Algunas veces lo que pareciera ser un muro es en realidad una entrada. Cuando las dificultades de la edad y la enfermedad dejaron a Matisse imposibilitado para trabajar con pintura y lienzos, él cambió a las tijeras y al papel, creando algunos de sus trabajos más reconocidos, en la última década de su vida. Cuando Frida Kahlo quedó confinada a estar en su cama por meses en adelante, ella pidió a sus padres que montaran un espejo en el dosel arriba de ella, así pintó una serie de auto-retratos que la definirían como artista. Y cuando Renato Chacón perdió temporalmente el uso de su mano útil, el descubrió que su voluntad para pintar trascendía el dolor, y de igual manera encontró una entrada.”
Renato Chacón se muestra como alguien que ha estado en la montaña, y a diferencia de la canción de U2, encontró lo que había estado buscando. Alto y delgado, aparentando menor edad que sus 51 años, su auto-profesada búsqueda de una vida en paz, parece haber rendido frutos. Su taller y su casa son un estudio en serenidad, fluyendo juntos como su pasión por la arquitectura y la pintura. Renato ha dibujado y pintado desde que era un niño e incluso aunque trabaja como arquitecto, la pintura se ha convertido en su vida. Al tiempo que él me lleva por su casa y jardín en el Centro Histórico de Mérida, me platica acerca de su vida, y su volver a dedicarse a la pintura.
¿De dónde eres y cómo fue que decidiste venir a Mérida?
Yo vengo de la Ciudad de México, viví ahí la mayor parte de mi vida. Fue donde estudié Arquitectura, me enamoré, me casé, y construí mi carrera como arquitecto. Cuando mi matrimonió terminó, pasé mucho tiempo reflexionando sobre qué era lo próximo que haría y comencé a recordar lo sueños que tenía cuando era joven. Vivir en Mérida era uno de esos sueños- vine aquí de paseo justo después de que me gradué como arquitecto y me gustó mucho la ciudad. El cambio es siempre un catalizador para más cambios, así que me mudé a Mérida, compré esta casa y comencé a hacerla un refugio propio. Fue aquí donde comencé a pintar seriamente de nuevo. Me enamoré una vez más, pero esta vez de la pintura, del color, con cómo el color me hace sentir.
“El color no nos fue dado para que imitáramos a la naturaleza. Se nos dio para que podamos expresar nuestras emociones”- Henri Matisse
¿Entonces dejaste de pintar por un tiempo?
Antes de que me volviera arquitecto viví durante un tiempo en Nueva York y en una galería de Washington vendieron todas mis pinturas. Desafortunadamente, olvidaron pagarme por ellas así que me desilusioné un poco con la idea de ser un artista. Regresé a la Ciudad de México y dejé de pintar durante 15 años casi por completo… estuve enfocado en otras cosas. Mudarme a Mérida me permitió simplificar mi vida y encontrar mi voz de nuevo como un pintor.
¿Crees que muchos arquitectos se vuelven artistas?
No estoy seguro, pero eso parece suceder en nuestra familia. Mi abuelo fue ambos, arquitecto y pintor; él amaba las acuarelas y se lo tomó muy en serio que incluso descuidó a su familia. Mi padre también es arquitecto y pintor pero quizá debido a su educación él decidió centrarse en lo primero. Yo estoy tratando de vivir una vida más balanceada- a pesar de que amo la disciplina de la Arquitectura, necesito la libertad que la pintura me da. La Arquitectura es una forma muy rígida de ver el mundo, con muchos parámetros, y mi pintura es la antítesis de eso.
“No estoy enferma. Estoy rota. Pero estoy feliz de estar viva mientras pueda pintar.” – Frida Kahlo
Y entonces… nosotros llegamos a la montaña. Tú tuviste un accidente que te dejó imposibilitado para pintar durante un tiempo ¿cómo has encontrado tu manera de recuperarte?
Por supuesto que me sentí mal al inicio, pero luego me sentí agradecido de haber tenido otra oportunidad en esto que llamamos vida. Pintar viene tanto del corazón como de la mano, y mi corazón es fuerte. Yo creo que de alguna manera es como un nuevo comienzo pero pienso que me estoy volviendo bueno en eso.
