Twelve Distinguished Artists of Vallarta
Published Jan 12, 2005 - (Updated Jul 26, 2012)
In preparation for our annual art issue, we conducted a survey among the owners of Vallarta’s many art galleries to determine which artists should be featured this year. In the survey, we asked that they choose 10 from a list of 35 artists who have left their mark on our town, and also provided space for write-in votes–of which there were surprisingly many. (It’s amazing that a town of about 300,000 residents can count so many accomplished artists among them!) We also noted that the renowned Manuel Lepe should not be included in the list because he would be featured in our “Vallarta Art” piece about Vallarta’s very own school of art. We further asked that they base their decisions on the following factors: talent, sales, portraying Vallarta’s true spirit and giving back to the community. From their responses, we then determined the top six, Ramiz Barquet, Ada Colorina, Rogelio Diaz, Marta Gilbert, Bill Megrail and Ireri Topete, and the six runnersup, Judith Ewing-Morlan, Francisco San Miguel, Jesus Tellosa, Cathy Von Rohr, Angelina Kyba and Geoff Watkinson. We hope you enjoy reading about these outstanding personalities as much as we enjoyed preparing the material.
Ada Colorina sees life in bright colors, honoring her father’s knick-name “Colorina”, which combined with her first name “Ada” means phonetically in Spanish “fairy of colors”. She lives in “fairyland” too, by the quiet and gentle Cuale River in the heights of a different Puerto Vallarta, where life goes on slowly and cheerfully, as if it were always break-time. This side of town, where she has always lived and played as a child, reflects upon her spirit and vision. She calls her little villages “ranchitos”. Small hamlets colored with nature, neatly ordered and peopled with fruits, smiles, donkeys and markets – all in bright gay colors and vivacious, curly shapes with meticulous diminutive appeal. Nevertheless, she claims beauty is not important, if it does not serve a purpose.
Ada grew up closely observing the world around her. Her father, Daniel Inchárregui, an expressionist painter from Zacatecas, used to take her round the streets and sights of Vallarta looking for moments of inspiration and sceneries. He taught her art notions too, volume and perspective, and the secrets of acrylics and watercolors; however, she was to define her own state of things. She depicts a traditional Vallartan world, where codes and customs are established by the nature of happiness and warmth, and has become one of the most successful artists in this town for her genuine outlook on life. Nevertheless, she perceives important changes in our society. She feels children are colder now, more interested in computers than in playing outdoors, though in her secluded Cuale life is still bound to the sounds of children in
Together with her naïf paintings, Ada is beginning to experiment with her own imagination in what she calls her “crazy stuff”. She giggles, admitting she is still scared of her dreams. In these pictures, she uses color sparingly and images concentrate in a single idea or motif with larger dimensions. “It will be some time before I take this inner world outside,” she says. At present, she is more interested in etching, a technique she has recently discovered.
She has been working on another project, which has also greatly stimulated her inventiveness and creativity, the illustrations of a children’s storybook based on the mythology of Mexico’s ancient cultures. “After reading each story, I just sit down and try and imagine what those mythical and beautiful creatures looked like, making up a visual sequence. It’s fun.” And as she smiles, surrounded by fables and colors in her pretty house by the river, one feels closer to purpose.
Angeline Kyba, originally from Canada, has been a resident of Mexico since the 80s, first settling in Yelapa–where she also volunteered her services as a nurse-midwife–and then moving to Puerto Vallarta proper a few years ago. Working primarily in oil with some acrylic, she dedicates her work to the traditional festivities of Mexico: dances, fairs, charros and bullfights. Among others, model Cindy Crawford is the proud owner of one of Angeline’s paintings.
GW. Megrail, known casually as Bill, is an open, intelligent, unpretentious man who is modest about his art and achievements. An American by birth, he has been dividing his time between Puerto Vallarta and San Miguel de Allende for the past twenty-five years. During his time in Mexico he has made his living solely from his art sales, which are consistent and quite successful. At the moment, Bill spends half the week in El Tuito, a small, extremely quiet, picturesque town 50 minutes south, and the rest of the time here. “As a painter,” he says, “I can become very isolated while I’m working, but I’m addicted to people so I need to come into Vallarta to see friends and socialize. I love the tinselly glitz of this town.”
There was a time when Megrail did feel the need to isolate himself from other artists. There were too many movements, theories or schools, each with its own rigid orthodoxies and expectations. He found that in Mexico he could freely develop his own style, particularly in Vallarta, which he feels is a haven for artists who are completely individual and free-spirited. Megrail’s art always depicts some aspect of the natural world—a beach, a jungle or a stunning view from the side of the road. Even though his work is strict, vibrant realism, his formal training in abstract expressionism comes through. His paintings demonstrate technical excellence in the mixing of the oils, composition and design.
“There’s no theory behind my art,” says Megrail. “It is simply what you see. What I want to do with my work is make people stop and see what’s there, to make them know where they are. For me, painting is studying what I see.” All of his canvases begin on location, as it were. His work is the result of the direct experience and interpretation of nature, and he calls it a subtle protest on behalf of ecological conservation. “But most importantly,” he hastens to add, “what I try to do is communicate the magic of just being alive.”
