What is “American Art?” SWARM at PAFA!

“Americans are a whole hemisphere.” That was Nestor Armando Gil’s response to a question about PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), the oldest “American” art museum and school in the United States, exhibiting SWARM., which consists of art in collaboration by a Cuban-American and Haitian immigrant and their workshop.  He meant that “America” included all of us from South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America, and he clearly stated that PAFA is exactly where the art should be. Since both Armando Gil and Didier William, who teamed up to create the works in SWARM are immigrants in the United States, whether one considers “America” to be all the Americas or just the “United States,” their work is part of the “American” tradition. On August 4, 2018, at PAFA, the two artists and the guest curators of the exhibition, Laurel McLaughlin and Mechella Yezernitskaya, both from Bryn Mawr College, discussed the process and works in SWARM.

There are already articles and reviews about SWARM., which is at PAFA from June 30-September 9, as the exhibition opened over a month ago. There is a a detailed online document about it available at: pafa SWARM.  For this blog post, I will write about a few salient ideas from  the presentations and panel discussion.

Both artists were surprised at how much of their work was complementary and how they were influenced or inspired.  Both related to the spirituality and myth of their ancestry–santería in Cuba and vodu in Haiti. Even though Armando Gil had never used printing in his art (he is more of a performance artist), this became a common artistic language between the two. William’s work is detailed with an eclectic use of print and painting, and somewhat representational (with a lot of abstraction) but as he says “illegible.” I liked the skill and technique in both painting and printing that embodied William’s works, and that one could identify certain figures, yet the meaning was open to interpretation.


Artwork by Didier William

I wasn’t able to see the performance of Armando Gil’s “Boca,” but for sure it must have been shocking. In this installation he lies on the floor and substances that symbolize Cuba are poured into his mouth: sand, coffee beans, sugar and tobacco.

Armando Gil also spoke about his performance piece “El Panadero.” In this one, he made 1500 copies of a bag that said “CUBANO BREAD” and baked bread to put in them. He explained that the bilingual play on words could be rearranged to mean “Cuba no bread,” relating to the poverty on the island or “Cuban Bred,” born and raised Cuban. He went to Barcelona (where his grandmother had lived after leaving Cuba) and stood in a plaza with a baker’s hat on, and no shoes. He sang the baker’s song “Panadero, pan gratis” (Baker, free bread) and gave away the bread. His performance pieces tend to be “ritualizations of passages.”

Armando Gil paid more attention to the visual aspect in his pieces while working with William. His tobacco prints evidence that: img_20180804_153813

There are various sculptures in the exhibition, which show Armando Gil’s influence in the collaboration:

When asked about “theoretical influences”, William cited Frantz Fanon, among others and Armando Gil referenced Reinaldo Arenas (fiction), Bell Hooks, and specifically the book Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism, by Bell Hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains.

SWARM. Forging individual and collective identities across diasporas, dislocations, and reformations is on exhibit in the Historic Landmark Building at PAFA in galleries on the first and second floor.


Puerto Rico on the Canvas: Diego Hiromi

I saw this painting at the opening of PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) annual student show in May 2018. It has been on my mind ever since. I spoke with the artist, Diego Hiromi, at the opening, and he said that it has been hard for him being in Philadelphia away from his family and friends in Puerto Rico especially after the hurricane. I have friends from Puerto Rico and regularly have heard for months about the devastation that they and loved ones experienced due to the hurricane. This painting is a stunning and powerful representation. Technically it is spectacular, but I don’t even know how to explain the feelings that it invokes. I’ll just let the painting “María” speak for itself:


Hiromi also had other paintings in the exhibition which related to Puerto Rico. One of those that we discussed was a portrait of his grandfather, “La oración de abuelo”:


I am not usually drawn to realism, but Hiromi’s paintings are beautifully rendered and powerful. Full of emotion, they communicate a love for his family and native island. To see more of his work and read his bio, please visit his website:  http://www.diegohiromi.com/gallery/ He is definitely an emerging artist to watch out for!

