Friday, February 8, 2008

A Life in Mexico

This is the fourth straight day of snow here. More tomorrow...more the next day. So you shouldn’t be surprised that my thoughts turn more and more to warmer climes. I’ve been to many temperate places, but the one I love most is Mexico. We have been there a half dozen times in the past few years, but we blew this year’s travel budget on a trip to central Europe in the late fall. While that was an amazing time (more later), I feel somewhat unfulfilled, especially now in the grim gray cold of winter.

The place we go to is San Miguel de Allende, a small city in the western Sierra Madres. If you were to have a map of Mexico and put your finger smack in the middle of the country, you’d be pretty close to where it is. San Miguel was settled long ago and became developed during the Spanish colonial period. There are many historic buildings there, some dating back to the 1500s. Narrow cobbled streets, hills, gardens, flowers–all the things you can imagine such a place would have. It is heaven for painters–brilliant clear light, rich colors, appealing landscapes, colorful people, wonderful architecture–a lifetime worth of subjects. Not to mention the food!

The people are friendly, mildly tolerant of foreigners, very industrious and wary of politics. Much of the economy is based on bartering–I’ll trade my party tent for a month’s worth of your tortillas. They seem to have many business talents. I know a guy who has an exterminating business, a party and candy store and a pizza place. Everyone is some kind of retailer. There are markets dotted all over town, concessionaires, rolling carts, people selling things from a bag they carry around and fully developed markets each with dozens of merchant booths. Some of the people squat in spots they’ve had for years to sell flowers, toys, balloons, ice cream, newspapers. Painters' subjects everywhere...

I, of course, spend a lot of time there painting or taking photos or making sketches and notes for subjects I can paint when I get home. I’ve become friends with an American who now lives in San Miguel named Frank Gardner. Frank is a wonderful painter—he has a blog here and a website Take a visit to his site if you want to get a real flavor of this part of Mexico. He also has a gallery in town under his own name. I’ve studied with Frank quite a bit and learned a lot from him.

The painting here is of San Miguel. It is called “Straw Man on Relox.” Relox is a street near the center of town that is usually much busier than shown. One of the “retailers” I mentioned is this hombre who sells straw items. He loads himself with baskets, hats, totes on every arm, hand, fingers–so much so you can hardly tell he’s there–just a mound of straw with feet. The street is typical of the side streets in the downtown area, but I used only a few figures so as not to lose the focus on the Straw Man. During the day the streets are usually crowded with vendors, shoppers and tourists. At the height of the day, the light is very bold and bright and even the shade side of the street gets light reflected from the street and the buildings opposite. I have dozens of paintings of Mexico, but I just want you to get a taste here of the town. Frank has many wonderful landscapes and settings that show the countryside as well as the town.

If San Miguel is beginning to appeal to you, visit For more info. From the northeast we go through Houston to the city of Leon which is an hour and a half drive from SMA. Most people take the shuttle from the airport to the town. It is a fascinating ride through high desert and grasslands. And San Miguel will not disappoint, I promise you.


Frank Gardner said...

You sure captured the feel of Calle de Relox Jack.
I am truly sorry about all that snow you are getting this year.
You did a nice job with that reflected light bouncing around. Didn't make your shadows too cool. That light at the end of los portales really pulls you in.
Thanks for the compliments in your post.

Donna said...

A beautiful view of our beautiful town, Jack. I look forward to seeing more.

For some photos and other info on San Miguel, folks might like to visit

Jack Riddle said...

Donna and Frank--thanks a lot for your nice comments. I'll post more on San Miguel in the future. We are having endless snow here and I am missing warmth and sun more than I can say! But...the good news is that I can experiment more with my painting indoors. Now I'm doing some still lifes using techniques that Dan McCaw described in his book with the pretentious title, "A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art." He has some interesting ideas--give it a look if you can. I'll post a couple of them soon.