2017 Merida Artist Studio Tour

Over 30 years ago, the Merida English Library (MEL) was an artist studio. Painter and printmaker Mark Callaghan, painter Alonso Gutierrez, and photographer Victor Rendon (deceased) established a beautiful synchronisity between each other and the community that lives on through the vision of the Merida English Library.

Perfect day for an artist studio tour

Originally created as a lending library (12,961 books to date), MEL has grown to become a centre for community. Through ongoing programs geared to connecting English and non-English speaking visitors and members, students and intellectuals, art aficionados and artists, the Library is a story of generosity and dedication, sharing and partnership.

One of the Library’s most popular fundraising events is the Artist Studio Tour. For a single day each February, talented artists in Merida open up their studios, and ergo themselves, to curiosity, admiration and reflection. “The Artist Studio Tour is our flagship fundraiser, but it’s also an important way for us to give back to the community”, Board Vice-president Andrea Slusser told me. “The event shines a light on artists living and creating in Merida, and gives us all an opportunity to connect with people from around the world.”

Even Fitz needed a sit down after 17 studios!

This year we managed (Leanna, Fitz and I) to visit 23 of the 29 artists, a herculean feat given the depth and breadth of the work in each studio. Over 350 enthusiastic people joined us on what was a beautiful day in Merida, and judging from the smiles of artists and participants alike, I’d say it was an unforgettable experience.

“We leave that studio/gallery, inspired, and walk to several more. The sun is searing now and Larry and I enjoy a quick refreshing break in the upstairs lounge outside Cy Bor’s tiny studio while Pauline and Joanne discuss Cy’s work in progress–a blue patterned plate stacked with lemons, glistening with flavour. Cy’s pastels are displayed throughout the house, bringing with them a freshness you can taste. I am in awe of her ability.”
– excerpt from Diana Barton footlooseboomer.com

Big shout out to El Cardenal Cantina, who handed out mojitos at the end of the tour! To all our fantastic volunteers— committee members, ticket sellers, media coordinators, poster distributors, studio sitters, promoters, project managers and the artists who took part this year…you are amazing! I have had the great pleasure of interviewing many of the artists over the past few years, so if you missed the tour, you can ‘meet’ Emilio Said & Samia Farah, Joseph Kurhajec, Rodolfo Baeza, Renato Chacón and many others right here on my blog. Hope to see you next year!

Merida on the Map

Hacienda magic

A new Palace of Music. The recently opened Centro Cultural la Cúpula. Gastronomic experiences and award-winning cuisine, charming boutique hotels and AirBnb’s. Day trips to beautiful haciendas, cenotes, and mayan ruins, and mini road trips to beach destinations like Isla Holbox and Tulum. Merida and the Yucatan are on the hipster ‘not-to-be-missed’ lists, and for good reason.

Here are just a few of the stories I’ve come across lately…enjoy!

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/07/travel/places-to-visit.html?_r=0

New York Post: http://nypost.com/2016/01/12/the-mexican-getaway-thats-better-than-cancun/

Conde Nast Traveller: http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2015-08-27/a-locals-guide-to-the-best-of-merida-mexico-yucatan

Travel and Leisure: http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/exploring-the-chic-inland-towns-of-mexicos-yucatan-peninsula/14

Oasis in the Yucatan

o·a·sis n. pl. o·a·ses (-sēz) A situation or place preserved from surrounding unpleasantness; a refuge: an oasis of serenity; Hacienda San Jose Pachul