You can still catch the student exhibition at PAFA this weekend! IMG_20180511_184903

Edna Santiago: Painting Puerto Rico!

No hay mal que por bien no venga is often translated in English as “Every cloud has a silver lining.” This is the expression that came to my mind as I conversed with Puerto Rican artist Edna Santiago at her recent exhibition “To Print or Not To Print” at DVAA (Da Vinci Art Alliance) in Philadelphia.


Santiago was compelled to start making art after the death of her only son, 11 years ago.  She worked for 40 years as a physical therapist as well as tending to her family, so art was put on the backburner. But after her loss, she began painting and proceeded to experiment with different media. Today Santiago specializes in printmaking, painting, and crafting lampshades from gourds. She maintains a studio and gallery in Puerto Rico, but is moving back to the Philadelphia area for most of the year, due to the recent storms and damage in Puerto Rico.

I saw some of Santiago’s work in person at DVAA. She is inspired by the sea, by the nature and people of Puerto Rico. I love her prints, which follow a long tradition of woodcut prints in Latin America. She showed me one of her plates made out of a softer material than wood. We discussed how important it was to determine the values (darkness and light) in a print. Santiago sometimes adds color to her prints–this happens  in the printing process itself or she paints a “finished” print.


Santiago is upbeat, optimistic and inpirational to me as an emerging visual artist. She said that we  might not realize what talents we have inside of us that haven’t yet manifested. I was impressed by her printing technique and knowledge, and her creativity wih the lamps. Her paintings of people communicated tremendous feeling and those of Puerto Rico’s landscape were enchanting and unique. Santiago has several exhibitions/showings coming up in the Philadelphia area. The next one is at the Mainline Art Center on May 5, 2018 in the Spring Craft Show. For more information on her exhibitions and art please visit her website: http://www.ednasantiago.com


Tarsila! Discovering the “Mother of Brazilian Art” at the MOMA in New York City.

A few children, from 7 to 9 years old, obviously part of a class, sat on the floor in front of the painting, “Composition (Lonely Figure),” by the great Brazilian artist, Tarsila do Amaral. Their teacher gave them instructions about what to draw and write in their notebooks. What a lovely sight to see these children having an art class at MOMA! (Museum of Modern Art, NYC).



Students of all ages, senior citizens, young adults, Brazilians, Americans, and tourists from many different countries packed the galleries. The work of the “Tarsila” had finally arrived at MOMA in New York.


I saw some of her paintings in São Paulo in 2014. I really liked the museums in São Paulo, MASP and the Pinotecas. (You can read about some other impressions on Brazilian art that I saw in São Paulo on deslumbrar). MOMA and the Chicago Art Institute collaborated on this initiative.


What I liked most about this exhibition was seeing Tarsila’s originals close up, and also reliving memories of Brazil. Each of her paintings invokes Brazilian culture and triggers saudade. And that’s really what she wanted. When she was living abroad, she began to identify more as a Brazilian and she wrote:


One thing that I just don’t understand, and I don’t agree with, is the “English Only” of some museums. This is not only an issue I have with MOMA, since I have also experienced this at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For this Tarsila exhibition, all of the labels and the audio guide were written in English. Of course, the audience for the exhibit is comprised of Americans from the United States, but in my opinion, it should have been bilingual, in Portuguese and English. There are some things that are difficult to translate, and would be helpful to have an explanation in Portuguese (or the language of the artist). In addition, in the audio guide there was an error in the pronunciation of “Sono”. Instead of saying “sono” the voice said “sonho,” which means “dream” in English. This completely confuses the meaning of Tarsila’s “O sono” (Sleep). Another advantage of a bilingual show is that it is accessible to more people. A bilingual exhibition of Tarsila’s work, which is important for Brazil and the rest of the Portuguese speaking countries, would have reached out as a “welcome” to Portuguese speaking people.