Megrail has distinguished himself in Vallarta by chairing the Department of Plastic Arts of the Allende Institute, a branch of the University of Guanajuato; by opening and running his own gallery, Galeria Parochia, for three years; and by contributing approximately five paintings per year to various charity auctions.
Cathy Von Rohr
Cathy Von Rohr, who lived in secluded Mahajuitas for 27 years before moving “to town” five years ago, is a painter renowned for her insightful depiction of the entire region. However, she says that, over the years, her art has progressed from painting the simple life of the people of Las Animas and Quimixto in their native huts to conveying more universal sentiments inspired by this very special place and its incredible natural gifts.
Francisco San Miguel
Francisco San Miguel came to Vallarta from Guadalajara 25 years ago, choosing to live in the small neighboring village of Nogalito for its seclusion. He received the Salón de la Plástica Nayarita prize for painting in 1989 and the Salón de Octubre in Guadalajara sculpture prize in 1999. His paintings are notable for their feathered textures, while his sculptures are carved from a single piece of wood, in whatever form the wood suggests.
Geoff Watkinson a well-known Vallarta artist whose works can be found in collections in the USA, Canada and Europe, is a native of London, England, where he was educated at St. Martin’s School of Art. He has worked in the creative arts all of his life, with his extensive career including time spent as a professional graphic artist, cartoonist, cartographer and musician. Remarkably, he fuses all these elements into his oils, watercolors and drawings.
Ireri Topete is a young artist from Vallarta, whose promising artistic evolution was recently acknowledged at the Salón Vallarta 2001 plastic arts competition, where she won first prize with her painting “Creciente que lleva al mar” (Freshet that leads to the sea). From her earlier portraits of children and realistic representations of a world she saw around her, she has confidently matured toward figurative images that reflect a personal world described as somewhere between absence and presence. Many of her figures voice this self-conscious moment, where positioning and direction are constantly questioned, materializing feelings of encounter in tranquil solitude. She claims to be budding slowly, yet naturally, toward self-affirmation, and her enjoyment of the process has grounded her security.
Conscious of living a particularly active moment in her creative drive, she comments, “Now I am painting what I feel out and about me.” She is savoring the moment, knowing it has sprouted an endless source of expression and curiosity. As she examines one of her recent paintings, a delightful moment of intimacy and dialogue with her picture takes place. “I am rather obsessed with roofs and houses lately. They crop up in my work in a strange manner, as if I were building something, heading somewhere. I love to elaborate on geometrical figures and bodies; however, my source of inspiration is often something I happen to come across quite unexpectedly in my everyday routine.” Looking at her previous work she says, “I got tired of faces and expressions, I needed to change.” In her quest for style and self-expression, she finds exchanges with other artists always rewarding and talks about her recent collective exhibition in Tenerife, Spain. “I believe I am very privileged in life in doing just what I love to do and communication with other artists brings out the difficulties and passions of our personal endeavors.”
She also recently enjoyed participating as plastic arts coordinator in the artistic exhibitions for the celebration of Puerto Vallarta’s 150th anniversary, which has given her the opportunity to immerse herself in the history of the town. “Vallarta,”she says, “is always inspiring because I was born on the River Cuale and any incident trails off my imagination and memories. It’s not just a beautiful place for me, it is a constant source of fertility, as it is the place where I grew up and everything started.” Like her recently prized painting, Irere flows in a temperamental wave of moods that leads her to the deep blue ocean of her mind.
Jesus Tellosa is a man of many talents in many mediums. Although he began as a painter, the most accessible form to study, he also is a skilled sculptor and has even gained renown as a jeweler. Born in Michoacan, he moved to Vallarta in the mid-70s after spending several months a year here helping out in Manuel Lepe’s busy gallery. Despite the diversity of his work, it is always recognizable by its whimsical joie de vivre.
Judith Ewing-Morlan started painting at the age of 25 and, since then, painting has been a source of endless delight. She defines painting as color and says the reason she came to Mexico was to warm up her palette. Her gallery, on the corner of Guerrero and Miramar in Gringo Gulch, features her own canvases, filled with flowers and landscapes where mountains abound, and also showcases the best young artists of Mexico.
Nights I dream that I paint, days I paint what I dream,” the intuitive artist says, her nights fertile with faces calling her to paint their essence.
Born in small-town Arkansas with Cherokee and Osage blood as well as that of several European nations coursing through her veins, Marta resonates with primitive art, particularly Native American, Mexican and African, in which she finds a simple purity and a recognition that the spirit of God is everywhere in nature.
“The face best reveals man’s emotions and I find the Indian face the most mysteriously expressive, the most structurally beautiful. While trying to stay loyal to customs of clothing, facial features and body structure, many times I evolve into combining the features of many, creating my own tribes. I reveal what I sense, rather than literally interpret what a camera can do better. Instead of looking at, I’ve learned to look through objects, and I’m continually trying to improve technically to touch viewers at deeper levels.”
