Art Oasis in Mexico City

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Maestro Gerardo Torres Gonzalez (center) tends an oasis in one of the world’s largest cities. Mexico City’s Bosque de Chapultepec is home to many wonders including Emperor Maximilian’s castle. Below the castle in a grove of eucalyptus trees you will find a house called Quinta Colorado. In the patio every Saturday and Sunday there are art classes. At the center of this school is an extraordinary art teacher, Maestro Torres. Anyone who finds their way to his class is welcome. The classes are free. Maestro Torres gets support for the project from the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes , the famed Mexico City art school where he studied.

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Carolina, one of the youngest artists in the open-air class.

Mexico has a long tradition of open-air and free art education. It was especially big in the 1930’s. It is wonderful to see the tradition continue. Maestro Torres told me he has been in the park for 6 years; before that he taught  classes for 11 years at another location. He has a truly amazing in his capacity to teach a class of diverse students of mixed abilities. Some of his students arrive with recycled copy paper and a single pencil. Others bring watercolors and proper sketchbooks. When I visited one young artist , Luis, was painting in oils. Maestro Torres works with what he gets, and treats every student with respect. Over the years I have observed many art teachers in action. This man is special.20131013-114118.jpg
My friend Diego works as a civil servant in a skyscraper at the metro stop Zapata.  Weekends he gladly rides the train a few extra stops to Chapultepec Park. Diego has no expectation of quitting his day job to become an artist. He told me the art class means so much to him because his office work is so very routine. At Quinta Colorado, Diego has a chance to do something creative and forget the stresses of his week.

Carolina, a talented little girl came with her grandfather, who sat behind her on a stone wall reading a novel while she painted. There was one older fellow with gray flecks in his beard and long hair tied up in an odd knot like a Hindu monk. His fingernails were painted black and he didn’t say much. Maestro Torres greeted every student with enthusiasm, and hopped from table to table giving encouragement and technical demonstrations.

Alberto, age 7, uses crayons for his art.
Alberto, age 7, uses crayons for his art.

Maestro Torres believes that copying photos is a fruitless way to learn to draw. He told me there must be a balance between observation and imagination. He has developed a number of quick exercises to facilitate imagination. One he calls the ‘Constellation.’ He peppers a page with random dots. Then with the side of a pencil, or a hexagonal bar of graphite, he connects some of the dots creating a balanced, but abstract, tonal composition. He then takes a quick breath. I noticed at this point he sometimes looks up into the trees for an instant. Then he finds something on the page. If he is working with a child, he might draw an animal. If he is working with an adult he can create a complete figurative drawing in a matter of minutes. He dates his drawings, signs them with a carved stamp and gives them freely to his students.
20131013-114219.jpgThe maestro is a firm believer in keeping a sketchbook. In fact, he keeps two. He was good enough to share these pages. Even his tiny pocket-sized Fabiano notebook demonstrates his mastery of the human figure and his delightful drawing ability with brush, pen, and pencil. Maestro Torres is working on a book about his teaching methods. I look forward to seeing it.  When I return to Chalputelpec Park, I know where to find him. Gracias, Maestro.

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