Friday, May 30, 2014

Our Very Own Tradition

A large blank wall is just a mural waiting to happen. And where better than in Mexico, where there is a strong tradition of murals going as far back as  the pre-Hispanic Olmec civilization?

When we bought the piece of property with the Banámichi house, there was an old shed at the back of the yard. It was a nasty construction of cement block that gave me the creeps to enter. It turned out to have been an outhouse. Worse yet, we soon discovered that a possum had taken up residence in the remnants of the hole.
The possum that never was...I thought he was cute!
We encouraged Mr. Possum to leave, chased him out with a broom handle as a matter of fact, and the hole was sealed up and a cement floor added. A new roof was put on the building and we began to use it as a tool shed. Then a feral cat gave birth to kittens in it, and used it as a spot to kill and eat birds. Double ick! So, we added screens  to the windows (An outhouse with windows? Let's not go there...) and a door was installed. It was plastered and painted.

Now the old shed looked pretty decent, if somewhat plain vanilla and boring. I proposed painting a picture of a possum on it for posterity, but that was nixed as being too reminiscent of the old creepiness. Tracy suggested a mural with a water feature. Even the thought of water in the desert is refreshing. I liked the idea but was intimidated at the thought of having to paint it as the resident dilettante artist. I had never painted anything that large before. Still, the idea gathered a momentum of its own, pushing me forward against my better judgement.

The great Mexican mural painters Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and Alfaro Siqueiros provided inspiration. According to Wikipedia, "From the 1920s to about 1970s a large number of murals with nationalistic, social and political messages were created on public buildings, starting a tradition which continues to this day in Mexico and has had impact in other parts of the Americas, including the United States where it served as inspiration for the Chicano art movement."  "Los tres grandes" (the three great ones) as they were known,  used their murals to portray their Marxist leanings, and often glorified indigenous culture as one of the foundations of modern Mexico.

The big three all spent time in the US and also painted murals there, so the tradition became established in parts of the States as well, particularly those with a strong Mexican American presence. This became the Chicano art movement, which expressed the cultural values, political and social issues, histories, folklore and religions of the Mexican American people.They are strikingly colorful pieces that were often painted by whole communities of people rather than by just one artist.

In our other hometown in Tucson,  there are many examples of large murals on public walls and buildings. I have often admired these works of art and been curious about their creation, thinking how it would be fun to be part of making a mural.

Mural in park on 4th Ave, Tucson

Mural at Speedway and Stone Ave., Tucson

Detail of "Tucson" mural

When our friends Tom and Lynn where faced with a big blank space on the grounds of their hotel, they had a talented local copy artist Rosa Vedugo and her assistant, Baranice Lopez, fill half of the large space with an adaptation of a work by Siqueiros. She also created a companion piece of her own design for the remaining space. Together they are a great representation of Mexican art and culture. More inspiration!
Copy of Siqueiros mural by Rosa Verdugo at Hotel Los Arcos

Rosa's original creation in the style of Siquieros
As for the rest of Banámichi, there is not much public mural art. What little exists tends towards public service announcements and ads for PAN and PRI, two main political parties in Mexico.

But I digress...back to our personal mural.  Tracy came up with the design concept by combining several images from magazines, and was the cheering section and the photographer.  Sinced I lacked confidence in my ability to draw anything that large, the two Dans put together a large scale projection system and we got a basic outline drawn on the shed wall. As usual, there were some amusing moments. In the tradition of Chicano art, it truly was a community effort. 

Contemplating the courtesy of Tracy Williams

An amusing courtesy of Tracy Williams
I brought from Tucson many cans of leftover house paint that had been cluttering up our garage for years. (Now they are cluttering up the interior of the shed!) From these multicolor cans I was able to mix a range of appropriate colors. I worked up my courage, reminding myself that if it didn't work out, we could always paint over the mural and get back to a blank wall.

I started by laying in the background. The fountain came next. Layer by layer, visit by visit, several months went by and gradually the finished image emerged. I always have a hard time telling when a painting is done, so at some point I decided to stop before adding that one last thing that would ruin it.
The finished product
How do I feel about it? Well, Tracy likes it and I am glad she is pleased. It doesn't make a political or social statement, it can't be compared with the really good mural art out there, and I can see some things I could have done differently. Still, for a first attempt, in my own back yard, I also am pleased with the outcome. It was a lot of fun, and now I am tempted to put murals everywhere. (Lord help us!) And, it is so much better than that boring old plain vanilla shed wall!

1 comment:

  1. There is something very special about a fountain in the dessert. Water where it is scarce. Creativity flows in your mural. Life and refreshment. Wonderful June.and very nice writing too. I will get there one day - to Banamichi. Levonne