There is a robust contemporary art scene in Oaxaca that is rooted in the Mexican art traditions of Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros with influences by Francisco Toledo, Oaxaca’s living art treasure. Mauricio Cervantes is one of the new generation who taps deeply into his cultural history.
Hidden behind a peacock-blue facade on Avenida Benito Juarez near the corner of Murguia in the historic district of Oaxaca, Mexico, is the studio and home of artist Mauricio Cervantes. I reach for the polished brass knocker shaped like a hand that adorns the door painted glossy iron red. Its placement on the door is high and off-center. Even the black stain of soot from spent candles on the entry wall is artful like a stencil of feathers or apparition.
Mauricio and I are acquainted through a mutual friend who introduced us last year. Recently, he invited me to visit and I accepted this chance to know him better through his work. He is preparing for a show that will open on April 19 at Heskin Contemporary art gallery in Chelsea, New York City, and his studio is abuzz with assistants.
We sit comfortably at either end of a sofa in a great room that combines kitchen, dining and gathering area. Most of the rooms that frame the central patio of the historic adobe home are given over to studio space. A pot of stew simmers on the stove. I ask Mauricio to tell me about the ingredients of his work. Bundles of cempazuchitl line the horizontal space behind the food preparation area. Hammering and sanding are background music.
“I paint time and antiquity,” says Mauricio. “I am in love with the rust patina of ancient frescoes and facades.” Antiquity to Mauricio does not mean history with dates, names of heroes or places of import. It is conceptual and mythical, an undefined archetypical expression of space and time open to interpretation.
Forms float suspended, anchored on tiles of concrete that are prepared in a style called baldosas hidrolicas. This is a type of fresco technique but instead of using wet plaster, he uses acids, oil paint and sometimes gold leaf. Mauricio points to one of his works hanging in the kitchen, explaining that it is a portrait of a family. In another piece, he describes what could be interpreted as a procession, a dream sequence, or a partner relationship. His work feels introspective. From deep within he extracts subterranean figures that are intertwined and relational, as if they were one.
Trained in classical painting, etching and drawing techniques at UNAM in Mexico City, Mauricio remembers that his professors were excellent artists, engravers and painters. The fine, sharp edges in his work are reminiscent of an engraving.
As a child growing up in Puebla, Mauricio was influenced by his Swiss-German teachers, who were interested in anthropology, art and literature. He traveled with his class on field trips to the Sierra Norte of Puebla where they explored archeological sites and indigenous villages, and then later to Germany. These experiences inspired Mauricio to search for meaning through art.
For Mauricio, space is an essential component for creativity. “To create beauty you have to be living in a beautiful space. Art is drama, like life. To create and transform, you have to be living in a container to support you to go further. The space must be soothing, not disturbing,” he says. He is surrounded by touches of flowers, sleek clay sculpture, painted wood furniture with the character of age, and the utensils of his craft.
In years past, he rented outside the city in remote neighborhoods to have the space he needed. Perhaps the location was an island in the midst of poverty or in new suburbs without a distinctive face or personality. Now, he is in the center of Oaxaca’s art universe and beyond.
As one would expect, Mauricio is passionate about his work. I marvel at how well he can integrate his living and work space. And, I am reminded that making art means being immersed in the creative process with no boundaries around space and time.
Mauricio Cervantes, email@example.com, studio telephone: (951) 516-2089. Art installations for walls, floors and exterior spaces. Mauricio works with architects, landscape and garden designers.