Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection is an exhibition rich with layers of communal and artistic camaraderie that helped build the vision for the formation of post revolution Mexican national identity. Kahlo and Rivera’s works sit in conversation with their peers throughout each gallery in the exhibition, highlighting the collective that surrounds these two well-known artists. The focus on the collective within art and art-making has shaped and inspired the community partnership work for this exhibition, with one of the first partnerships culminating in the creation of live mural painting in the Museum’s Schnitzer Sculpture Court.
Working from March 2nd through April 2nd in both a triptych mural and video projection art, artists Hector Hernandez, Angennette Escobar, Christian J. Barrios and Victor Hugo Garza have conceptualized images of Kahlo that capture the vastness of her being within her gender expression, mestiza identity, and physical disabilities. While it is exciting to watch the bold color and beautiful forms of their mural work unfold over the last couple of weeks, it is a great pleasure to be able to share more about each artist and their individual practices in this post. Moreso, it has been extremely gratifying and inspiring to see how these artists have come together to create the Metamorphosis Mural in the Sculpture Court. Read on to learn more about each artist and their perspectives through their contributions in this article.
Hector Hernandez’ first experience painting murals was achieved in Mexico City while studying a program in Social Anthropology. During that opportunity Mr. Hernandez participated as collaborator for two murals under the guidance of the Mexican master painter Arnold Belkin. This experience allowed him to follow a path to community murals from the teachings of the Mexican school of painting. Following his academic formation Mr. Hernandez received an MFA from the University of Oregon in 1999 in painting and a MIS in Art and Education, with a Bachelor in FA in addition to an undergraduate degree in Social Anthropology. Currently Mr. Hernandez has been teaching mural painting at Portland State University and Chemeketa Community College for the last 12 years, and also has developed an exchange program with National School of Sculpture, Engraving and Painting “La Esmeralda” in Mexico City, painting murals with students from both Universities.
HECTOR: First of all I would like to thank the Portland Art Museum, Sara Krajewski, Jaleesa Johnston, Stephanie Parrish, and Hana Layson for this great opportunity to create the Metamorphosis Mural, that was the result of previous conversations years ago about the creation of a mural for the upcoming exhibition of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism. I proposed to Hana in early conversations to paint a mural during the exhibition following the example of the Mexican painter José Clemente Orozco during the exhibition 20 Centuries of Mexican Art in 1940 at the Museum of Modern Art of New York. The creation of a mural during the exhibition was part of showcasing the Mexican mural movement taking place in Mexico, which has been so influential to the USA art scene. The Mexican modernism influence in the USA can be identified through muralism, but also there are other aspects of such artistic Mexican influence, such as the approach to social realism subjects and art materials experimentations among others.
The Metamorphosis Mural
In this 21st century, the influence of Mexican modernism can be felt through the works of other artists, such as Frida Kahlo. Her works and contribution to the art world could be identified in terms of her subjects’ approach, as well as the diversity in mixed media art objects. The Metamorphosis Mural is an approach to the subjects that our postmodern culture deals with, such as issues of gender and sexuality, multiracial persona, and people with different capacities or disabilities.
My work as a muralist deals constantly with social and cultural subjects and I enjoy approaching those subjects in a way that speaks to the people in general. I also notice that the visual narratives I develop in my murals and artworks are interpreted in different ways by people from different cultural backgrounds; therefore, I’m approaching my subjects in a simple manner, so they can resonate in a universal way. I also enjoy teaching mural painting in the Chicano Latino Studies Program at Portland State University, and having a background in social anthropology allows me to further explore subjects on cultural dynamics, ethnicity, and interethnic relationships. It is my hope that my artwork will contribute somehow in a positive way to deal with and face the issues of our contemporary society that have been a historical constant.
Angennette Escobar is a working artist and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. Escobar has a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Sculpture and a minor in Art History. She also attended the MFA program at the University of California, San Diego with a focus on Sculpture and Performance Art. She currently exhibits at Blackfish Gallery in Portland, Oregon and Trails End Gallery in eastern Washington. Escobar holds a Masters of Arts in Teaching from George Fox University and teaches Sculpture and 3D Design at Wilsonville High School in Wilsonville, Oregon. Escobar is a Mexican-American artist that was raised along the Mexican border in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. Her most recent work often involves Mexican religious iconography, specifically Milagros, small metal charms that represent miracles. She uses body imagery intertwined with religious objects to explore her cultural identity and heritage as well as her corporeal reality as a human being.