That, however, is a minor criticism. The exhibition is worth seeing, even in English. I adored looking at all of her pieces displayed, from the unknown sketches in graphite and ink on paper, to the huge canvasses in oil, for which Tarsila is most famous.

This is not an “objective” analysis or a pseudo-academic text. MOMA has already published the coffee table book and everyone can purchase that in the museum bookstore. You can also check out the interview with Caetano Veloso on youtube.com that MOMA presented, or do a Google search of all the criticism of the show by the famous art history experts. I prefer to offer a few observations and reactions to my favorite works.

First, as an artist, I really admire that Tarsila signed her pieces with only her first name. There’s this idea among artists in the United States, that if you are a “serious” artist, you need to sign with your last name. Tarsila proves this WRONG.

Tarsila painted Brazilian subjects, and she started, along with her husband, Oswald de Andrade, and other artists of different types (Mário de Andrade, Anita Malfatti, etc.) the Cannibalism Movement, Movimento Antropófago, and Modernism in São Paulo. Tarsila traveled to Paris in order to continue her art studies, and also around Brazil. In Brazil, Tarsila was inspired by various native subjects. She painted animals, landscapes, cityscapes, human figures, almost human figures, and nature. Overall, she used a non-realistic approach that encompassed surrealism, cubism, futurism and everything else that was going on at the time.


Born in 1886, on a plantation in São Paulo, she captures nature in a raw fashion. Cartão postal, (PostCard) has the same elements that you find in typical postcards of Brazil: palm trees, other tropical trees, animals, houses, fruit, water and hills. It is interesting that she mixes semi-tropical, desert plants with the water (river/sea). It’s as if this post card isn’t just to represent the popular tropical panorama, but also that of Brazil’s rugged and barren interior, o sertão.


“O sono” (Sleep) sticks in my head because of its surrealism mixed with the Brazilian landscape—the simple and essential palm tree.

The last work that one sees before leaving the gallery, is Operários from 1933. This is a representation of different phenotypes of Brazilians and urban factories.


The exhibition of Tarsila do Amaral’s work is at the MOMA in New York City, through June 3, 2018. For more information: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3871

Tarsila! Descobrindo a mãe da arte brasileira em MOMA

Umas crianças dos 7 a 9 anos, obviamente parte de uma turma escolar, se sentaram no chão em frente do quadro “Composição (Figura Só)” da grande artista brasileira, Tarsila do Amaral. Sua professora lhes dava instruções sobre o que fazer com seus cadernos de desenho. Que lindo ver aqueles meninos tendo uma aula de arte no MOMA! (Museum of Modern Art, NYC)




Dentro das salas lotadas, não somente circulavam alunos de todas as idades, mas também, idosos, adultos, brasileiros, americanos dos Estados Unidos, e turistas de vários países. A obra da artista brasileira, Tarsila, finalmente chegou ao MOMA de Nova Iorque!


Eu vi algumas das peças dela em São Paulo em 2014. Gostei muito dos museus de São Paulo, MASP e as Pinotecas. Eu fui em uma quarta-feira, no 28 de março de 2018, para vivienciá-la em Nova Iorque. O MOMA e o Chicago Art Institute colaboraram para fazer esta iniciativa. Especificamente, Luis Pérez-Oramas e Stephanie D’Alessandro prepararam e organizaram a exposição, com ajuda de Karen Grimson.


O que mais gostei desta exposicão foi a oportunidade de ver a sua obra original na minha frente e ao mesmo tempo reviver meus momentos no Brasil. Cada quadro de Tarsila invoca um aspeto da cultura brasileira, e inspira a saudade. E isso o que ela queria, porque quando estava fora do Brasil, começou a sentir-se ainda mais brasileira e disse:


