios participating in the Merida English Library annual Artist Studio Tour February 17th from 10 am to 5 pm. Information on the tour, the artists and where to buy tickets is available at meridaenglishlibrary.com

 

 

 

Meet the Artist: Renato Chacón

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.

Flamboyan ©Renato Chacón

Flamboyan ©Renato Chacón

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?

Danza ©Renato Chacón

Danza ©Renato Chacón

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?

Playa ©Renato Chacón

Playa ©Renato Chacón

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.

Meet the Artist: Lorraine Toohey

When I first came to Mérida in March 2012, it was simply to check out the place. I was selling my business and looking for a new challenge. Ten days later my husband and I bought a 100-year old colonial in the Centro Historical district of a city I’d only just met. Sound familiar? That’s how it works here sometimes—Mérida casts her spell and ‘ya está’! You’ve given up your old life for a shiny new one. It was on that trip that I first encountered the work of Lorraine Toohey, a fellow Canadian and former teacher who had also succumbed to Mérida’s charms. Lorraine had fallen in love in more ways than one, and moved from Vancouver to start a new life in Mexico. I discovered her tiny house and gallery only blocks from my new home, and liked her work so much, I took two pieces back to Calgary. It wasn’t until I came to Mérida six months later that I actually met Lorraine—artist, Buddhist and kindred spirit.

Where did you study to become an artist?

Artist Lorraine Toohey

Artist Lorraine Toohey

I received my BFA from the University of Alberta with a major in sculpture. It was a great school and I studied under famous sculptors like Anthony Caro, a key figure in contemporary sculpture for half a century, and Peter Hide, another British-born abstract sculptor known for his works in welded steel.

Edmonton has always had a very vibrant art community, especially in steel sculpture and after I graduated, I had a studio downtown for a while. It was during that time I was invited to a workshop by Caro in the UK and another in NYC before life took over and I had to get a real job. I was now a single mom with a young son so I went back to University to get my degree in Education. When I graduated, there were no jobs so I moved to Vancouver where I started teaching. I was the department head of Visual and Performing Arts at a high school and I really enjoyed that work, until I didn’t (laughs).

As a single mom and full time teacher, how did you fit your artistic practice in?

img_0009_lrI couldn’t afford to rent a steel studio so mostly I worked in the classroom environment, in different mediums. My work took a backstage at that time because of my commitments but I tried to keep my hand in things.

When did you move to Mérida?

As a teacher I often travelled in my two months off and came here for the first time in 2001. Several years later I decided to take a leave of absence and rented a little apartment in Mérida. My son was grown and I just wanted to make art and like many people, fell in love with the place. I bought this house the next year and it was a total dump, so I’d come back in the summers and oversee the work until it got to the point where I could move in.

When we first moved here, we were told the Yucatecan community is quite closed—that it’s hard to ‘break in’. How did you find it as a single woman, an artist, an extranjero?

Well, I certainly didn’t know any other extranjeros but early on I did meet Miguel Angel Reyes who was an important printmaker and artist. He became one of my very first friends and introduced me to many people. I also made a commitment to learn Spanish because it can be really isolating if you don’t speak Spanish. I travelled in South America for years, which helped. Being a part of the art community also helped. But for sure, Miguel was my door opener and I was very sad when he passed away a few years ago.

How have you seen your work evolve, and does it have to do more with the place you’re living in, or the place you are in your life?

Lorraine Toohey

©Lorraine Toohey

It’s more the place I am in my life. In Edmonton, the sculptural community was very macho which I didn’t recognize until I was away from it. My work now is more reflective of my interest in nature, in organic natural forms, the places I’ve travelled to and my own physical and spiritual body and how they relate to the world. Containment has always been an interesting sculptural idea to me…are we keeping the inside in or the outside out? For me it’s both, and I’m continuing to explore this theme.

You’re a practicing Buddhist – how has that influenced your work?

I think it influences more how I work than the work I create. In Buddhism we talk a lot about smoothing over the need for outside stimulation so I spend a lot of time alone and am very comfortable with that.

When I went to Sri Lanka last year I did a 5-day silent retreat in the mountains above Kandy and it was a beautiful experience. Everything was done in silence, which was awkward at first—I’d slip up sometimes and talk to the cat. At the same time it was liberating because I’m actually quite shy in groups and not having to speak to anyone was almost a relief.

So at the end of 5 days did you have one of those Elizabeth Gilbert ‘Eat Pray Love’ moments?

