February 9, 2018

Love in San Miguel

Art lovers . . . Poetry lovers . . . Music lovers . . . Food lovers . . . Peace lovers . . . Animal lovers . . . Nature lovers . . . We have them all here in San Miguel . . .

Expressing their love for San Miguel, many of the city’s artists, both full-time residents and tourists, paint street scenes or portraits of street vendors or campesinos who come into town with their burros bearing produce from the surrounding farms. These paintings are done predominantly in the style of impressionism, and they are basically highly romanticized pictures of urban life. Charming, yes, but not very inspiring. Another favorite subject is the facades of the many Spanish-style churches found throughout the historic center, or centro historico. With a few exceptions, the streets and buildings of San Miguel are not as beautiful as those in some of the major cities in Mexico. 

To my way of thinking, however, the best way to express one’s love for this city is to capture the vitality of the people who live here. It’s the Mexican people who make their homes here, who grew up here and have families that go back several generations that make San Miguel beautiful. And the children! The children here have some of the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen! And what about the young lovers, the teenagers who kiss for hours on the benches in the public squares, oblivious to everything around them! Or the twenty-somethings who stop in the street to embrace and kiss before continuing their graceful amble along the street? Or the middle-aged couples who walk arm in arm or hand in hand? Love is strongly in the air here, and that is much more important than stone structures with climbing flowers or windows with potted plants.

When I look at photos of the remaining buildings and pyramids of the Mayan civilization, for example, I am not moved. The same is true of the Egyptian pyramids, or the remaining structures in Rome’s Ostia Antica. Impressive in their size and scale, perhaps, but they leave me cold.  The spirit of the people who lived there is gone.
If San Miguel artists want to paint trite and clichéd street scenes they are not truly expressing their love for the city. They are playing it safe by catering to the herd’s need for comfortable images. They are not doing a service to San Miguel’s people.

Better to show the Mexicans who live here laughing, dancing, eating, working, and simply enjoying life with their celebrations and fiestas. If San Miguel vanishes a hundred years from now and there’s nothing left but ruins, which images will tell the truth about the people who lived here?

December 29, 2017

A Time for Reflection

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my time for deep reflection. It’s a time for me to focus on the hard questions about life and art – am I living to my full potential? am I fulfilling my creative objectives?

The artist residents of San Miguel should utilize some or all of this week for collectively reflecting on what kind of a city we want to create for ourselves now and for future generations. Are we going to be happy with a city of pleasure for the elite but unlivable for the majority?

Clogged with traffic and choking on fumes, we are in danger of committing suicide by tourism. The city is growing too fast. Our cultural riches are being cheapened by commercialism. I doubt most of us would say, yes, we endorse this kind of rampant growth. Inevitably, the commercial potential is being exploited by those who seek only to profit from the city’s exploding popularity. But we artists should take up the role of the conscience of the city. I believe it’s our moral duty – we should protect and preserve the best of the city that has been so good to us.

December 4, 2017

San Miguel's Art Glut

There's a definite art glut in San Miguel. Art is everywhere, and that's not a bad thing because it helps to beautify the city. But it's getting harder for galleries to stay open. Too much competition, I suspect. Just learned today that a gallery with good art by serious artists in a prime location that's been open for the last 8 years is going out of business, and will be closing its doors forever this  week. Knowing what I do about the owners, I'd say the reason they are closing is lack of sales.

September 8, 2017

The Artist and the Model

As every art teacher will tell you, drawing from photographs is a bad habit. It is always better to draw from a live model. And with so many nude photos readily available on the web it is very hard to resist the temptation to use them. Okay, fine, but when you’re an independent artist and models are hard to come by what do you do? Yes, you can join a figure drawing group with live models. I’ve done this many times but always found it unsatisfactory because I could not pose the models myself and had to accept the limited settings of a drawing studio when I would prefer to have my models in a natural environment. Also, and most importantly, an artist has to find a model with whom he has a rapport, one who inspires him and possibly has a good understanding of what he is trying to accomplish. After all, the artist-model relationship must grow out of trust and mutual understanding. You can’t have that with a random model who is posing in a classroom or a studio with several other artists present. I use live models whenever I can, but I prefer to photograph them and do my preliminary sketching from the photos rather than have the models pose for hours in my studio. This approach has worked well for me, and I have to admit that I have used photos for some of my best work. San Miguel has a limited number of good models, so if you’re a figurative painter, be prepared to use photos when you come to San Miguel to work.

August 24, 2017

Why Is Modern Art So Bad?

In this video, Robert Florczak of Prager University explains why modern art is so terribly bad. I am in complete agreement with every major point in his argument, but I must exclude the work of Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Dali and their contemporaries from this blanket condemnation. However, I would include abstract-expressionism. Also, I believe he has left out something important. Contemporary art, art produced after 1950 or so, isn't great, isn't good, and it isn't even shocking -- it is simply mediocre.

“For two millennia, great artists set the standard for beauty. Now those standards are gone. Modern art is a competition between the ugly and the twisted; the most shocking wins. What happened? How did the beautiful come to be reviled and bad taste come to be celebrated? Renowned artist Robert Florczak explains the history and the mystery behind this change and how it can be stopped and even reversed.” (credit: Artisan's Atlas)

August 22, 2017

House Hunting for Artists in San Miguel

I’ve noticed that there are many more people making inquiries about renting or buying a house in San Miguel before they arrive in the city. I believe this is a mistake. You cannot rely on what realtors and sellers tell you about living in the city – you’ve got to see it for yourself in order to decide if living here long term is right for you. Whether you are planning to rent or buy, the old adage about location-location-location certainly applies here in spades. San Miguel’s neighborhoods are very diverse.

