February 18, 2019

Contrary to the popular maxim, there really can be too much of a good thing. Living in Mérida, one finds so much opportunity to explore music and art that it is impossible to avail oneself of even half of what is out there. It can be both exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time.

This past weekend was the 2019 Artist Studio Tour in Mérida, sponsored by the Mérida English Library (MEL). Forty artists were represented in 32 studios open to the public. The event is a fund-raiser for MEL’s building fund, an effort for which I have previously played several benefit concerts, a cause near to my heart. MEL has extensive programs that address the needs of both expats and the local community.

The tour is not just a worthy cause, but a great way to experience the brilliant imagination and creativity of local artists. In previous years the tour was on a single Saturday from 10:00 to 3:00. There was never enough time to visit even half of the open studios. This year the event was stretched to two consecutive days, also from 10:00 until 3:00, but there still was insufficient time for the bounty of art presented.

While some of the studios are in clusters, many are spread among different sectors of the city, so a map is provided showing samples of each artists work.

We were taking our students from UADY, so we met them at Santa Ana Park in the center of town. MEL has developed a program that matches English majors from the Autonomous University of Yucatán (UADY) with gringo expats. The hope is that through exposure to a variety of English speakers the students will improve their skills and become better teachers. This year our charges are a young couple, Jackie and Andy. It is a special treat to traverse the various exhibitions with local sets of eyes, and, as expected, they have a special connection with, and love of local artists.

Liliane Karnouk's house/studio, showing the technique of scraping away layers of old paint to create a new effect. Andy and Jackie.

Our first stop was an imposing two story house painted a bright orange. Inside we met the MEL host, Yvonne, as well as the artist who owns and works from the house, Liliane Karnouk. As fate would have it, we recognized Liliane from our trip to Chiapas. Our final morning there she was seated at the table next to ours as we ate breakfast at the French Bakery called Oh La La! It was great to begin with such a strong connection, and Liliane escorted us through her property.

Her medium of choice is paper. She presses paper from natural materials, and forms it into plaques and books. More astonishing, however, was the degree to which her artistic inclinations manifest themselves in the house itself. Mérida’s climate is notoriously averse to paint, so walls have to be repainted every few years. As we all know, Mexicans love color, so there are many layers of contrasting color beneath the top layer of paint. Liliane very careful scraped back the layers to create designs that reflect the influence of her native Egypt! This is the sort of revelation one would not get from a gallery exhibition of her work, and shows why the open studio tour is so special. Often the studios are also homes, and just as intriguing as the artwork itself.

Kreso Cavlovic

In the course of four more hours we viewed the work spaces of more than a dozen artists. Many have had careers as illustrators or commercial artists and now work exclusively on projects that speak to their personal aesthetic. Others are at the height of their careers. Some have gone through many metamorphoses. Cy Bor, for example, has moved from works traditionally grounded in realism to new works that layer acrylics and lacquer to achieve strikingly beautiful abstractions of fish, skulls and other iconography. Last year we viewed beautiful paintings by Kreso Cavlovic that resurrected the aura of Gustav Klimt. This year he has a whole new series filled with provocative symbolism.

At the Centro Cultural La Cupula we see the work of David Serrano, who, like most of the artists is available to answer questions. I am drawn to a work that sketches white acrylic on a pink background, with shading accomplished by thinned paint. The subject is, from right to left, the past, present and future. The past struggles under its own weight; the present carries these remnants, but keeps moving, and the future is nothing more than a mask, a dream. There are far too many layers and details of meaning to expound on here - it is a truly stunning piece.

Another Cavlovic, David Serrano's depiction of time, paintings by Abel Vasquez and sculptures by Melva Medina.

A few blocks away, husband and wife Abel Vasquez and Melva Medina have opened their enormous workspace to exhibit some of the most striking sculptures and paintings anywhere. Many more can be viewed at their Nahualli Gallery a few blocks away. Melva’s sculptures always have an intriguing sociocultural subtext, but they are technically so precise that one is awed by their technical sophistication. Her prints are in a similar category, and each of Abel’s paintings is a masterpiece. Their offspring have lately joined the family business, so it would appear that these artists will remain at the forefront of local artistic creativity.

At other studios we encounter Juan Pablo Bavío’s hyper-realistic art. Originally from Argentina, he has absorbed the magic of his newly adopted home and now offers moving paintings of Yucatecan grandmothers and proud young Mayans.

Work by Juan Pablo Bavío and Huub Keevan.

Down the street Huub Keevan and his wife Elaine Samwald’s work again shows an irrepressible energy and technical proficiency. Most of these have stories behind them, and the artists are happy to explain their inspiration and motivation. One could spend the entire afternoon contemplating these pieces.

Elsewhere we find whimsical masks by Alison Palmer, made with papier maché and found objects, brightly colored glass sculptures by Randa Cherry, and breathtaking sculture and furniture by Kat Schikora, that demonstrates that art can also be totally functional.

Photographers are well represented, as are lithographers. Vivian Hinojosa’s studio offers originals to charming illustrations that are readily available as illustrations in books at local bookstores and on Amazon.

Mask by Alison Palmer, glass sculpture by Randa Kaye Cherry, furnishings/sculpture from the shop of Kat Schikora. Illustrations and the studio of Vivian Hinojosa; printing press used by Manuel Taure.

This was not, by a long shot, a complete representation of the art scene here, as many galleries were not open, and many artists had conflicts and could not participate. But it is an embarrassment of riches, and demonstrates once again why Mérida has become a mecca for the arts. We are continually amazed and delighted at the incredible imagination and creativity demonstrated by artists here, and look forward to next year's tour!

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