Uma coisa que não entendo (e não gosto) de alguns museus, é o monolinguismo. E não é só MOMA que faz isso. Para esta mostra de arte, todas as inscrições (menos os títulos das obras) e a áudio-guia foram apresentadas em inglês. Claro, este evento se destina ao público estadunidense, mas na minha opinião, deve ser bilingue–em português e inglês. Existem certas coisas que resistem a tradução e é ilucinante ter o original no lugar para referência, e uma explicação em português (ou a língua do artista). Na áudia-guia que eu segui em inglês, tinha um erro com a pronúncia de “Sono” (disse “sonho” que significa “dream” em inglês) que realmente confundaria todo o significado da obra “O Sono” de Tarsila. Outra vantagem do bilinguismo é que acolhe a mais pessoas. Uma apresentação bilingue daria o “bem-vindo” aos lusofalantes a uma exposição de muita importância para o Brasil e o mundo lusófono.

Porém, é uma crítica menor. Adorei reparar sua obra desde os desenhos de lápiz e tinta em papel até os grandes quadros à óleo, pelos quais ganhou sua fama no Brasil e no exterior.


Não vou fazer uma crítica “objetiva” ou escrever um texto pseudo-acadêmico sobre Tarsila no MOMA. Já publicaram a guia que todos podem comprar na livraria. Também podem assistir à entrevista com Caetano Veloso que fizeram no museu, sobre a arte de Tarsila e o tropicalismo em youtube.com, ou até podem fazer uma busca de Google para os artigos escritos por expertos famosos de arte. Prefiro oferecer algumas das minha reações e observações sobre meus quadros favoritos da exposição.

Primeiro, como artista, admirei muito que Tarsila assinasse seus quadros com apenas seu primeiro nome. Existe a ideia entre alguns artistas estadunidenses que um artista plástico “sério” tem que assinar sua obra com o sobrenome. Tarsila mostra que isso não é verdade.

Tarsila pintou temas brasileiros e iniciou, com seu esposo Oswald de Andrade, e outros artistas de todo tipo, o movimento antropófago e modernismo em São Paulo. Tarsila viajou para París para estudar arte, e também pelo Brasil para explorar temática autóctone. Ela desenhou e pintou animais, figuras humanas, “quase” humanas, a natureza, o campo e a cidade. Sobretudo em uma maneira não realista. Tinha influência de cubismo, surrealismo, futurismo e tudo que estava se fazendo naquela época–nas primeiras três décadas do século XX.

Nascida em 1886, em uma fazenda de São Paulo, capta a natureza de forma bruta na sua obra. “Cartão postal” de Tarsila tem os elementos de muitos postais típicos do Brasil–palmeiras, outras árvores, animais, casas, fruta, água e morros. É interesante sua mistura de plantas da caatinga com o rio/mar–como se este cartão postal representasse não só a familiar paisagem tropical, mas também a do interior, do sertão brasileiro.


“O sono” fica na minha cabeça, por seu surrealismo misturado com o elemento brasileiro–essa palmeira primitiva e essencial.


A última obra que se encontra antes de terminar e sair da sala é “Operários” de 1933. Aquí tem uma representação de tipos de brasileiros diferentes e as usinas urbanas.


Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil continua no MOMA até 3 de junho 2018.

Historia en la Avenida de la Constitución

En la ciudad de Granada, en la Avenida de la Constitución, se encuentran diez esculturas de figuras históricas que tienen que ver con la provincia. Inauguraron esta galería de arte al aire libre el  26 de marzo de 2010–con aparencias y presentaciones del alcade del momento (José Torres Hurtado) y algunos descendientes de las figuras comemoradas.

La primera estatua es de un militar de la época de los reyes católicos, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba. Nació en Córdoba pero peleó en Granada. La escultura es de su cabeza, nada más, y es muy grande. Lo llamaban el “Gran Cápitan.” Dirigió tropas de los reyes católicos en las guerras contra los reinos musulmanes en el siglo 15. Miguel Moreno Romera es el artista. Otras estatuas son de Elena Martín Vivaldi, Federico García Lorca, Manuel Benitez Carrasco, San Juan de la Cruz, Manuel de Fall, Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, María de la Canastera, Eugenia de Montijo y Frascuelo.


