Manuel Lepe was born in Puerto Vallarta on April 17, 1936, where he would always live. Lepe, as he is called in his hometown, was the creator of the naif style, which is popularly referred to as Vallarta Art; he is the only Mexican artist registered in the French Directory of Naif Art. He lived during one of Vallarta's most blooming ages, at the time of John Houston's filming of the Night of the Iguana, which no doubt would leave a trace in his joyful and luminous vision. As a premonition of the close bond that Manuel Lepe was to establish with his town, one of his first "public" paintings would be on the walls of Vallarta, and in due time, when Vallarta's future as a tourist destination was being defined, his inspired images would be used as the town's first promotion posters.
The joy of living in paradise is conveyed with an exultation of spirit in a world of luminous, playful happiness. Timeless images, which capture the true spirit of Vallarta in those naïf faces, to this day, prance and roam the streets of this town. His daughter, Marcela, comments that Lepe's pictures reflect her father's personality, a fun and childlike spirit that would always be playing and loved the company of children. Lepe simply painted what he saw in children everywhere.
His gentle and innocent vision would generate a group of followers: his brother Rodrigo Lepe, Ada Colorina, Javier Niño and Gilberto Grimaldo.
His gentle and innocent vision would generate a group of followers: his brother Rodrigo Lepe, Ada Colorina, Javier Niño and Gilberto Grimaldo, all of whom share traits of resemblance as most are self-taught artists, who instinctively started painting at an early age completely unaware of materializing a naïf school and with barely any technical instruction in their first stages. However, though they all inherit Lepe's vision, each artist portrays his own approach to paradise. Ada Colorina presents a world that is essentially Mexican in nature, where her figures playfully follow their trade among a -profusion of colors, while in Javier Niño's work, nature is the most striking element and materializes in almost fantastical bursts.
They all share a detailed vision in their representation, where each detail plays an important role and often inspires an entire picture, such as an unwary jaguar appearing in the jungle. Experts in naif art argue that the authenticity of the naïf spirit lies not in its decorative trait, but in the artist's perception of life through instances and emphasis on detail, which constitute the pulse and body of his emotions.
Laura Quirós, Lepe's wife, remembers her first encounter with Manuel Lepe. She was invited to visit some friends, and sitting in their lounge she saw a painting that instinctively caught her attention. She describes the moment as a sudden curiosity to meet the man behind the picture.
Manuel Lepe Recognized As Illustrious Son of Puerto Vallarta
As part of the commemoration of Manuel Lepe Day on April 17, the late artist was honored and awarded the title of Illustrious Son of Puerto Vallarta by the municipality. The accolade was presented by Puerto Vallarta mayor, Salvador Gonzalez Resendiz. The touching ceremony took place on the steps of City Hall where one of Lepe’s most important murals was painted, and it was attended by the Lepe family, friends and local government officials.
"Manuel Lepe put the name of Puerto Vallarta out in the world. We know that he embodied a style that was adopted by many artists, globally," said the mayor. He also stressed that each of his paintings is full of life, nature and Puerto Vallarta. Gonzalez Resendiz used the ceremony to thank Marcella Lepe, daughter of this important artist, for promoting the recognition of local artists.
Manuel Lepe Day
Manuel Lepe's Day was instituted twelve years ago on April 17 by a council agreement due to the late artist’s influence. Every year, a series of activities are held to honor the artist for leaving an important legacy for local, national and international culture.
Manuel Lepe Promotes the Rights of Children Once Again
Once again, UNICEF has selected a painting by deceased Puerto Vallarta artist Manuel Lepe to promote the rights of children, as it did in 1979 and 1984. This time the selected painting, titled La Procesión II, features children participating in the December pilgrimages to Our Lady of Guadalupe church. It will be included in a package of 10 greeting cards to be sold for $90 pesos, profits directed to supporting children in need in many countries. Marcella Lepe, daughter of the artist, reports that each package has two cards with Lepe’s painting, the rest featuring four other painters from Latin America. The cards are already on sale at UNICEF stores in national and international airports in Mexico.