I felt so calm that the tuk tuk and long road back to civilization were almost an assault on my senses. But as Buddhism tries to teach us, living up on the mountain isn’t the goal. It’s living mindfully in the valley and visiting the mountain once in awhile when you need to. Sometimes my artistic practice is a valley, and sometimes it’s a mountain. I accept the process of art-making as, at times, difficult and frustrating and at others, thrilling and deeply satisfying, but it’s all necessary and I’m content with 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 Lorraine Toohey. Visit the Merida English Library  for more information on the artists and details on the tour.

Meet the Artists: Irvim Victoria and CM Pliego

A tiny overhang gives no shelter from the sudden afternoon rain so common in Mérida. I pound on the wooden door and rattle the iron protector but the music inside drowns out any attempts to be heard. Just as I’m about to give up, the door swings open and a sharp scent of solvent and paint escapes to mingle with the wet pavement outside.

Irvim Al

Artist Irvim Victoria

Sometimes when I enter the realm of an artist, I’m overcome by a sense of wonder—and incredulity. Wonder at what I’m about to discover and incredulity at the chaotic fusion of life meets art. The studio/home of Mexican painter Irvim Victoria is like the Yucatán rainforest that so inspires him, with art swallowing up everything in its path. The table is camouflaged by paint; a chair is re-purposed as a trellis for work clothes; a couch is smothered in canvasses.

©Irvim Victoria

©Irvim Victoria

“I just finished that series of landscapes”, Irvim says as I admire the pieces on the couch. “It was part of a grant program that I worked on for a year. I took my canvasses to places like Celestún and Sisal and worked on site. I then did another series, a more abstract interpretation of those paintings. Now I’m doing some drawing, and also collaborating with my friend and artist Juan Pablo on large pieces…I like to work big”, he smiles.

We make our way to the back of the studio, where artist Carlos Pliego is painting. This part of the studio is full of light, with ceilings tall enough to accommodate the large canvasses Irvim prefers. Pliego has his own studio but they get together a few times a week to hang out and paint.

Where did you two meet?

CM (Carlos) Pliego

CM (Carlos) Pliego

“We met at ESAY (Escuela Superior de Artes de Yucatán) here in Mérida, where we both studied painting,” Irvim answers first. “Ya, but I dropped out,” Pliego admits. “It wasn’t for me, much to my mothers disappointment. She thought I needed a piece of paper to be a painter but I knew that wasn’t true. So I worked hard and made many paintings that I sold in the streets and at my house.”

©CM Pliego

©CM Pliego

“I began painting on found wood because I had no money but slowly, with help from people like Gerardo Gamboa at Galería La Eskalera, I started to sell more of my work. From there, I was able to buy canvases and eventually found a studio I could live and work in.”

And what about you Irvim, what was your first ‘break’?

“Pliego,” Irvim says. “I was living in a tiny apartment near the market and had no room to paint. Pliego had just rented a big space with his girlfriend and asked if I wanted to share it with him, which of course I did. I was finishing a piece to enter in the Bienal de Yucatán when I met a couple from Santa Fe who came to see Pliego. They loved my painting and bought it.” He pauses for a moment before continuing. “The other important thing for me was being able to exhibit at the MACAY (Museo Fernando García Ponce) as a student. The MACAY has an important relationship with ESAY, that provides many of the students a chance to show their work in a professional manner. My work was very well received and I was grateful for that opportunity.

©Irvim Victoria

©Irvim Victoria

Irvim and Pliego have radically different painting styles but it’s clear they share a mutual respect for each other’s work. I ask them both what it is they admire most about the other as artists.

“I appreciate his loose and free strokes, his rawness,” Irvim says. “As a whole, Pliego’s paintings have a sense of wildness or freedom…”

“For me,” Pliego interrupts, “the act of putting paint on canvas is very physical and yet sometimes, it’s very tender and soft so I have to learn to control myself.” He pauses, as if weighing the seriousness of the question. “Irvim and I started working together theoretically, and then we got to a point where I would wait to see what he was doing. He’s like a scientist, always experimenting with things, and he inspires me…we have a reciprocity”, he adds, struggling with the word in English but I know exactly what he means.

img_9327This is the first time Irvim and Pliego will be taking part in the Artist Studio Tour here in Mérida, and since they’ll be collaborating, I ask if they might consider painting ‘live’ that day. “Absolutely,” Pliego grins, “painting is a party!”