Federico García Lorca. (c) Celeste Mann

Manuel de Falla, gran compositor de música española, que vivió en Granada y se interesó por lo folclórico y F. G. Lorca, el dramaturgo/poeta, son muy famosos e integrados en la historia y cultura de Granada.  Ramiro Megías hizo la escultura de Manuel de Falla, y Juan Antonio Corredor hizo la de Lorca.

Manuel de Falla

Manuel de Falla (c) Celeste Mann

Pedro Antonio Alarcón era un escritor de origen humilde. Su escultura lo muestra sentando en un banco leyendo un libro. El nació en Guadix en 1833 y murió en 1891. Escribió “El sombrero de tres picos” –también es un ballet del maestro de Falla. La acción toma lugar en Andalucía. Su estatua fue hecha por Manuel Barranco.

P.A. Alarcon

Pedro Antonio Alarcón. Photo by Celeste Mann

Pero también hay mujeres representadas en este desfile de grandes. Por ejemplo, Maria de la Canastera nación en Granada el 27 de febrero de 1913 y era bailarina de zambras, y gitana. Su estatua la tiene en una pose de flamenco con tres sillas. Lleva un traje tradicional de flamenco con una flor en el cabello. Su cueva es aun muy famosa y visitada para el baile.

Maria la Cana

María de la Canastera. Photo by Celeste Mann

¡Visite esta calle bonita de Granada para conocer la historia y disfrutar de esa maravillosa arte!

“Caliban Revisited” – Latin American Art in Philadelphia

Caliban Revisited,” a juried exhibition of contemporary Latin American art just opened on June 7 at Da Vinci Art Alliance in Philadelphia.  15 artists are represented in the show, hailing from 8 different countries: Abel Vázquez, Ada Trillo, Ana Vizcarra Rankin, Brandon Lopez, Carlos A. Gil, Daniel Villarreal, Danny Torres, Jacqueline Unanue, Lina Cedeno, Marilyn Rodriguez, Melva Medina, Paula Meninato, Pedro Zagitt, Pedro Ospina. Henry Bermudez, originally from Venezuela,  judged the artwork, and first, second and third place prizes were awarded. Casa de Duende organized the exhibition, which is  subtitled: Of Castaways, Explorers, Amazons, Cannibals and Monsters. A Mythological Reimagining of Latin America in the 21st Century. 

I attended the opening at the gallery and was excited to see this diverse collection of works. The media include sculpture, watercolor, acrylic, glass, oil on glass, photography, mixed media, as well as works on paper. Most of the artists were at the opening, along with David Acosta of Casa de Duende and Henry Bermudez. Both spoke at bit about the artists and the selection process. Mr. Bermudez stated that since the quality of the art was so high, it was very difficult to select the three winners. The themes that he considered when choosing were 1) that the work was political and referenced Latin American heritage and culture and 2) that it be contemporary.

First place winner Brandon Lopez, entered a glass sculpture:


Second place winner, Paula Meninato, is originally from Argentina. She entered portraits from “Memorias Persistentes.” This is a series of portraits of disappeared people from the military dictatorship, which began with the 1976 coup d’etat in Argentina. The subject matter is definitely political and historical and the medium, oil on glass, is not  traditional.


Third place winner Ada Trillo, presented works in gold leaf on wood panel! This one is called “Rebirth.” 2_AdaTrillo_Rebirth copy

My personal favorites included photos by Pedro Zagitt from his “El pagador de promessas” series, and watercolors by Abel Vazquez. Zagitt photographed a reenactment in the street by Mexicans in Norristown at St. Patrick’s Church. “Via Crucis”: 34287382765_da4f2e1c01_z

Abel Vazquez, is an artist working in Mexico and his watercolors are somewhat abstract but reference nature: IMG_8794

Vazquez’ wife, Melva Medina, also exhibited interesting works in graphite and charcoal in Caliban Revisited.

