New Street Art in OAXACA

Reflejos de Huida, stencil, 2013, Lapiztola.
Reflejos de Huida, stencil, 2013, Lapiztola.

MACO,The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca has an exhibition of street art on its walls. Does street art belong in a museum? Well, MACO’s Hecho en Oaxaca spills over into the streets. The artists came from all over the globe, Swoon, The Date Farmers, How and Nosm, MOMO, Retna, Saner, StenLex, and Vhils. Oaxacan artists Yescka, Dr. Lakra, and Lapiztola round out the show curated by Pedro Alonzo.

Lapiztola Collective's birds seem escape onto the street
Lapiztola Collective’s birds seem escape onto the street.

I am fond of Lapiztola’s work. I’ve met them, in fact they once let me hitch a ride home with them from a birthday party in the hills. Their stencils are always crisp graphic statements, often they relate to musical themes. I was not familiar with L.A. artist Retna. Retna’s blue wall at MACO (below) titled “Somos los ninos de las manos manchadas” translates as “We are the children of stained hands.”

Art by Retna, 2013 Acrylic.
Art by Retna, 2013 Acrylic.

His work resembles Arabic calligraphy. I thought Retna also painted the front of ASARO’s studio, Espacio Zapata, home to a gallery and the cafe,”Atila Del Sur.”  A reader informs me it is the work of Sanez.

Retna, Espacio Zapata, Studio of  ASARO collective, # 519 Porfirio Diaz. Van artist unknown.
Wall by Sanez, Espacio Zapata, Studio of ASARO, # 519 Porfirio Diaz. Van artist unknown.

Dr. Lakra has an untitled mural in the exhibition. It looks to be inspired by Hollywood, Bollywood and cheap whiskey. In Lakra’s case, I prefer his simpler ‘dragon woman’ mural on a wall near Espacio Zapata.

Dr. Lakra, untitled, acrylic and spray paint.
Dr. Lakra, untitled, acrylic and spray paint.
Dr Lakra, Street mural, Porfirio Diaz. Oaxaca.
Dr Lakra, Street mural, Porfirio Diaz, Oaxaca.

Swoon’s project is among the largest artworks in the museum. Like many old public buildings in Mexico the museum was once church property until it was seized by the government. Swoon worked around fragments of painted wall decoration which may date from the 17th century. She turned a high-ceilinged room into a temple of intense female figures. To borrow a phrase, the walls reflect both “agony and ecstasy.” Overall, her imagery evokes a suggestion of hope. I first saw Swoon’s work on a wall in Braddock, PA. She is an inspiring artist.

Swoon, detail, showing fragments of colonial wall decoration.
Swoon, detail, showing fragments of the colonial wall decoration.
Wall by Swoon at MACO, Oaxaca.
Wall by Swoon at MACO, Oaxaca.

Swoon’s outside murals were on prime real estate in the historic center of Oaxaca. I was told the building houses Dr. Lakra’s painting studio. Her works are woodblock prints on kraft paper which are pasted to the walls with wheatpaste. In some places they call these works “throw-ups.” The street artist can unroll the work and throw it up on a wall in a matter of minutes.

Oaxaca Street Art by Swoon, complete with a museum label on right edge.
Oaxaca Street Art by Swoon, complete with a museum label on right edge.

I will leave you with an image that includes art by Swoon, but it looks to be a collaboration with Retna and perhaps the blue skull is by Dr.Lakra. Next post I will share work by my old friend Yescka.

Oaxaca Street art, Swoon, Retna, and maybe, Dr. Lakra.
Oaxaca Street art, Swoon, Retna, and maybe, Dr. Lakra.

Muralist Carmen Cereceda worked with Diego Rivera

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Carmen Cereceda carefully climbed up the metal scaffold in the lobby of a Mexico City office building. From a brown bottle she poured the solvent liquin on her palette of oil paints from the day before. She mixed a middle sepia tone and with long brushes began to paint the face of the sun. She is working on the third and final panel of her massive mural in the SAGARPA building. SAGARPA is Mexico’s Department of Agriculture.

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By chance, I have a friend named Diego Dobler who works for this office. He arranged permission for me to see Maestra Cerrada’s work-in-progress. Cerrada worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera in the 1950’s. She has since painted murals in Canada, Chile, Cuba and Mexico. She is a lively little woman with a clear voice and bright eyes. I noticed she was wearing green eye shadow to match her sweater. I told her I found it amazing that she worked with Diego Rivera. “Amazing? Why?” she laughed. “He was quite the man. I worked in his studio for four or five months. Not on an actual mural; he was doing research and working on preliminary drawings. There were five of us. Two young men, three young ladies. He treated us like princesses; the boys- he would yell at them, ‘Flojo!’ You know what that means?- ‘Lazy.”

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When I spoke of my love of Mexican art, she reminded me, “I am not from Mexico. I was born in Chile. Chile may be far in geography, but it is very close in culture to Mexico.” She told me after Mexico’s War of Reform, President Benito Juarez was running the country from a carriage; the capitol moving from place to place. Some people in a small Chilean fishing village said that’s not right and began collecting money. The idea spread to Santiago, and these Chileans raised a good deal of money and personally came to present it to Juarez.

“Then when we had that terrible dicatator, Pinochet, in Chile. Educated people found him unbearable and they fled in exile. Many came to Mexico. The highly educated were given positions here, at UNAM, the university. So Mexico and Chile are close.”

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The Three Energies is the title of the section she is working on. She pointed out the symbols for wind, solar, and water power. She noted that many murals glorify petroleum, but she wants no part of that. She celebrates only the renewable and clean. The final section will show what she calls the primary energy: young people, educating themselves in revolutionary ways to tranform man, consciousness and society.

