The towns of Lake Chapala are dotted with murals painted by local artists. Giant political, ecological, historical, and social works of art highlight area walls and keep area residents and visitors fascinated with the art and the Mexican masters whose names are synonymous with murals -- Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, and David Alfaros Siguieros.
When I interviewed some of Ajijic’s muralists a few years ago we talked about Mexico’s long fascination with the giant paintings. Jesús Lopez Vega (he recently finished part two of a giant stairway mural featuring the spirit of the lake) said, "When I look at the murals here in Ajijic I think of how we have brought back the spirits of masters of the Mexican mural, each in our own way. We Ajijic artists express the same types of feelings and comments. Diego Rivera was the most historic muralist. Orozco was the most artistic; Siquieros was political and Rufino Tamayo, my mentor, was the cosmic one. His composition of color and figures transmits the pre-Columbian spirit."
Dionicio Morales was serious when he added, "We have a grave responsibility as mural artists." He paused, searching for the right words,and said, "It is not enough to be able to paint a whole crowd of pretty people. The artist must be willing to thoroughly investigate and research his topic. It is unthinkable to start painting without understanding the dress, the culture, the landscape, the religion, and even the foods of the subjects."
"That’s right," interrupted Isidro Xilonzóchitl who recently painted an early scene of San Juan Cosalá in the Viva Mexico! Tia Lupita Restaurant. "We have to be know the time and place we are painting. We can't portray a Northern Yaqui carving an Aztec calendar. Our paint strokes can accurately portray our world, ancient and modern, but if we are not vigilant, we could create a 'guacamole of cultures.'"
Jesús explained, "Mexico’s mural movement began right after the Mexican Revolution (about 1920), and there was a lot the great muralists needed to say. Murals are more than large paintings that make ecological, political and social statements. It is about our culture; it is about expressing our feelings -- most of the time what murals say goes against the system.
"Remember,” he said, “is a way of communication that comes through from your soul, from your spirit. It speaks the truth. That is not always pretty, but it needs to be heard."
Jose Francisco Rojas Miramontes won a local mural contest with this mural featuring his vision of the spirit of Lake Chapala rising from the depths, silvery fish dangling from his head like hair. The Spirit continues to reach out to the visitors of the Lake Chapala Society patio, precious drops of water dripping from fingers. The then very young artist felt directed to call attention to the plight of Lake Chapala which was in peril at the time of the mural painting by depicting the indigenous in their boats of the past and the modern factories, smokestacks and pollution of the future, and the dry lakeshore of 2002.
Efren Gonzalez is well known among local foreigners, and among the readers of Living at Lake Chapala. (See the recent article Harriet Hart wrote about his new studio and gallery and the classes he is teaching for area children in the Feature Article of the April 2010 issue of Living at Lake Chapala.
Like most of Ajijic’s professional artists, Efren got his artistic start in the children’s after school classes sponsored by Sra. Neill James, the travel writer who settled in Ajijic in 1942.
As perhaps the youngest of Lake Chapala’s mural painters, he is one of the most prolific – along with the Lopez Vega brothers Jesus and Antonio (you’ll read more about them in tomorrow’s blog post.)
On the front of Ajijic’s Saul Rodiles Piña School on Hidalgo, Gonzalez painted a capsulated history of ancient Mexico as recorded in the Gary Jennings' novel, Azteca. At another school in upper Ajijic, Efren painted a mural reflecting later Mexican history. In addition to many smaller murals in or on private homes (as with the Virgin of Guadalupe – Chapala style – complete with corn, drying nets, fish, agave and turtles shown at left above) he painted another historical mural in the stairway in the office building of the municipal building in Chapala. When you are headed to the movie theater in Bugambilias Plaza, be sure to look up at the work he did in on that mall’s ceiling, and then take time to see the mural shown below which is painted on the front of the Ajijic school which is on Calle Parroquia, just across the street from San Andrés Church.
Isidro Xilonzóchitl, a San Juan Cosalá native prefers to draw on political themes as did the mural masters. Like Orozco and Siqueiros, Isidro prefers to paint tales of political and social problems. His first Ajijic mural, painted on a wall between the town plaza and the fountain, has disappeared in the course of a building project. It depicted an event in the early 1990s when Guadalajara’s Catholic Cardinal was shot in the Guadalajara airport parking lot.
His more recent work is a giant mural in the San Juan Cosalá restaurant, Viva Mexico! Tia Lupita. There he shows early village residents gathering at the church to celebrate a wedding, enjoying a fireworks display, listening and dancing to the music of the band, and carrying on the activities of daily life.
These are some of the murals of Ajijic, Chapala and San Juan Cosalá. Be sure to come back tomorrow to see more of Lake Chapala’s modern masters of mural painting!