The DVAA art gallery, which is on 704 Catherine Street in the Bella Vista area, is an intimate space and the curators have made the most of it. The descriptions of each piece is written in both Spanish and English. Caliban Revisited can be viewed until June 25, 2017. On June 25th there will be a closing reception with performances from 3-5 pm!

Please visit the DVAA website or the Facebook page for more information, directions and gallery hours.

Paint the Revolution: Exploring a New Mexican Identity at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Paint the Revolution:Mexican Modernism, an exhibition of Mexican Art from 1910-1950 is an eclectic selection of paintings, works on paper, chapbooks, posters, magazines, photographs,  video and sculpture. It includes the most internationally reknown Mexican artists of the early twentieth century: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo. In addition, there are less well known artists featured: Saturnino Herrán, Alfred Ramos Martinez, Francisco Goitta, Angel Zárraga, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Roberto Montenegro, Gerardo Murillo, Adolfo Best Mayard, Isabel Villaseñor, Leopoldo Méndez, María Izquierdo, Xavier Guerrero, Julio Castellanos, Luis Arenal Bastar, and others.

The painters of the Mexican Revolution and shortly afterwards, explored themes related to violence and war, rural life, industrialization, what it meant to be Mexican, as well as other themes. Most of the works are oil paintings and woodcuts, but there are some photographs, sculptures, pastels, watercolor and video of the gigantic murals. According to text in the exhibit, “Mural painting came to be seen as the quintessential art of the Revolution because of its accessibility.”


The Epic of American Civilization. (wall mural detail), 1932-34, José Clemente Orozco (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Commissioned by the Trustees of Dartmouth  College), (c) José Clemente Orozco/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SOMAAP, Mexico City

There are quite a few portraits in the exhibit, including self-portraits by Frida Kahlo, Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo), Siquieros, Isabel Villaseñor, and Adolf Best Mayard.


Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán1915. Diego Rivera, 28-9/16 x 15-3/8 inches (72.6 x 39.1 cm), (Fundación Televisa Collection) (c) Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, 1932 (oil on tin)

IMAGE 1: Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States, 1932, Frida Kahlo, Oil on metal, 12-1/2 x 13-3/4 inches (31.8 x 34.9 cm), (Colección Maria y Manuel Reyero, New York) © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Both portraits show the use of Mexican elements. In “Portrait of Luis Guzmán” he wears a traditional sarape. Kahlo inserts a Mexican flag into her self-portrait, as well as what looks like an indigenous pyramid/building.

Many of the portraits and other works depicting people, are of indigenous people and/or campesinos. (rural people). As one of the rare pastel paintings in the exhibit, Siquiero’s “Peasants” stands out.


IMAGE 6: Peasants, c. 1913, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Pastel on paper, 40-1/2 x 6 feet 3-3/4 inches (102.8 x 192.4 cm),(Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA, © David Alfaro Siqueiros/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

Rufino Tamayo paints indigenous figures often. For example, Man & Woman from 1926 and later Homage to the Indian Race. There are also a few Tamayo paintings in which he uses animals to represent violence and war.


IMAGE 14: Homage to the Indian Race, 1952, Rufino Tamayo, Acrylic and oil on masonite (4 panel polyptic), 16 feet 4-7/8 inches x 13 feet 1-1/2 inches x 3-3/4 inches (500 x 400 x 9.5 cm), (Acervo CONACULTA–INBA, Museo de Arte Moderno), ©Rufino Tamayo/Visual Artists and Galleries Association, New York, New York

This was my second visit during the day on a Wednesday to see Paint the Revolution and I had more time to view it. It was also less crowded than it was on opening weekend when I first went. There are many political posters, small booklets, pamphlets and magazines displayed. Woodcut prints were utilized in many of these, and they dealt with the Mexican revolution, rebuilding and World War II and fascism. Wall text explained, “Illustrated books were tokens of friendship and aesthetic communality among modern poets and painters.” These books are in display cases in the exhibit, and showcase the drawing (printing, lithograph) and poetry of the era.