Una vez más, la Merida English Library será anfitriona de un tour por alrededor de 25 estudios de artistas nacionales e internacionales en Mérida. Este tour en el que tú eres tu propio guía, el Tour de Estudios de Arte, es una oportunidad única para conocer y platicar con artistas como Renato. Este evento se llevará a cabo el sábado 18 de febrero del 2017. Visita la Merida English Library para más información sobre los artistas y detalles del tour.
The rawness of his voice matches the paintings in Juan Pablo’s studio. “Sorry, late night”, he says, clearing his throat, and a chair for me. A crystal ashtray dense with discarded cigarettes sits on a small table, like a paperweight, atop reams of sketches and drawings that lift and settle with the movement of a ceiling fan. Juxtaposed between a half empty bottle of tequila and an upturned cockroach lies a crumpled pack of Delicados. It takes a few seconds to realize the chaos on the table is a little too perfect, that I’m looking at a still life waiting to become Juan Pablo Quintal Garcia’s next painting.
There is something of the style of Juan Pablo that reminds me of Outsider Art, in terms of it’s raw unbridled creativity. When I ask him about this, the language barrier gets in the way. “Outsider Art was a term coined in the early 1970s as a synonym for ‘art brut‘ , or rough art”, I explain, “describing artists who were out of mainstream art culture. They were self taught, sometimes marginalized, but were recognized for their innate, often raw talent. Sometimes these artists weren’t discovered until after they were dead. It became a movement almost in and of itself, with prominent art shows dedicated solely to outsider artists. When I saw your work and you talked about not having formal training as a painter, I thought of you in those terms”.
“It’s an interesting concept”, Juan Pablo responded. “I don’t have formal training, it’s true, and have learned to paint by experimentation and hard work. I guess I’m not really an Outsider artist but if my paintings are outside what you typically see in galleries in Merida, I’m happy for that”.
I ask Juan Pablo how he became a painter. “When I was 16, I went to Denver Colorado as an exchange student and then got a job in Disneyland in Orlando. It was there I met a Norwegian girl, got married and moved to Norway. I had dabbled in painting but it was in Norway I really started to paint.”
“Was that love or the landscape?”, I ask him. He laughs. “I think both! It was also the first time I had a good job and money to buy what I needed as a painter, and I began to think of it as a career. I saved quite a bit of money and when the marriage ended after 2 1/2 years, I returned to Merida, where I’m from. I painted in my studio every day for 1 1/2 years until the money ran out. Now I teach Spanish part time and paint as much as I can.”
“You seem to have three different styles—portraits, still lives, and op/pop art that seems almost political”, I observe. “What drives you to work on one over the other?”
“I do the portraits when I have the most time, the most energy”, Juan Pablo responds. “For me they represent unity because even though the people are of different races, the emotions are shared.” He catches me staring at a lush still life not dissimilar to the table in front of us. “The still lives are like exercises in perspective and colour, and are the easiest for me. And when I don’t want to think about anything, like when I’ve been up all night or can’t sleep, I play loud music and make pop art.”
“What are the pros and cons, do you think, of formal art training and your way of becoming an artist?”, I ask. “Well that is a very good question”, Juan Pablo considers. “I think technique learned in a formal environment gives you a head start because everything I learn is through trial and error. But there is also a freedom in the sheer force of ‘doing’, that I wonder might get lost with too much structure.” He laughs again. “But sometimes I just don’t know how to do stuff, and I think having a formal critique mechanism, or a mentor, would be very good for my work.”
Juan Pablo lights up another Delicado, the smoke hanging in the air like his last statement. I can’t help thinking this is an artist who is going places and as if reading my mind, he says, “next February I plan to go to San Cristobal in Chiapas to paint for a few months—we’ll see what happens but I think it’s going to be great”.
When does art beget design and design beget art? When you place both in the hands of Jason Kriegler. An award-winning visual artist who hails from Chicago via Miami, Jason moved to Merida in 2014 to, as he puts it, “…shift the status quo”. If his work is any indication, the status quo has been left behind in the Windy City.
You’ve worked successfully in design and advertising for many years. How long have you been making fine art?
