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.
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