Monthly Archives: February 2012

Artist’s Studio: Mauricio Cervantes, Oaxaca, Mexico

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,, studio telephone: (951) 516-2089.  Art installations for walls, floors and exterior spaces.  Mauricio works with architects, landscape and garden designers.



Special Opportunity: Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop $795 USD

We have had one cancellation for the Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop, an 8-day, 7-night program priced at $1,395 double occupancy.  The person who has to cancel is in final stages of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer and finds she does not have the energy to participate.

We want to offer her a refund and we need to cover our expenses!  So we will give her the refund after the cancellation date if we can find another person to fill her space.

Would that someone be YOU?

If it is, then we will offer you the space for $795 if you share a room.  For a single supplement, please add $300. See the workshop description for all that is included.  This is an amazing value!

Workshop details:  April 2-9, 2012, during one of the most exciting times in Oaxaca — the season of Semana Santa — Easter.  For beginners to intermediate level amateurs.

Questions?  Email


Colors of Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico is a punctuation mark of color.  Deep, vibrant hues of orange, green, purple, red, banana, terra-cotta, salmon, raspberry, turquoise, lime, lemon, blueberry. At every turn juicy fruit color startles the eyes.

My architect/photographer friend Tom Robbins commented that the closer one gets to the equator, the more intense the color becomes.  Food becomes spicier and more pungent.  Life has an extra kick, verve, energy. (Tom and his wife Sam are teaching a photography course in Oaxaca this summer!  Want to come along?)

For the last week, I have been walking the broad avenues and narrow alleys of Oaxaca, zigzagging the city across her cobblestone streets.  I have been paying attention to color. Imagine entire blocks one color after another.

Houses, shops and office facades are painted with personality.  It startles me and brings a smile to my face.  Nowhere in my lexicon of the familiar does this make sense.  But, it is Oaxaca, full of life.

Now, it is winter in the northern hemisphere, but here in Oaxaca it has been hot, in the mid-80’s.  As I walk, I protect myself from the sun and  hug the shady side of the street.

I walk with no particular destination in mind, only to enjoy whatever presents itself:  riotous color, worm pocked ancient wood doors a remnant of the aristocracy, a Carnival parade, a stone sculpted arch, the floral embellishment of ironwork, a bouquet of flowers.  It is easy to smile here.

In addition to color, texture is everywhere.

If you are waiting out the end of winter, I offer you this colorful tribute to Oaxaca and hope this brings you a moment of joy as it does for me.  String a series of these moments together and there is satisfaction, even happiness.


Next, imagine the color of food.  Here’s a tasty sampler: fruit plate at Las Bugambilias Bed and Breakfast.





Lost Textile Tradition of Making Needle Lace Revived in Oaxaca

The town of Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca, is widely known for its Sunday market or tianguis.  Tourists and villagers from throughout the region flock there to shop, eat or stock up on whatever is needed for home or workshop.

Visitors know little about the textile traditions of Tlacolula, where up until the 1960’s cotton and silk ikat rebozos with long, intricately hand-tied fringes (puntas) were still hand-woven there to be used with versatility as head scarf, baby and bundle carrier, and shawl.  Today, rayon, called seda (silk in Spanish), or cotton ikat rebozos are imported from the state of Mexico to fill the market gap of the locally lost art.

Another local tradition that was lost was the making of needle lace.  Today, this tradition is being revived by Tamara Rivas Vazquez in Tlacolula de Matamoros where she lives and works.  Making needle lace is a laborious art requiring exceptional dexterity and a lot of patience.  Its origins are European.  Needle lace became popular in Mexico in the 19th century.  The technique consists of fashioning a network of tiny knots that are tied, one by one, using a single thread and needle.  Tamara learned the technique by interviewing elderly women in Tlacolula and recording their knowledge.

Tamara says that the strips of needle lace are called cambalaches.  In the example of her work, on display at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Tamera used industrial cotton poplin embellished with needle lace and black embroidery as part of the smocking.  It took her eight months to complete the piece, shown above and below, which is now part of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca permanent collection.  Notice the intricate needle lace work under the armpits.  This part is called, humorously enough, “the louse’s window.”

For the past two weeks, Tamara and her husband, Alfonso Gonzalez Inaldonado, have been at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca giving a class on the intricate art of making needle lace.  He is the pattern designer and they work together as a team –a typical practice in artisan households.  This is an intensive, 2-week experience.  Some of the participants are wearing magnifying glasses because the work is so detailed. Two have come from  Mexico City and one from Colorado to learn this technique.

For classes about this and other textile topics, contact the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  To learn traditional tapestry weaving with naturally dyed wool, attend a workshop in Teotitlan del Valle.




Oaxaca: Beauty is Everywhere — And It’s Safe, Too

Oaxaca is beautiful and safe, says Elliot Stoller, who visited in December 2011.  He recently wrote to me and ordered the self-guided tour map of Teotitlan del Valle to prepare for his trip next year.  Elliot’s photos are so beautiful that I want to share them with you (with his permission, of course).  And his testimonial about safety deserves attention.

Oaxaca: Beauty is Everywhere

Oaxaca: Night of the Radishes

Oaxaca: Mitla

” I felt as safe in Oaxaca as I feel in any city in the USA. The people are friendly and helpful. In fact, in the evenings, I felt safer in Oaxaca than I do in Seattle because there were so many people out and about… socializing, eating at sidewalk cafes, watching performances of folk dancers or taking part in Las Posadas (religious processions) and enjoying the wonderful weather.

Oaxaca: Chocolate

Oaxaca: Rodolfo Morales Museum, Ocotlan de Morelos

“I know about 40 words of Spanish but I always found that the Oaxaca people would be patient and we found a way to communicate. Once, I was in a restaurant and I couldn’t read the menu. I was trying to order tortillas with different fillings. The cook motioned for me to come up to where everything was cooking and she took off the pot lids so I could point at the fillings I wanted.

Oaxaca: Ethnobotanical Garden

Oaxaca: Monte Alban

“A guide we hired took us to Teotitlan Del Valle but we stopped at only one workshop/home. I returned to Teotitlan on the Fundacion En Via tour (a non-profit that fights poverty through micro-finance) so I was able so see more of the town and a more realistic picture of the townspeople.

Oaxaca: The Churches

“I love Oaxaca. I plan to go back again in December  this year for two more weeks. And I’m fantasizing about retiring there. I fell in love with Oaxaca as you can probably tell from my photographs.

“Thank you for your wonderful blog,”

Elliot Stoller,  Seattle, Washington


Upcoming photography workshops in Oaxaca:  Portrait Photography, Market Towns and Artisan Villages, and Day of the Dead