It was an extraordinary trip. It was absolutely enormous experience...it shook me to the ground depths... I suspected something of that nature after my first brief encounter with Mexico in Ensenada...but nothing of this magnitude... What true to the core, solid and grounded characters...still somehow untouched by the all-avergizing militant consumerism of empty can worshipers…
I saw enormous in their raw, authentic strength and unpolished beauty themes and images…and than I met Jay, a shoeshiner with a life story worthy of a great All-American novel.
I spotted him within my first 15 minutes in town as my friend “Ignatik”, a great artist Ignat Ignatov, was showing me around.
There was something about his presence that immediately struck me. He suddenly represented for me everything that literally overwhelmed me in the people of Mexico.
He was laser-sharp and aware with excellent English. He was a shoeshiner, a line of work not existing much our days and that was always regarded as below-the-feet-low on a society’s totem poll. Yet I saw that he was enormously and humanely proud of what he does and of who he is. He turned shoeshinig into a noble act of serving his people. Tourists don’t shine their Nikes much.
He had a demeanor of a rider and the soul of an artist; I saw a kindred spirit – he was proud of his own design shoeshining rig, that he built with his own hands, the best in San Miguel, just as much as I was proud of my special painting rig that I built just for that trip.
As I got to know him, I got a sense of his remarkable “hemispheric” story. He took up shoeshining after his father and worked on the same spot as his Dad did since age ten. He spent ten years in Texas working hard in the mines. He has 5 kids there. He is Texan. His heart is there. He had some run-in with the law, did some time I guess and was kicked out by the feds. He returned to his old spot. I accidentally noticed some loose papers around him and he demuringly and reluctantly showed me what they were – they were drawings. Symbolic statements of escape and freedom, the long road and the lone star…oh yes, that was my kindred spirit. That was what I came to Mexico for.
I asked him to pose for me. As a friend, not a model for hire. He graciously agreed in the afternoons as it gets slow for him. And there he stood on his square by the steps of glorious La Salite Cathedral in his dripped with paints overalls that he himself designed and tailored after Texan chaps - humble without subservience, proud without arrogance, a man of his people standing tall on his own land.
Everything that ART as TRUTH is all about was right there in front of me in a Shoeshiner Jay. I painted him full length on the spot, a Noble Man of our day.
Mexico... what a mythic land of so real people and so true characters... how much we've lost in a name of a "consumer."
photos taken by Olga
You can see a great report on our pretty epic trip with our joint photo and the links to our whole gang here on the site of a great artist and friend Scott Burdick. My heart-felt thanks to a wonderful artist Frank Gardner for putting this trip together and for his and his beautiful families' enormous hospitality.