ANGENNETTE: As long as I can remember, the work of Frida Kahlo has resonated deeply within me as an artist and as a Mexican-American woman. Kahlo’s influence is very evident in the work I make. I feel strongly that it is vital that young artists see themselves reflected in both local artists as well as prominent art historical figures and I am intensely grateful that the Portland Art Museum has curated an opportunity for both of these to happen with the Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism exhibition and the live painting of the Metamorphosis Mural. I would also like to thank Latino Art NOW which includes Hector H. Hernandez, Christian J. Barrios and Victor Hugo Garza. It has been a pleasure collaborating with such fiercely creative Latino artists. This experience has impacted me greatly and it will permeate throughout my own personal art making as well as in my teaching practice at Wilsonville High School, where I will be teaching a dual language class titled Latino Art and Culture, where Mexican Modernism and muralism will feature prominently in the curriculum.
CHRISTIAN J. BARRIOS
Christian J. Barrios was born in Mexico City where he grew up in a traditional household. When he was very young, he learned the art of ceramic painting and Talabera in his family business. At the age of 16, he moved to the United States. Years later, he met Gene Zanni who was a marquetry artist; Christian apprenticed for him for 7 years, learning a lot about marquetry, such as how beautiful types of wood can create wonderful pictures. Also during this time, Christian learned other visual arts, like acrylics and paper maché. Christian has painted murals that represent cultural diversity and community. Some of these murals have been created in collaboration with youth at different school locations. Currently, Christian is investing his time in helping underserved communities by teaching art in different schools of Portland, OR through Latino Network -Studio Latino, ETHOS, and RightBrain Initiative. He is an active member of IdeAl-PDX and a member of the Equity Committee of Grace Art Camp and Young Audiences Associated Board.
CHRISTIAN: I love being part of this community and teaching the magic of art, photography, Mexican folk art, and Muralism in schools and organizations, such as Right Brain Young Audiences, ArtsWA, and many others that work with kids and our community. I love color in my life because color can affect our emotions, mental clarity, and energy levels, so I love to see that in my murals. I am so thankful to the Portland Art Museum for allowing me to be part of this beautiful project and blessed to work with these three fantastic artists and human beings. Their talents have made this project a unique and unforgettable experience for me.
Christian J Barrios
VICTOR HUGO GARZA
Victor Hugo Garza is originally from Monterrey, Mexico but has lived most of his adult life in the United States. He has been interested in the arts since he was very young. Pursuing his artistic interest, he moved to Hollywood, California to attend film school, where he graduated with a specialty in sound and post-production. After working in the Hollywood industry as a sound designer for 10 years, he relocated to Oaxaca, Mexico, where he studied painting and worked with different mediums: oil, acrylic, watercolor, ink, mixed media and wood. His work was shown in galleries around the city. He created murals with a community of artists. As a composer and guitarist, he produced two records of his original music in L.A. Victor has also lived in Poitier, France for a year, where he took art classes and taught English. In Iowa City, he taught theater, dance and history for high school. In 2005, he moved to Portland, Oregon to study art and alternative education and began teaching at the Portland Waldorf School the same year, where he still teaches today. His artwork has been shown at several galleries around Portland, and his visionary work has traveled across the world via social media. Today as a digital artist, graphic designer, and a videographer, Victor Hugo is interested in bridging new technologies with art. His mission is to innovate, inspire, and instill hope, bringing a positive message with his vision.
VICTOR: I love being a Waldorf teacher and an artist. Both passions allow my spontaneity and my creativity to flourish. The greatest satisfaction is doing what I always wanted to do. I have been able to make music, write books, paint murals, travel the world and make a living making people happy. Knowledge is power and it’s a blessing to be able to teach the new generations. Being able to serve others gives me great joy.
I am a very curious person and this insatiable thirst drives my impulse to keep improving myself all the time. My art and videos are a reflection of this. I want to use new technologies to innovate, to inspire, and to instill hope, bringing a positive message with my vision.
Thanks to the Portland Art Museum and our team of artists for the opportunity to share our vision and our love for Frida Kahlo and our culture with so many people. It’s been a pleasure to participate with all of you.