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 is a unique opportunity to meet and talk to the artists, and takes place on Saturday, February 18th, 2017. Visit the Merida English Library  for more information on the artists and details on the tour.

Living in Wonderment: Artist Eck Follen

It’s a long way from Jackson Mississippi to Mérida Mexico, the ‘southern’ city Eck Follen now calls home. Her career as an artist, teacher and entrepreneur had humble roots. “In the girls dorm of a Presbyterian college”, Eck shared when I asked her where it all started. “We studied painting and drawing and polite lady art, which I had no interest in.” Instead, Eck flourished in hotbeds of creativity more liberal than her origins, ultimately becoming a sculptor. With furniture as her focus, Eck found her passion in wood and metal, exhibiting in galleries and museums from Boston to Anchorage. A few of those pieces travelled to her home/studio in Mérida, and it’s here we talked about her life as an artist.

You started out as a textile designer and then moved to furniture. How did that happen?

©Eck Follen

©Eck Follen

“I initially studied textile design but grew frustrated with the medium. On a whim I took a woodworking class and my mind exploded with the possibilities of what I could do with wood, and then metal. I realized immediately I was meant to work in another dimension and did my MFA in Industrial/Furniture Design at Rhode Island School of Design.

Wood is very much like a textile and it felt familiar to me. My mom sewed when I was growing up so I understood the concepts of designing and creating a pattern, and then fitting the pieces together.” She pauses to stroke one of her four cats, curled up on the studio table. “I believe that everything we create is something we already know, deep down in our cells. We are creating what already exists inside us.”

img_9241Her studio is filled with blocks of encaustic wax and stacks of oil pastels, in colours that look good enough to eat. Shelves of found objects share space with whimsical sculptures made of unexpected materials. Over here, two Calderesque sculptures of ultra thin dowelling await their next iteration. Over there, rows of tea boxes stuffed with empty wrappers tell a story all their own. “I’m a collector of stuff,” Eck admits as she sees me eying the boxes of discarded wrappers. “I’ve been collecting those for years—my life in tea,” she laughs.

You seem to have worked in a variety of mediums as an artist. Is there a common denominator in your work?

img_0963“I would say yes. I have a fascination with line—with the idea that a change in perspective can alter what an object is, and I use line and linear shapes to get there. A three dimensional city on the ground becomes a fantastical linear composition from the air. A flattened metal bucket once again becomes a dimensional object in another medium, all through my interpretation of line.”

And of course the question on everyone’s mind…how did you find Mérida?

“My husband Charlie, who is also an artist, wanted to move to Mexico for a long time but the places we visited didn’t really fit. I think the catalyst was a friend’s 60th birthday party where someone said, “I just love that I’m going to be sitting here 30 years from now, looking at this same beautiful landscape.” That thought kind of jolted us out of our inertia and we became serious about finding a place to live in Mexico. After a trip to Isla Mujeres we visited Mérida, fell in love with the place, sold everything we owned and came here.”

Sounds like the move was metaphorically a new canvas, much like how you approach your art.

©Eck Follen

©Eck Follen

“Very astute,” Eck laughs. “I’m reminded of a friend who’s been a tapestry weaver for 50 years—there is a depth to her work that only 50 years of practice can give and I respect that immensely. I think I would go mad if I did the same thing or lived in the same place for 50 years, it’s just not in my nature. I get juiced up by learning new processes and Mérida has definitely given me that.”

“At this point in my life, I’m creating art to feed my own curiosity,” Eck says when I ask about her new work. “There’s a freedom in not having to placate a gallery or worry about putting food on the table.” She pauses. “That said, there is also a real challenge in having no parameters, but as I think of myself as a math-free scientist, the studio is my lab where I get to experiment, and play.” Eck smiles. “I think people on the studio tour will be surprised by what they see this year, and I’m excited to be a part of it again.”

I can’t stop touching things as I move around the room, her studio an obvious place of play and experimentation. “Play is an underrated art form,” Eck tells me, “and one of those words that has become derogatory, as in ‘if you’re just playing, you’re not really serious’. My philosophy is that play is close to child-like and child-like is close to wonder, and wonder is where you discover things. Living in wonderment is a very pleasant state to be, and at this stage of my life, it’s where I choose to live.”

Eck is one of over 25 artists featured on the 2017 Merida Artist Studio Tour on Saturday, February 18th. Visit the Merida English Library for more information on the artists and details on the tour.