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.

 

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.

Meet the Artist: Ric Kokotovich

Originally published Nov 1, 2016

Ric Kokotovich speaks in lyrics. Perhaps it’s the ten years he spent as a drummer; perhaps it’s his ongoing love and collection of music. Or maybe lyrics just pop into his head like so many nouns and verbs. On the eve of his first solo exhibition in Mexico, I had the pleasure to interview Ric amongst his work at Centro Cultural La Cúpula in Mérida, and we talked about his life as an artist.

Ric Kokotovich in front of

Ric Kokotovich in front of Sor Juana del Prado

 

How old were you when you recognized you had a creative voice?

I guess when I learned to play the drums at age 12. I practiced on chairs, tables, tin cans, myself, until my father realized I was serious and bought me a snare, a bass drum and a cymbal. At 15, I left home to tour with a band. I was 6’ tall with a fake ID and an attitude, and wanted nothing more than to be out of Edmonton and on the road.

What did you love about being a musician, and why did you leave it behind?

Music is a part of my soul and I loved the ability to express myself as a musician. I stopped touring because I got married very young and my wife didn’t want me travelling across the country as a musician, for the obvious reasons. So at 21, I picked up a camera and got my first break. I had a great relationship with other musicians, and the owner of the Riviera Rock Room hired me to take photos of bands like Split Endz, Heart, and Motely Crue. That was my first real foray into photography.

Was there a defining moment when you went from being a person who appreciated art to someone who had to make art?

Diane Arbus' Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City (1962) ©MET

Diane Arbus’ Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City (1962) ©The MET

I can tell you exactly. It was an image by Diane Arbus of a young boy holding a toy hand grenade in Central Park. The emotional connection I had to that photograph was visceral—still is to this day. It triggered something in me that made me want to be a photographer; to create images that would touch people the way I’d been touched by Diane Arbus.

What was the first piece, in your opinion, of fine art you created?

I think it was a photograph I made in Acapulco. It was an abstraction of a Travellers Palm, like the one I have in my garden in Mérida today. Someone paid me $250 for that image in 1979, and I suppose that was another pivotal moment in my life when I realized I could create images other people were touched by.

3 of 33 Mardi Gras photographs; Portfolio Edition of 9 ©Ric Kokotovich

3 of 33 Mardi Gras photographs 1982-87 ©Ric Kokotovich

Was there a catalyst for the Mardi Gras work?

Subculture was a fascination for me but I’m not sure what the catalyst for that first trip was. I just woke up one morning and said to my wife at the time, “I want to drive to New Orleans and shoot Mardi Gras,” and that was it. We got in my 280Z, slept in the car in a La Quinta parking lot and I spent the next week documenting the mayhem and magic that was Mardi Gras in the early 1980s. It was then I met a book publisher and we came up with a plan to shoot over five years. Unfortunately he went out of business after three years and the book never happened, but I kept shooting.

How did photography transition into filmmaking?

I’ve always been interested in story and for me, film allows for a fuller rendition of narrative from beginning to end. The story in a photograph is more finite. I was a filmmaker for 10 years and it was very gratifying. When I finished Claire with my creative partner Julie Trimingham, it was nominated for a Genie so that helped validate all the time, money and energy that went into making it. Our film, Beauty Crowds Me, screened at MOMA in NYC and even though I didn’t have the finances to be there, it was a rewarding achievement.

After completing your film in 2001, a short drama called Bitter My Tongue, you stopped making films. Tell me about that decision.

Madonna del Pueblo/Nuevas Historias ©Ric Kokotovich

I was in NYC to collect the New York Independent Film Festival Audience Choice Award for Bitter My Tongue. This was September 11, 2001 and we all know what happened that day. My film didn’t play—my world changed as did everyone elses’. I quit making films mostly because it takes a lot of money, time and energy and I was burnt out. Instead I took another easy career path (laughs) and wrote a screenplay. After two years I went back to being a photographer, travelling the world to places like Yemen, Sudan, Nepal. Photography excited me again.

Author Jennifer Egan says in Why We Write: “When I’m not writing I feel an awareness that something’s missing. If I go a long time, it becomes worse. I become depressed. There’s something vital that’s not happening. A certain slow damage starts to occur. I can coast along awhile without it, but then my limbs go numb. Something bad is happening to me, and I know it. The longer I wait, the harder it is to start again. “

How would you describe your own compelling need to make art?

