Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, our new favourite winter destination, has an active art community and many splendid art contributions to its public spaces. On our first night in the old town, we were struck by the beauty of the new pier at the foot of Francisca Rodriguez. The abstract representation of a sailing ship soars over the water. At night it is lit by a rainbow of colours.
A walk along the Malecón was punctuated by dozens of sculptures, some abstract, some representational. We stop and look at most of them, but one stands above the rest. Xiutla Dancers, by American sculptor Jim Demetro, a painted bronze of traditional male and female dancers, is so fluid and graceful that at first glance I thought they were another of the living statues who pose for tips along the beach. Closer inspection reveals the truth of this slightly larger than life work.
Later, during the Wednesday evening Old Town Art Walk that runs from October through May each year, we meet Jim at Galería Pacífico, Aldama, where he’s working on a maquette for a new piece. It’s two little boys pushing and pulling a stubborn burro. Jim, who has been a full time artist since retiring from engineering in 1992, lives in Washington state and winters in PV.
He invites us to visit him at his open air studio above Oscar’s Restaurant on the Malecón, where he’s working on the full scale model which, he tells us, is to represent those hard working animals who helped build PV. He says there are only two left in town and on another walk we see one of them, head drooping, sadly posing for photos with an old chap dressed in traditional costume.
Michael Whitlow is another fine artist from the US who relocates to PV in the winters. He and his wife Pati have opened Galería Whitlow, Leona Vicario, and we discover him there one evening before we dine at nearby Café des Artistes (see my blog of February 21, 2013). Invited to have a glass of home-made red hibiscus tea (delicious by the way), we wander amazed through his exhibition of super realistic still-life oils.
I am very tempted to buy one of the originals, or even a giclée limited edition, but the budget says no. I still have my eye on a small painting. Just thinking about it makes me happy. There’s nothing complicated about the appeal of these pieces. They harken back to the chiaroscuro paintings of the Renaissance, but with a modern energy that simply brings joy to the observer. Michael is a gentle man who has been painting professionally since 1971, and always in the realist style. We visit several other galleries during two tours of the Art Walk, but see nothing in a sea of abstract art that we like as much.
We find art in other strange places along the cobbled streets. One wall at the side of a hotel and restaurant complex, which could have been left as a blank concrete wasteland, has been turned into a delightful and colourful representation of old colonial style frontages, doorways, balconies and windows. I am sure that most of the tourists scurrying by without a glance don’t see this as art, but to me it is enchanting.
We first discover another wall, a mosaic of brightly coloured broken tiles, glass, mirrors and more during our weekly visit to the Saturday market on Pino Suarez. Occupying a whole block between Basilio Badillio and Carranza the 196 feet long by nine feet high abstract is the work of Natasha and Daniel Moraga. We see Daniel working on the mosaic, just steps from our condo, almost every day on our walks, and even when we stop to talk, he continues adding tiny pieces of tile and mirror.
Some days he’s accompanied by his dog, and of course Diane brings dog chow for her. Another day a young boy, a relative he says, is making a tile representation of his hand. During the course of our stay, we watch the work spread along the wall towards the entrance to the school, where parents wait every afternoon under the shade of a tree before picking up their kids. Unfortunately, not everyone is keen on the piece and we learn from the local paper that a teacher has complained about its possible negative influence on the children. What rubbish. Exposing children to art on the side of their school can only have a positive impact and allow them to appreciate art in a different manner. I add a photograph of Daniel at work on Natasha’s Facebook page and a few words of encouragement, as well as donating a few pesos for materials (or dog food). The work is entirely supported by public donations and the sponsors who have discrete and beautiful painted tiles incorporated in the scheme.
In the bustling and dusty streets of a tourism-oriented resort town, its really rewarding to see that art not only has a public face but the efforts of it’s artists are rewarded.
This article was originally published on March 12, 2013.