Practically my whole adult life. I was born and raised in Miami and went to college in Fort Lauderdale where I graduated with a Major in Fine Art and a Minor in Visual Communications. I started painting and drawing all through college and after graduating, had shows in small galleries in both Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
How has your work as an artist impacted your work as a designer, and vice versa?
For me, the influences for both are the same—the Bauhaus movement, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, Luis Baragan and later, Stefan Sagmeister. Their collective ideas of shape and line, form and function, abstraction and minimalism, informed my work as both designer and artist, and still do.
Did you grow up in a minimalist, design-oriented environment?
My mom is a painter now but was an interior designer who loved mid-century modern. My home in Chicago is entirely mid century modern. That said, I’m also a collector of textiles and have travelled all over the world accompanied by my fascination for colour and texture and pattern.
Mexico is a very vibrant culture yet your work is noticeably void of colour…
What I love about colour is in the singular moment I engage with it, like experiencing a blue Barragan wall in an atmosphere of perfect serenity. Although I appreciate colour, I personally like to create dimension without colour—at least the traditional interpretation of colour. I’m using henequen and thread in shades of blacks and grey, as well as Sumi inks from China, which are some of the richest inks ever made. So although the work may be subtle, there is a lot of depth to the pieces.
As an abstract artist, do you plan out what you’re doing or just wing it?
I work intuitively and often throw away what I’m working on. I did that the other day, throwing a piece on the floor after hours of work. As I stepped over it the next morning I thought, “Wow, this is starting to look like something interesting”. I cut it up and began collaging it with other pieces, and now I love it!
How do you hope people will respond to your work?
Art is very subjective and my work is abstract and non-traditional. Some will love what I do and some just won’t get it, and that’s fine with me. I’m essentially embroidering on paper, creating shape with thread which isn’t easy because of the fragility of the paper. I think there’s an element of the ‘reveal’ in my work, in that you have to get up close and personal to see how the pieces are created. I’m working with materials I’ve never used before, and that’s what excites me. In surprising myself, I hope that others will be surprised as well.
Jason is one of 26 artists featured on the 2016 Merida Artist Studio Tour on Saturday, February 20th. Tickets are available at the Merida English Library.
Benne’ Rocket likes to dig deep. Whether as an art therapist or as an artist, uncovering the truth has been her raison d’être for many years. But it is her passion for encaustic painting that has her wielding her tools and torches towards sculpting a new discovery – herself.
You worked for many years as an art therapist. How did this come about?
When I went to Graduate school in Berkeley California, it was there I discovered art therapy and decided I could be both—an artist AND an art therapist. I did a dual Masters in Fine Arts and Art Therapy.
And were you able to pull that off—the dual career I mean?
Post grad school I was recruited to work at a hospital in Austin with traumatic brain injured patients, and at the same time I began exhibiting my work in a gallery there so yes, I embraced both with a passion for over 25 years.
When did you start working in encaustic?
I first worked with encaustic in Mexico in the late 90s, and one of the reasons I moved here is because I’m interested in the Melipona (stingless honeybees) that are native to the Yucatan. Not only is the honey unique, so is the wax. It’s a very challenging medium that I’m still trying to master, but I love it—it spreads like butter so I use it with all my pigments.
Your pieces truly are indigenous to the Yucatan!
All of the pigmented colors are made using the local beeswax. Here I’ve found a nice range of mineral pigments, and the Copal resin I buy in the local market gives the darker colors a nice depth. Honestly, it took me almost a year to figure out the formula for these pigments.
When I think of wax and heat, I think of it melting off the surface. How stable is the technique?
Encaustic is one of the oldest painting techniques in the world, practiced by Greek artists as far back as the 5th century B.C. The combination of beeswax tempered with resin is applied to a rigid surface and is very stable, becoming more resistant to damage over time. The word ‘encaustic’ literally means ‘to burn in’. Each layer of the painting must be fused at high heat to form a solid surface, and this fusing also continues the process of hardening the resin.
This is your first time on the Merida Artist Studio Tour. What do you want to share with people about the work they’ll see?
