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.

2016 Merida Artist Studio Tour

Over 250 art lovers walked, biked, car pooled and taxied their way around Merida on the 4th annual Merida English Library (MEL) Artist Studio Tour. Originally conceptualized as a fundraiser for MEL, the Studio Tour has grown to become a cultural experience like none other in Merida. For one day in February, well-known and yet-to-be-discovered artists welcome crowds of locals and tourists into their studios for an intimate view on what it takes to be an artist. From mask-makers to painters, sculptors to printmakers, 26 artists in 21 studios worked tirelessly for months to bring their work to life. On street corners throughout Centro, map holders could be seen pondering which studio to visit next, because it truly is impossible to see them all. The quality of the work was exceptional, with many ticket holders becoming art owners in the process.

Our army of volunteers appeared to have as much fun as the artists, and although I didn’t get to all the studios myself, I’ve captured some highlights of the day here. Enjoy your virtual tour!


Inside the Artist Studio

2015-12-12 20.51.15The world of an artist is unfettered by convention. Rules are self-imposed, boundaries non-existent, and time is simply a concept. The artist studio is both lover and nemesis—where nothing is judged; where all thought and action is challenged.

In describing the sacrifices an artist makes in order to create a work of art, Carl Jung said, “Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory aptitudes. On the one side he is a human being with a personal life, while on the other side he is an impersonal, creative process…The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him.”

2015-12-06 13.06.17Within this world, it is the studio that becomes the sanctuary, where imagination and experimentation commune with silence and contemplation. Sometimes the communion is combative. At other times, the process of creation is like water in a river that has breached its banks and has nowhere to go but ‘out’.

“95% of the relationship I have to my work is through process” – artist David Altmejd

The studio can be humble, impermanent, wild. It can be monumental. It can also be ‘home’. A sketch on the wall, a collection of found objects on a shelf, a pile of precious junk in the corner—all are cues to a language only the artist speaks. Yet it’s a language we long to understand. We want to share something beyond what we see; a story, inspiration, the anguish and failure. We want to step inside the mind of the artist, if just for a moment, so that we may see into his or her world. And perhaps come away with something we never had before.2015-12-06 13.07.30

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 20th, 2016.

For participating artists and information on tickets, go to The images featured here are from the studio of Joseph Kurhajec.