What to do when it’s 40C in the shade and your very soul demands to be quenched? You find an oasis. The Yucatan is classified as a tropical desert, so on a scorching day in April, I sought out refuge with five equally parched compañeras who also longed for cool waters, salty breezes, a richly layered ambiance and delectable comestibles. We found our oasis, sin salty breezes, at Hacienda San Jose Pachul. I have written about HSJP before, and taken many trips with visiting friends, always to great jollity. Two hours inevitably turns into four, and on this particular hot and sultry day, we arrived before noon and left as the sun was beginning to set. It was our monthly book club and Evelyn suggested we enjoy our discourse of ‘Tasty: The Art and Science of What we Eat’ by spending the afternoon surrounded by ‘umami’. We hired a driver and in 45 minutes, were bobbing in the pool, accompanied by rustling bamboo and Richards’ home grown sour orange margaritas. We had arranged with Chef Jose to have a ‘plating’ lesson which I was very much looking forward to. My lack of plating skills means I serve everything on a platter (very forgiving and easily impressive) or family style, in lovely serving dishes that share the table with the wine and conversation. Our first course was a luscious Banana Gazpacho made with bananas (plantains actually) from the hacienda. It was cool and sweetish with a bit of heat and left my palette longing for tart and fresh. Jose has beautiful dishes which are a huge component in successful plating. Also, colour and texture and remembering to lovingly wipe off the soup from the edge of the bowl (my bad). Course #2 was a refreshing Butter Lettuce with Mango and Panela Cheese. This was a perfect combination of fresh mango, Panela cheese, sweet yellow and red peppers, grape tomatoes and parsley, topped with julienne of jicama and drizzled with a combo of sour orange and ‘unclassic’ caesar salad vinaigrettes. Yum. After savouring the last of the wine pairing we traipsed back to the kitchen to help assemble the Stuffed Poblanos with chicken, Oaxaca cheese, fruit and vegetable crudités, nestled in Tomatillo Sauce. The crowning touch was a honey chile pasilla sauce drizzled ever so sparingly across the peppers. A final dip in the pool and we were back preparing a seriously umami dessert of Hacienda Banana Cake filled with coconut cream in a strawberry tres leches and topped with chile ancho chocolate sauce. I’ve begged for the recipes and am happy to share one with you here—buen provecho!

Hacienda San Jose Pachul’s Banana Gazpacho:

Hacienda San Jose Pachul's Banana Gazpacho

Hacienda San Jose Pachul’s Famous Banana Gazpacho

1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 medium white onion finely chopped 2 garlic cloves finely chopped 6 ripe medium/large plantains peeled and sliced 1/4 cup sugar 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock 1 tsp habanero sauce salt and pepper to taste 3 cups milk 1/2 cup finely chopped celery, red onion, red bell pepper 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

  • Sauté the white onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add sliced plantain with the sugar and continue to sauté stirring constantly.  If the mixture is too thick, add some stock if necessary to cook through and a smooth consistency is reached.
  • Add the rest of the stock with the habanero sauce and salt and pepper and reduce over medium heat for about 10 minutes, taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper or sugar to balance the flavours, depending on how sweet the plantains are. Remove from heat and let cool.
  • Once the mixture is cooled down, mix in the blender some soup base with some of the milk, blending only to achieved medium light and silky consistency. Do not over blend, you want to leave some texture. Do this in batches until the banana mixture is finished.  You may need to add some more milk or stock to achieve the right consistency.
  • While blending, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
  • Chill mixture.  When ready to serve portion soup into bowls, and garnish with the finely chopped celery, red onion and bell pepper, sprinkle some chopped parsley and finish with a spritz of olive oil.

Meet the Artist: David Aldrich

©Alison Wattie

©Alison Wattie

To meet with painter David Aldrich is to be embraced by beauty. His Merida home/studio is a contemporary oasis amongst the renovated colonials that appeal to most artists and expats. Canvases in various states of completion lean against every wall—it’s as if he is surrounded by his friends.

What is your first memory of being creative?

Well, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t being creative, but my earliest memory of trying to understand it was in Grade One. I did this picture of my family as a 6-year old would. In the picture was a full square tabletop with the two legs. When I showed it to my father he tried to explain perspective to me, how I would only see the edge. I heard what he was saying but it seemed patently wrong to me because in my mind at least, that wasn’t how a table looked (laughs).

David A_Grey Couch

Grey Couch ©David Aldrich

Was there ever a period of time when you didn’t paint?

Yes, for the first 16 years I was a medical illustrator. I airbrushed 10-12 hours a day and had no desire or energy left to paint. That changed once I shifted to working on the computer and my desire for paint and canvas, something tactile, returned.

How did being a painter influence your career as a medical illustrator?

It made all the difference. Being a painter allowed me to think in ways that were more creative. I was successful as a medical illustrator because I had a way of re-envisioning problems; the standard rules of illustration didn’t confine me.

©David Aldrich

©David Aldrich

Have you always painted from real subjects vs photos?

When I worked as an advertising illustrator I started to paint from photographs for the first time, because time is money in that profession.

I don’t use photos in my fine art painting because I want to paint the person, not the photograph, and there is a huge difference in what one sees in both those mediums. Most of our ideas about what the world looks like are preconceived constructions; we don’t often see what’s actually there. I also find there is much more depth in a live person vs a photograph of a live person, and I spend countless hours trying to capture that.

©David Aldrich

©David Aldrich

What is the importance of the nude figure in your painting?