This work is my visual experience of being immersed in the rich and vibrant story that is the Yucatan, and I hope visitors on the Artist Studio Tour in February will see the joy and love I have for my new home.
Visit over 25 new and returning artists at the Merida English Library Artist Studio Tour held Saturday, February 20th, 2016. Tickets go on sale mid January 2016. For more information and the list of artists, visit meridaenglishlibrary.com.
Big thanks to David Hubbard for the great photos!
Leïla Voight is an enigma. She’s a very private person with a very public persona. Her latest project, the multidisciplinary Centro Cultural la Cúpula, is about to open its doors to Meridanos, showcasing international artists Kimiko Yoshida and Tomoko Mukaiyama, and Mexican artist Ernesto Velázquez. Most people would shrink at the thought of a project of this scope, but Ms. Voight knows how to surround herself with the best, and on Thursday December 17th, the cultural landscape in Merida will have a new landmark.
Centro Cultural la Cúpula is an incredibly ambitious project you are embarking on…what made you decide to create this here in Merida?
LV: For many years we lived in Tulum. When we decided to make a change, we were invited to visit Merida by a dear friend who had just moved here from Playa del Carmen. We’d been here over 10 years ago and suffice to say, Merida looked radically different back then. So we took another look and kind of fell in love with the city. Even before we found this historic property that was las Caballerizas del Palacio Canton, I knew I would build a cultural center here one day. It’s an idea that has been fully formed in my head for many years—I only needed the time, space and place to make it happen.
Why do you think Merida is ready for this?
LV: From the beginning, I had a vision of Merida becoming again the international ‘living’ city that it once was; of people coming from all over the world to make their home here, which they’re now doing. And I know that the appreciation, enjoyment and collection of contemporary art, in all its forms, is an important part of connecting with a city and building a life in that city. I want Centro Cultural la Cúpula to provide that experience to both visitors and residents alike.
Have you had many naysayers during this process?
LV: My husband? (laughs) Actually he was very supportive of my vision, once I assured him we’d be able to maintain our own privacy. That said, I do have a good friend, the widow of Yves Klein, with art Foundations in both France and the US, who asked me if I was ‘wacko’—if I was prepared to give up two or more years of my life. Of course I said ‘Yes’!
As a private person embarking on a very public project, how do you align those two things?
LV: Well I am a Gemini… but I’m also a builder. And when you’re confident in a vision, whether you’re an artist, writer or entrepreneur, it has to come out. It has to find expression. And that’s what I’m doing with La Cúpula. I love to work with artists because I can make them the focus, put them at the forefront. Most artists don’t get the opportunities they need to thrive, either creatively or financially, and I believe as a society we have a duty to ensure that happens.
Coming back to the show…you know the artist Kimiko Yoshida personally. What can you tell me about her?
LV: She’s an amazing artist and a wonderful cook! She knows wine better than most French people. She’s a 200% Japanese foreigner, which means she’s fully Japanese but she can enter societies easily—something that can be difficult for Japanese people. In her first visit to Merida, we were still renovating our home. Kimiko and her husband melted into the culture immediately, with no help from me! She became almost Mayan…with her looks, her skills of observation, and her ability to understand and be understood. This metamorphosis shows in her self-portraits. Kimiko’s exhibition at La Cúpula is of a new body of art, and it will be up until January 31, 2016.
And Tomoko Mukaiyama?
LV: Tomoko also visited Merida once before. A friend introduced us but we didn’t have a chance to connect until another friend with the Merida International Brass Festival (MIBF) suggested we collaborate. Tomoko is a contemporary pianist and performing artist, and as La Cúpula is about ‘Experiencing art in all its forms’, I jumped at the chance to integrate Tomoko into the Opening Night as well as for a solo recital on Dec 21st. I know the piece she’ll be playing but that’s it—she will create something unique the night of the recital.
Is she as powerful and sexy as the image on your invitation?
LV: She is! When she plays, it’s almost otherworldy. The minute she touches the piano, she becomes someone else. She’ll also be performing with the Merida International Brass Festival so if you miss her at La Cúpula, you may still get a chance to see her.
Your third artist is a furniture designer who works in the ancient art of parchment, which is actually goatskin. Tell me about Ernesto Velázquez.