My favorite paintings of Paint the Revoluion, were Siquieros’ Collective Suicide, Luis Arenal Bastar’s Woman Carrying a Coffin,  and still lifes by various painters.


Woman Carrying a Coffin. Luis Arenal Bastar.

Despite being an exhibition of Mexican works, all of the wall descriptions are in English only, no Spanish. There is no audio guide either. I think the visitor experience would have been enhanced by an audio guide or short video/film explaining in more detail the political situation in Mexico during the Porfirio Díaz reign and the subsequent Revolution. Definitely for Spanish speakers AND learners who attend, written wall explanations in Spanish would have been welcome.

Paint the Revolution continues through January 8, 2017 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It moves on to Mexico City, Mexico afterwards. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to view is free for members, and no reservations are required. For more information and tickets, please visit their website: http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/840.html

Constructing Altars: An Interview with Mexican artist, César Viveros. (translation from Spanish)

This is an interview realized digitally about the altar course that César Viveros teaches at Fleisher Memorial and a little bit about his artistic inspiration.


Celeste: I found out about you and your work through Fleisher Art Memorial. I saw an announcement about a course on altars for Day of the Dead. How did this course come to be? What will the students do in the course? Would you describe the materials that they will use?


César: The Day of the Dead altar course has started. It is a four-day intensive in which the students are introduced to the Day of the Dead tradition, which has become popular in the United States. This is the third year that Fleisher is working with the community around this holiday and this year I was invited as the artist who would direct the installation of the traditional Day of the Dead altar. So during four days we wanted to teach the workshop in which students could make their own mini-altars in the tradition of the larger ones for Day of the Dead. The students have designed the mini-altar based on their ideas and with simple drawings they begin to render the design. Normally they focus their design on a familiar member or friend who has left this world. Usually they construct a based made out of wood or cardboard that supports the composition, and then make the rest of the elements, which overall are made from wire, paper mache and paints.


Celeste: When did you begin to make art?

César: I always tell the story of my early years during the rainy season in Veracruz, Mexico. We would make deep holes in the dirt in order to burn or bury the garbage (organic and inorganic), because there was no municipal service that would handle it. So there was always a moist clay, very characteristic of subsoil in Veracruz. (One needs to note that in this area many vestiges of an advanced civilization have been found, developing this type of art. These civilizations were very old, centuries before the Spanish arrived in the Americas). It is precisely here that at the age of five, I began to experiment with constructing these clay artifacts as a way to entertain myself in my free time. I wasn’t able to move around much at that age obviously, so I traveled in my imagination. This helped me to create alternative worlds while I was kneading clay—making multiple forms that allowed me to have fun while I discovered things that were not academic—because of the isolation of our community, in relation to other cities that perhaps might have offered some kind of artistic education.


In high school, some teachers noticed that a friend of mine, my brother (Nicolás and José Nava), and I liked to draw and paint a lot. So they gave us the opportunity to do large paintings, portable murals that could be used as backdrops for festivals. Remember in Mexico that any occasion is a good one to have a party. Thus we were able to count on resources to develop these projects that I consider not so common in our limited area. With this background it might seem strange that I didn’t decide to study art or any related discipline, like architecture or graphic design. But as soon as I finished high school and a technical course at a national institution of public education, I decided to risk it and work in Petrolera de Campeche, looking for business opportunities, which in a way took me away from any inclination towards the visual arts.


However, in a couple of years working in the petroleum platforms in the Golf of Mexico zone, I had the opportunity to begin to paint murals on the barges of a company called Corporación de Construcciones de Campeche, in an informal way. My official work was to develop underwater activities as an industrial diver. It was at that juncture that I decided to seriously return to my true vocation. While working there, I began to take commissions for portraits and pictures commissioned by North American staff what were working in the Campeche area. As a result, each time that I was able to, I would make multiple murals in high schools in Veracruz, which helped me to define my style and my individual technique.

For more information about César Viveros, visit his Facebook page:


For more information about FLEISHER ART MEMORIAL and their events see: