An American artist in a Mexico City Exhibit
2 days, 1 hacienda and 10 paintings
I think I start everything with “I have to be honest” so as much as I’d like to change..I have to be honest I don’t think I can.
So…I have to be honest I didn’t know what I was getting into when I headed down south. At least there was a goal but no actual plan: the goal was to get pieces to the Hacienda for the show…I think it would most likely involve painting the pieces for the upcoming Hacienda Zotoluca grand opening. This would be the event celebrating the restoration of a 15th-century hacienda outside of Mexico City.
And “I honestly” didn’t even know if I would be able to get canvas the size I was planning to have for the event.
I flew to Mexico alone on Thursday and had a driver pick me up at the airport to take me to my hotel. He was less than professional as the first thing he did when he picked me up was stop for fuel. That’s ok, I fired him once he dropped me at the hotel for “not thinking ahead” not sure what I actually told him in Spanish.
Magen and I had reached out to a few folks about sourcing canvas locally in Mexico City since we didn’t find much of anything on the internet. We did have an artist friend who said there was a specific street that might be good for finding art supplies and that was about the max of my guidance before I had a new driver pick me up the next morning. His name was/is Pedro. Pedro picked Friday morning and we headed 45 minutes into Mexico city to find canvas. I kept telling him “Aventuras” because I didn’t know if we would find anything other than our own journey to disappointment. Thankfully we found a little more; a tiny art store that didn’t appear to have much had just about everything I needed. All the large canvas I wanted (10 in total) and the owner was adamant “no deals” since she was the only store like it, dammit..she had both the market and me cornered. After I emptied my pockets we headed back to the hotel, canvas in tow. Once at the hotel, I insisted to the kind young front desk girl that I was a famous artist from the U.S. and it if they could so kindly let me paint a large piece in the lobby…she seemed to know otherwise (also known as the truth) but let me paint anyhow.
7am Saturday I headed to the event space with Pedro. I greeted him with “Aventuras, time” he nodded with a smile. After all, I hadn’t met the man that had invited me to showcase my work at the event…I was hopeful I would get kidnapped and have a decent excuse not have to pay the parking ticket Magen so thoughtfully got for me while I was away. The drive was about an hour and a half in rural Mexico and of course, I had him stop on the side of the highway for tamales. The landscape was sprawling with occasional mountains consumed by brush, cactus and the grazing livestock. I was enjoying the view of the landscape right at the time I heard the crushing sound of metal…as I turned my head to look behind us we got hit. This is when things get wildly slow in your mind…I started sinking in my seat as the cars started driving up on the side of the road (dirt trailing and flying up behind their trucks as they got even with us) I asked pedro “please do not stop” he said “no miss, not safe, no signal as he held up his phone with the one hand not actively gripping the steering wheel. Luckily something (I honestly can’t remember maybe an abandoned car on the side of the road forced our fast driving caballeros to stop as we continued. I struggled to act calm and slow my racing heart. What the hell just happened and did we slip past the hands of danger and certainly a different day than I had envisioned.
Driving up to the hacienda on the winding road Pedro and I could see an out of place grandious grouping of buildings with a stone fence begging a lost passerby to ask the question “what the hell is going on here?” Large Iron doors (noticeable missing any way to see in) guarded the main entrance and a young gentleman walked up from along the fence and asked who we were there to see. Pedro answered for me, my jaw was still slung open like I was trying to catch a breath (I think I was). The young man nodded and used just about all of his body to open the heavy door as it unveiled the grand circle drive with a fountain at the forefront of the restored hacienda. Out from the shadow of the front entrance by the courtyard and onto the sidewalk of the drive walked two of the kindest humans accompanied by theirs or the hacienda’s dogs, I still don’t know.
Shortly after introductions, Julio put me on a schedule which helped with my nerves of creating pieces in this historic and extravagant landmark for an event that would bring together folks from all around the world to celebrate Mexican culture/history, “laura I’d like to give you a tour first then you can paint some pieces then the photo/filmographer will be here” I disregarded the last part until he showed up and I was interviewed. Of course, I was offered tequila/mezcal/wine and I was raised with manners so I willingly indulged as any grateful guest should. As I was painting (post shots/drinks) I did notice most of my cowboy hats were leaning…I figured the hospitality that I had been shown translated through the brush and that was ok.
The hacienda is emotionally overwhelming with the richness of the hand-carved stone old and new; elaborately following each step you take to the color of the lumber sourced locally and exposed above you: its rawness and strength soaring and surrounding you boasting its restored life. With every step of a stair and pull of a door handle, you can either feel the history that has long passed or the modern craftsmanship seamlessly creating and inviting the celebrations to come.
I painted 10 paintings at the hacienda and had 3 that I brought from Colorado. I had the luxury of even painting one in the middle of a field of a Mexican cowboy who didn’t speak much at all probably because he didn’t know English and my Spanish was about as good as a 2-month-old’s His name is Ismael, that I do know and he embodied everything you could imagine an iconic Mexican cowboy including his mode of transportation: a mule.
We ended our day at the hacienda around 8pm with a toast actually two since the first one we did wrong. “we need to link arms for it to be the proper toast” Pedro watched and laughed at us I think he knew I was going to be sick later. We loaded up the car (minus 13 canvases that we left at the hacienda to dry/cure for the event coming up) and headed back to Mexico City: I had zero fear of safety as we traveled an hour and a half in the dark..thank you Julio, thank you mezcal, thank you Pedro for not speaking to me so I could focus on not getting sick in your car.