Meeting Marta

Her body of work includes thousands of paintings—so many, she’s lost track of the actual number—displayed in private homes and art galleries throughout Mexico, the United States and as far away as New Zealand and Thailand. You may have noticed her canvases prominently displayed at The River Cafe on Isla Río Cuale: large portraits of beautiful native women attired in traditional style. The trademark gaze in her subjects’ eyes is unmistakable. However, each painting is completely different in context and feeling.

Few people in town can match her celebrity status, yet you can visit the gallery that bears her name on any busy Wednesday evening Art Walk and never notice she is there. Indeed, for anyone interested in the local art scene and its cast of characters, meeting Marta Gilbert can seem almost anticlimactic. In conversation, though, she transforms into a living textbook of the cultural development of Banderas Bay from the mid-sixties on, making an opportunity to meet one of our local living legends irreplaceable.

Marta was completely smitten with Banderas Bay—as many were at the time—in 1969. “In those days it was overwhelmingly beautiful and magic,” she recalls. “I simply wanted to be here.” Given her Native American heritage, she had been drawn to native figures and faces ever since she can remember. “I was painting Mexican faces long before I arrived. And when I did, everybody was so beautiful, I simply went crazy!”

Although back in the sixties, local artists such as Ramón Barragán and Manuel Lepe had already carved a name for themselves in the area— Barragán organizing the first-ever art exhibition in town, and Lepe for his trademark naïf style—Marta was among the first foreign artists to establish themselves in town. When asked if she was the first, she unassumingly brings up Sayulita-based Evelyne Boren, who began exhibiting her work locally in the early seventies.

While Marta kept a place to live here since her first visit, she didn’t establish herself as a full-time resident until 1975, settling in a small place at the end of Olas Altas St., where she remained for the next “seven or eight years,” subsequently moving across the street, where she’s remained ever since. 

Just as she’s remained in the same neighborhood, her lifelong pursuit of capturing a variety of native characters—mostly female—on canvas continues. “Many of them come from my own imagination,” she points out, “but sometimes I do see someone on the street whose face jumps out at me, and I’ll ask them to sit for me.” 

And while it might seem easy to dismiss her body of work as repetitive, careful inspection reveals otherwise, as pointed out by local art connoisseur Ruben Cham, who’s responsible for managing the Marta Gilbert Gallery. “The variety of emotions she conveys in her paintings—fear, sadness, hope, happiness, sensuality—is endless.”

Marta Gilbert’s work is on display at the aptly named Marta Gilbert Gallery, owned by acclaimed restaurateur Thierry Blouet. Located at Leona Vicario and Guadalupe Sánchez streets in El Centro, it is conveniently kitty-corner from Galerie Des Artistes, where works by Evelyne Boren are displayed, providing art collectors and enthusiasts the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the paintings of two true local pioneers.