Mi Barrio ©Ric Kokotovich

Mi Barrio ©Ric Kokotovich

I wake up every day and something inside causes me to look for ways to create something visual—why I have this need I’m not sure. At this point in my life I’m inspired by everything and anything; my neighbours’ house, the hummingbird I saw in my garden this morning, the perfectly crushed tubing in the middle of the road. Like the author says, there’s a void when you’re not working, and you have to fill the void with something. I like to fill the void with work, with creative process. It’s part of the stabilization I need to be a decent human being. Or at least a more grounded one.

827_03.tif

Water Lilies #6 ©Ric Kokotovich

Monet was in his early 40s when he really started to paint, whereas Jean-Michel Basquiat, for example, was a phenom in his early 20s. How would you say the gift of time has helped develop your own voice as an artist, and would you say you’re a ‘better’ artist now, at 61?

Definitely a better artist. I take more time to process clearly. More thought goes into the work than energy, and by that I mean the course from beginning to end is a straighter line than when I was much younger. As a younger artist, you throw a lot of things at the wall and hope that something sticks. Now I just want to walk up to the wall and put something on it.

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert gave a TED Talk in 2009 called ‘Your Elusive Creative Genius’. She spoke about her encounter with American poet Ruth Stone, and I’d like to quote Elizabeth here:

“Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life, told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.”

venus-and-her-mirror

Venus and her Mirror ©Ric Kokotovich

People often believe in this phenomena of creative thought—that if you’re ‘creative’, ideas just come. With that in mind, tell me about your own creative process. Do ideas thunder across the cosmos to land in your body fully formed?

55 ©Ric Kokotovich

No, I collect things—images, objects, words, photographs of old paintings—anything that stirs something in my soul. Some of these images have been around me for years. Recently I started interpreting my own version of Madonna del Prato by Giovanni Bellini and Venus at her Mirror by Diego Velázquez. There’s a lot of story in these pieces and interpreting them is like making a film. I shoot all the elements after drawing the idea, but unlike creating a photo, I feel I’m creating a scene in a movie. The story is open to interpretation by the viewer because my interpretation doesn’t matter. I get more juice watching someone look at my work, than I do looking at my own images; I enjoy seeing that emotional reaction.

In working as an artist, how do you juggle isolation with the obvious need for collaboration and relationship?

More than anything, filmmaking taught me about the power of collaboration. Even though I primarily work alone in my studio and enjoy it, the work only becomes fully formed once it’s outside of myself. I’m currently working on a large piece called ‘Daughters‘, an experiential installation that pays homage to hundreds of missing or murdered women in Mexico. It’s a collaboration between creatives in both Canada and Mexico, and involves video, sculpture and sound. The Daughters project is an evolution of process for me and represents the direction I would like my creative practice to take; one that allows me to explore story through many different mediums and avenues of expression.

Ric Kokotovich and 39 talented artists will take part in the 2019 Merida Artist Studio Tour Feb 16/17. Visit meridaenglishlibrary.com for details on the artists, the tour and where to buy tickets.

Meet the Artist: Juan Pablo

©Juan Pablo

©Juan Pablo

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.

Juan Pablo

Juan Pablo

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”.

juan-pabloI 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.”

graffitti“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”.

Juan Pablo Quintal García

Meet the Artist: Jason Kriegler

Artist Jason Kriegler

Artist Jason Kriegler

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.

IMG_6587

©Jason Kriegler

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.

Las Arboledas, Mexico City, Mexico, 1962 Photo © Barragan Foundation, Birsfelden, Switzerland/ProLitteris, Zurich, Switzerland

Las Arboledas, Mexico City, Mexico, 1962
Photo © Barragan Foundation, Birsfelden, Switzerland/ProLitteris, Zurich, Switzerland

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!

©Jason Kriegler

©Jason Kriegler

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.

Meet the Artist: Benne’ Rocket

DSC_0342Benne’ 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.

DSC_0092_LRWhen 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.

DSC_0351When 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!

Experience Art with Leïla Voight

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.

Leila Voight

Leïla Voight ©Alison Wattie

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.

©KimikoYoshida_Lamarieejaponaise2003

©KimikoYoshida_Lamarieejaponaise2003

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.

Tomoko Mukaiyama©Takashi_Kawashima

Tomoko Mukaiyama ©Takashi_Kawashima

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 lacupulamerida@gmail.com or visit them on Facebook at lacupulamerida.