Many people want to live in centro, the historical downtown, but they will have to pay a premium, the highest rates in the city for the privilege of being within 15-minute walking distance of just about everything except the large supermarkets. There are plenty of livable neighborhoods on the fringes of centro, but they each have their pluses and minuses.

You must consider the major housing options:

1)    A traditional house built of bricks and concrete, often but not always with small rooms, a patio and/or a roof-top terrace, some kind of greenery 

2)    A modern house in an upscale neighborhood such as Los Frailes, Balcones or Atascadero. For the artist on a budget, these are quite pricey at $150,000 to 300,000 USD.

3)    A condo usually for adults only with green spaces and often a communal area, such as El Secreto or Las Ventanas. There are quite a few of these in town, also pricey.

4)    A pre-fab style development of mostly 3-bedroom, 2-bath houses with patios and terraces on the roof that you will probably want to customize to suit your needs. There are many of these, primarily on the outskirts, and more seem to be erupting all the time. Priced in the $80,000 -100,000 USD range.

As an artist, you will of course need studio space, and many of the houses here have an extra bedroom that can be converted into a comfortable work area. The older houses here have many different layout configurations, and you will be pleased with the wealth of variety and the many options for studios.

July 9, 2017

Simplicity, Minimalism and Contemporary Design in San Miguel

Simplicity is our byword. My wife and I live it every day in the choices we make about where to eat, shop, or simply relax. We do it by planning out our strategy for our daily activities. Our lives are much simpler and more manageable without a car, which we gave up 2 years ago in favor of a scooter to get us around town. If the sky looks dark and stormy or just pregnant with rain, we leave the scooter home and walk, knowing we can always take a bus or a taxi home if we feel worn out or if there’s a torrential downpour during the rainy season (roughly July to September).

In contrast to the traditional buildings and houses of San Miguel, our house is minimalistic and Euro-contemporary.  It’s made of brick and concrete covered with plaster and painted white inside with a mostly white exterior. It has an open layout on the ground floor. Most of the houses in our neighborhood are similarly constructed with mostly white exteriors. (Looking out from our rooftop terrace I’m struck by how much it resembles a village on a Greek island.) However, we made some modifications to the interior layout to make it more open with a clean, contemporary style.

Our preference for interior design is also minimalistic. We decided not to drill holes or put nails or screws in the walls whenever we could avoid it, so the kitchen has one long shelf and a free-standing unit and all dishes, utensils and food are in drawers.  Some of my paintings rest on the top of a long bookcase. In furnishings, we favor mid-century modern. This is also in contrast with the dominant décor of San Miguel’s casas, where the great majority of them are decorated in the traditional ornate and rustic Mexican style. (If you rent a house here you will most likely get that type of décor.)

The frustrating part of our minimalistic lifestyle is that good quality mid-century modern furniture is extremely hard to come by in Mexico, especially in San Miguel. There is a vintage furniture store in Mexico City that sells restored pieces (vintage-antic.mx), but as of this writing they have only a very limited inventory.

So if you have the same taste in décor, my advice is to bring pieces with you or plan to have them shipped to San Miguel.

If you are interested in hiring an architect to work with you on designing a contemporary house in San Miguel, check out these web sites. I can't personally recommend these architects but they have been recommended by people in SMA who have worked with them.



June 27, 2017

REQUIEM FOR A CITY: San Miguel's Changing Demographics

A word of caution to artists who want to come to San Miguel to make a career for themselves. The demographics of this city have changed drastically over the last 5 years, and most of the expats from the US and Canada who are coming here are not very interested in art, education or culture. Apparently, all the hype about San Miguel being the world's best city to visit (not to live in, mind you) has spurred people who are seeking the "good life" to come  here by the busload. Some of the latest evidence to confirm this – three serious Lifelong Learning classes scheduled for this July and August have just been cancelled due to low enrollment. A friend of mine who was offering acting for beginners starting in June could not find enough students to fill the class. And even the two anchor institutions, Bellas Artes and the Instituto Allende, seem to be offering fewer and fewer art classes. Ditto for individual artist who teach here.

The city's culture is suffering a rapid death by tourism.
So be advised, dear artists – if you are in your 30s, 40s or 50s and want to make a living as a teaching-artist, go elsewhere. Go to Europe. Go to Florence, Paris, Prague, Berlin, or Barcelona, but do not come to San Miguel. More and more, the city is a place for retirees living on social security and small pensions, and they are people who lack the means and/or the desire to buy art.

I regret sounding so gloomy and pessimistic, but that’s my perception of what’s happening here. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. The city is in serious cultural decline and I don’t see it recovering its former “magic” any time soon.

So this may be my last post. There’s nothing more to say about a dying city.

June 23, 2017

Painter or Artist?

"Anyone can learn to paint. Sometimes it seems that the less one is an artist the more easily and quickly one can acquire the superficial qualities of a painter."

-- Kimon Nicolaides in his book The Natural Way to Draw