LV: The word parchment refers to animal skin and Ernesto is a true ‘parchmenter’. His workshop is like an artist studio, with paints, canvasses, skins, frames—it’s amazing. Ernesto has taken furniture design, in terms of his approach and sensibility, to a new form. The pieces are like paintings, with layers and layers of color and texture. Ernesto is from Mexico City but lives in Merida, and we’re very excited to show his work.
What can people expect at the opening on December 17th?
LV: To be surprised, amazed, inspired, delighted…the opening will be like a grand meal with the furniture design as the appetizer, the visual art as the entrée and the music as the dessert.
What are you excited about for the future of Centro Cultural la Cúpula?
LV: Number one: to be self-sustaining through sales of art, performances, workshops, and yoga intensives. Number two: to use the charitable component of the foundation to provide workshops in art for children, the infirm and disabled, and those without access to this kind of opportunity. Number three: to open minds to the world of contemporary art. And lastly, to entice, beguile, captivate and enchant our visitors so that time and again, they come back to experience art at La Cúpula.
The Grand opening for Centro Cultural la Cúpula is Thursday, December 17th at 7 pm. For more information and to purchase tickets for Tomoko Mukaiyama’s solo recital December 21st, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit them on Facebook at lacupulamerida.
This interview was conducted in February 2015
Every city has its “East Side”, and every east side has its share of artists, musicians and outliers. The east side of a city is where things often get interesting—it’s where you find a richer cultural mosaic versus the homogenous crème de la crème, the grit vs the glam. And the east side of Merida is where I found Ernesto Novelo.
You have an extensive and rather cerebral library here in your studio. I have to ask…have you always been a painter?
I’m actually a lawyer. I studied law but when I finished I decided what I really wanted to be was a painter. My family told me I would starve but I didn’t care – I knew it was what I wanted to do. For many years I worked as a waiter at night and painted during the day, or vice versa, and I was very happy. I was doing what I wanted to do, living a life defined by myself and not defined by others. My first real exhibition was at the MACAY and I was also a waiter at the event so I guess you could say my two worlds eventually collided.
We’re looking at a large diptych you completed last October. Tell me about this piece.
I’m not a prolific painter – along with my engravings and curatorial projects, I only do a few paintings each year. They are usually fairly large and they always come from my emotions. The white one is a painting about life and the black one is a painting about death, at least how we as Mexicans view death. I completed this work a few days before my wife and I lost our twins in utero. It was a devastating time for us and I did not paint for the rest of the year. My gallery in New York encouraged me to look at the piece again, to see what I must have been sensing at the time, and to start painting again.
It sounds as if you have a very supportive gallery…how did they find Ernesto Novelo, a waiter/painter hidden away in the Yucatan?
One day I was starving (laughs) and I decided to sell my prints through eBay. This one time when I was sending a small piece off to a buyer, I decided to put my CV in the envelope, which is not something I had ever done. It turned out this buyer was a gallery owner and he contacted me right away. We have had a great relationship now for 5 years.
Have you had any other serendipitous experiences like this?
My first show ever was with five other young artists in a shopping mall, much to the horror of my veteran artist friends. About 5 pm a tall black woman came by and asked to take pictures. I became a bit of a tour guide for her and discovered she was a very important art critic and a director of the Zoma Contemporary Art Centre in Ethiopia. She nominated me for a grant through Moma and I was awarded that grant in 2004.
And how did you use that grant?
I decided to travel to Ethiopia, Cairo and France, and through that experience, I established Zoma in the Yucatan. I mentor young artists and help launch exhibitions in the city so in a way, that experience in the shopping mall has come full circle.
Where is art in the Yucatan going do you think?
Art here is changing. We have the old masters who paint in the old style and who are very important to our history and to art in Latin America. But there are more and more artists, young artists, serious artists, contemporary artists from the Yucatan who are working to be the best that they can be as artists. Gabriel Ramirez, one of the Yucatan and Latin America’s most important painters said that being an artist is a career for life and if that is true, then I believe that the Yucatan will launch some great careers.
Meet Ernesto and over 25 other artists on the Merida Artist Studio Tour, Saturday February 20, 2016.