“My work symbolizes my love and appreciation for First Peoples and I hope to convey the euphoria of painting them – sometimes contemporary, sometimes the ancients, but always trying to project the beauty, dignity and auras of magic I see and feel surrounding them. Often I meet people I’ve already painted and have come to consider cosmic memories part of the process.”
The multi-talented artist’s current ventures include the unique retail outlet Marta Gilbert at Santa Barbara, offering her new La Bandida lines of comfy cotton clothing and perfume blended from night-blooming white flowers, as well as miniature paintings, posters and clay masks adorned with fur, feathers, bones and shells. “I love how clay feels in my hands and the faces emerging out of the earthy material fascinate me.”
Her plans include an exhibition honoring Puerto Vallarta, with paintings of some of the women of its original families “and others who have lived and contributed here so long they’ve earned the affectionate designation ‘pata salada’ or ‘salty foot’ in English.”
For the past 20 of her 27 years in Vallarta, her Southside “treehouse” studio has birthed magic. Gallery Arte Latino Americano displays it, along with several fine Vallarta restaurants including Café des Artistes, Chef Roger, Le Bistro and River Café.
Amonument honoring his ancestors stands in Lebanon, while monumental sculptures of his creation stand throughout Vallarta, his adopted city. Celebrating the divinity within all living creatures, his works in bronze manifest gratitude for a life richly lived. Refreshingly humble, this erudite Renaissance man is our most prolific contributor of public art. “I live here, love it, and want to give something back,” he says simply. “Art should be shared because beautiful art leads one to do beautiful things, to become better. Why keep it in the dark when it brings joy in the light?”
Nostalgia, the first of his ongoing cultural legacy, depicts lovers reflecting on life’s twists and turns and has become a romantic symbol of Vallarta, followed by The Fisherman, capturing the dignity of the humble profession once so vital to Vallarta.
Next to be installed was The Shark, a creature ostracized by man, yet created with infinite wisdom to survive for eons, claiming its rightful place in the universe. Next came The Juggler, a playful metaphor for his belief that all talent has value and should be shared, and most recently, A Child, A Book, A Future, a poignant reminder of how crucial education is to a society.
Born and raised in Mexico City, he spent five years in Montreal studying the humanities and exploring nature, which exerts a strong primal influence on his art. Liberating his thinking from the traditional strictures of his parental home, a talented Tuscan art professor became his mentor after escaping to Mexico because he protested against Mussolini, and a Belgian Benedictine monk modeled accessible spirituality and founded this country’s first monastery.
“As a boy I carved in wood, then stone, then marble–much too cold and only good for rolling pizzas–until discovering the maximum material, bronze. And over time my style wouldn’t accept any other medium, bronze suited the tall thin lines I prefer.” An avid traveler, last summer he and his wife Nelly traveled to Eastern Europe, returning, as he typically does, having written several dozen stories in his notebook. His sculptures have stories too, imparting wisdom gained by their fashioner over 81 years. Marrying poetic language to everyday issues, faith and valor are predominant themes, imparting awareness that joy is within us.
I feel pain, I paint and disfigure and in decomposition I find truth and self-definition. Who is it? Rogelio Díaz. As in a riddle, his work has the same surprising effect, like a game that suddenly turns nasty, like a little Red Riding Hood who ends up munching the big bad wolf, and in this child-like and morbid duality, from the monstrous to the silly, tender and icy, profound and fibbing, Rogelio lives life intensely.
He declares himself in the path of expressionism and figurative art, though really he prefers to talk about Velázquez, the artist who painted even the air, and Rubens' voluminous passion. He speaks of his first years at the workshop of the River Cuale and jokingly refers to them as his “anti-professional period”. His first public exhibition, so to speak, was the invitation cards he prepared for his sister’s wedding. An uncomely, yet beautiful, silhouette of a flamenco woman appears, which prompts him to remember those years when he could hardly survive as a painter. Now a family man and successful artist, he looks back on those days as his lyrical age, when he gave up everything to paint. His mystical mood leads him to mention the Huichol Indians, whom he describes as “nice guys”, and none, he pinpoints, are bold. What is it in a Huichol that makes him so uncomplicatedly pure? For this self-taught artist, the answer and path is clear: a return to the spontaneity of childhood in communion with real needs and desires. Following this notion, he is particularly interested in the imaginative world of children as it is less culturally conditioned.
Depriving his images of beauty, he becomes almost enraptured in a feverish catharsis. He likes to undo, unlearn and deconstruct, stirring the viewer’s emotional awareness and consciousness, where a mutilated body seems invisible, through its imposing brutal presence. With piercing reds, blacks and yellows, he paints an eclectic smile, cancan boots, infantile scribbles surrounding ‘A Pair of Dancers in Eternal Spring’, which, though grotesque, seem happy and pristine. His provocative images, rooted in Mexico’s ancient indigenous culture, take you on a trip to the primitive and the private, where one senses a déjà-vu, something distant, yet primal like a sweet murmur, a giggling smile or a cold shiver. And, like in a storybook as well, he particularly enjoys titling his pictures, where he conveys his sense of humor and intent with a beginning and a very unruly end.