Society as a rule has difficulty with the nude, particularly the male nude. I try to look at a painting as a complete visual statement, and incorporating the nude is only one part of the statement I am making. In that sense, the couch on which the nude figure may be perched is as important, if not more so, than the figure itself…kind of a ‘Still Life with Nude’ if you will.

What cities have you lived in and what do you like about Merida?

I’ve lived in four large North American anglo-cultural cities and living within a Hispanic cultural experience is new to me. I’m fascinated by how the rhythm of the language influences the music, dance and art and love that I am surrounded by cultural experiences that are so easily accessible.

What music do you listen to when you paint?

Right now? Philip Glass. I get into an almost zen-like state with his music, and sometimes my models do as well!

David is one of over 25 artists featured on the Merida Artist Studio Tour.

Meet the Artist: Joseph Kurhajec

This interview was conducted in January 2015

“Sculptor Joseph Kurhajec is a wild and generous artist, working intuitively to give form to those dark, primitive and mysterious forces within myth, legend, self, dream and belief.”
– Art Critic Edward Bryant

Step into Joseph Kurhajec’s studio and you fall down the rabbit hole. It is a world where imagination knows no bounds, where wonder and delight meet with horror and death. On one shelf a mystical Mayan snake suckles at the breast of a fertility goddess. On another, a series of carved ceramic skulls patiently wait for the hands of the sculptor to give them life.

Jospeh Kurhaje

Jospeh Kurhajec©Agnes Pataux

What is it you hope people experience when they see your work?

When I’m working, I always feel I’m on the verge of a great discovery. Art is research and although I work on intuition, my work is informed by years of study and travel, and absorbing all that I see in art and nature.

In the 60s I saw an exhibition of Congo fetishes at the Art Institute of Chicago that changed my own work dramatically. I’m always trying to make something that has a soul, that speaks to people, that has power, and I hope others experience this when they look at my work.

Joseph Kurhajec

©Joseph Kurhajec

You have studios in Merida, New York and Paris. Is the work you create in each studio different?

Being a sculptor is in my DNA and I work with the materials that speak to me. In New York I sculpt more in ceramics and metal, in Mexico I carve in the beautiful indigenous stone, which is one of the reasons I came here. In France I do more etchings.

Each culture gives me something—the cathedrals in France, the Mayan art in Mexico and in upstate New York, I go fishing. Actually, I go fishing whenever I can—it’s another passion.

How did you end up in NYC as a young artist?

I got my Masters Degree at the University of Wisconsin then moved to NYC in 1960 because that’s where everything was happening.

Joseph Kurhajec

©Joseph Kurhajec

So, NYC in the 60s—you must have hung out with some pretty infamous characters!

All of them—Warhol, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, Rosenquist. It was a very open scene, a hotbed of creativity and guys like Leo Castelli and Ivan Carp were instrumental in the emergence of it all.

I was doing tribal art which no one was doing. I showed my work to Alan Stone who became the biggest collector of tribal art in the world. Alan was showing Gorky, de Kooning, Klein, Cornell, and I was with him for 30 years. During my time in NYC, I also had a show at the Guggenheim and two exhibitions at the Whitney Museum.

You had all this success in New York but moved to Rome—was it for love?

She was an artist, she looked like a famous Italian actress, and she was a Countess…what can I say (smiles). I lived in Italy for 10 years and still go back to visit. One of my 3 sons lives in Rome and my ex-wife has an exhibition opening this spring that I hope to attend.

Joseph Kurhajec

©Joseph Kurhajec

What drew you to Merida?

When I finished my Masters, I came here for two months in 1961 to study the Mayan culture. Almost 50 years later, my love for pre-Columbian art, the Aztecs, the Mayans and a dear friend, all lured me back.

Do you have a favorite artist?

Francis Bacon—I think he’s a powerhouse! Anselm Kiefer, another powerhouse! Picasso, Miró, Léger! I love ‘em all.

What would you say to a young artist just starting out?

I’m 76 years old and most of my friends are dead and gone. It feels strange, but it makes me want to work even harder. I feel lucky to be alive so I don’t waste time. And that’s what I would say to any artist. “Don’t waste time, just make art. Follow your passions, trust your intuition, don’t be afraid.” The Dalai Lama once said, “Never give up, no matter what is going on around you, never give up.” I think that’s pretty good advice.

Visit Joseph and over 25 other artists on the Merida Artist Studio Tour on February 20, 2016.