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My photos don’t do justice to her mastery of the mural form. To see more visit Carmen Cereceda Bianchi on her Facebook page. While you are there, you might ‘like’ her and her work. I do.

New Mural for Kutztown Library

This article originally appeared in “The Gonser Gazette” -the Friends of  Kutztown Community Library’s newsletter.

Mural design superimposed on a photo of the Kutztown Community Library.
Mural design superimposed on a photo of the Kutztown Community Library.

The Kutztown Community Library was selected once again this year to participate in Kutztown University’s “Designathon” for non-profit organizations.  Janet Yost, Lisa Schnell, and I presented Kutztown U Communication Design students the tasks of creating a new mural for our library’s outside wall and a brochure to be used for promotion of a new  upcoming children’s program.

The students, with guidance from several professors, had twenty-four hours (non-stop, no sleep) to complete the designs which included some very specific requests on our part.  This was all done with no fee to our library.  Their finished designs are simply fantastic as you will see when the final painting and printing are completed this summer.

KU CD Mural Design Team
KU CD Designathon team after 24 hours non-stop work. Kelly Arsi, Sean Miller, Torrey Smith, Ryan Gaylets, Prof. Elaine Cunfer, Margariete Malenda, and Zack Fogleman.

Wonderful as their work is though, I am even more impressed by the KU students themselves. They were polite and patient as they listened to our needs, enthusiastic about the process, and not the least bit daunted by the responsibility put before them.  And worn out as those artists should have been at the twenty-four-hour deadline, they quite happily presented their finished products to us.  They eagerly awaited our approval, which we gave them whole-heartedly.  Some of them actually offered to help paint the mural for us this summer…..even though they will have already graduated.

In a world where there seems to be so much bad news, these KU students are the good news.  They are well on their way to understanding how important it is to willingly donate time and energy to make a community a better place.  I am happy to know that they, and so many just like them, will be an integral part of the future.  Thanks to all of you dedicated parents and educators who have given them to us.

– Mary Jo Johnson, President Emeritus, Friends of the Kutztown Community Library

Mural detail showing homage to Keith Haring.
Mural detail showing homage to Keith Haring.

Editor’s Note: The break-dancing silhouettes pay homage to the style of Keith Haring, Kutztown, PA’s best-known artist. Turns out his parents are active Friends of the Kutztown Library, and the Harings gave their blessing to this use of imagery based on Keith’s signature style.

Dr. Lakra’s Grand Canvas

Dr. Lakra’s art often appears in Juxtapoz magazine.

Dr. Lakra is not a real doctor. He is a tattoo artist and collector of classic porn. He is, of course, more than this. The cutting-edge magazine Juxtapoz often features his art. I met Dr. Lakra late one night last week in a warehouse across the main highway from the center of Oaxaca.

Dr. Lakra’s MACO mural, opening night, July 13, 2012, photo: KMc

The warehouse encounter was the second of Lakra’s two art openings within a week. The first was the inauguration of an enormous temporary mural at MACO, el Museo Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca. Packed with artists, journalists, and photographers, the MACO opening was so crowded I didn’t even realize Dr. Lakra was in attendance.

Dr. Lakra’s formal MACO opening showing Samurai section of his mural. Photo: KMc

The MACO mural, which he completed in a few weeks with three assistants, covered two high walls. It included a two-story illustration of a Japanese warrior tearing the face off an opponent, clearly appropriated from a Ukiyo-e print. There were monumental sepia-toned portraits of mid-20th century Mexican glamour girls. A troupe of black silhouettes danced along the foreground, bringing to mind Kara Walker’s work.  At sunset the shadows of the trees in MACO’s Patio C played across Lakra’s mural lending the artwork an eerie sense of motion.

Dr. Lakra's canvas mural. photo: KMc
Dr. Lakra’s warehouse mural on canvas, left panels. Photo: KMc
Dr. Lakra’s warehouse reception. Right panels in background.

The second opening, at the warehouse, was quite different. Dr. Lakra greeted everyone cordially, even gatecrashers like me. He wasn’t drinking, but offered us mescal and beer. A woman asked him if he had a bottle opener for her beer. Dr. Lakra took a plastic Gatorade bottle and wedged its orange plastic cap under the beer bottle cap. With a deft flick of the wrist he popped open the beer bottle. The Gatorade bottle was still sealed. Seems Dr. Lakra is a master of many arcane skills.

I was told this warehouse is the studio of another internationally known Oaxacan artist, Demian Flores.  The murals at MACO were painted directly on the walls. These murals filled two giant stretched canvases, one on each side of the room. Done in the same mix of sepia and gray washes, these images were more grotesque than the museum piece.

A gory detail from Dr Lakra’s canvas mural.

Bits of ancient maps and medical anomalies jostled against genies in bottles and high-heeled shoes. Dr. Lakra told me he and his crew had also completed this project quickly. I wondered if the opening wasn’t a tad premature. Some collage elements on the canvas, old duotone magazine photos, fluttered in the breeze each time the warehouse door swung open.

Dr. Lakra looking at his mural with Cesar Chavez. Photo: Kevin McCloskey

In 2007, Dr. Lakra contributed an artwork to my friends of the ASARO collective, a large cubist painting of a man tied to a chair, being tortured. I found his new work even more disturbing than that painting, but I expect this is his artistic intention. Bottom line: I may not like all his imagery, but I do like Dr. Lakra.

NOTE: A very short video of Dr. Lakra’s MACO mural can be seen here .