Sunday, December 03, 2023

Wellspring of Inspiration


In our casa in the village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, near Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, Amy and I have found solace, inspiration and a canvas for our artistic souls. We love our classic adobe home, surrounded by plants, fields and mountains, set in a typical Mexican community. 

We serve our neighbors by giving art lessons to children. We offer projects and teach skills, provide all the materials while including refreshments. Children go away happy and proud, taking with them their artwork to share with their family. 

Our quiet life allows us to immerse ourselves in the rhythms of this world while still offering the enchanting proximity to the vibrant heart of internationally acclaimed Oaxaca.

Two or three times a week, we embark on a short journey to the city. There we buy foods we cannot find in the village, visit a marvelous ex-pat lending library, buy art supplies, and purchase the best artisan breads and pastries at a popular bakery. Sometimes I stop to swim at Hotel Victoria where we bought a membership that gives us access to the pool. Amy relaxes under an umbrella and we share lunch.

I always carry my camera to find opportunities for street photography. 

Usually we come upon a celebration happening⏤with music and lively street performances. 

Oaxaca serves as a melting pot of creativity, where artists from different backgrounds converge to express themselves. Engaging with this artistic kaleidoscope fuels our imagination and provides fresh perspectives to infuse into our creations. Galleries showcase a diverse range of works, from traditional folk art to contemporary masterpieces. Furthermore, now we both are represented at one of the Oaxaca’s finest art venues: Cuatrosiete Galeria. They gave us an exclusive two person show during peak tourist time: this years Dia de Muertos celebration.

When we return to our rural village, I exclaim how exciting Oaxaca is. It is wellspring of inspiration for two artists like us. We carry home echoes of Oaxaca's vibrant cultural symphony. Our quiet life is a canvas onto which we paint the stories, colors, and melodies we've absorbed during our time on earth.

We now have a new website showcasing our Mexican inspired art: Dos Venados

Sunday, November 19, 2023


Inspiration for painting art is as broad as the universe. Subjects are endless. Some artists choose to have no subject at all, but let colors and line speak and be interpreted entirely subjectively.

For several years I have made paintings that evoke the most difficult symbol: death. It is the subject behind life that nobody wants to look at. The shadow that lingers in the corners of our consciousness, and for most, the unwelcome guest at the banquet of life.

My most recent painting took great effort emotionally, psychically and on canvas. It came in response to the deluge of horrific information that comes on the newscasts every day, especially with various wars raging in the world. In the painting, death is the ultimate victor, while all the combatants and other actors are decimated.

I usually don’t try and describe symbolism in my paintings . . . but in this instance I will:
Two spectral central figures are toasting with goblets of red wine, oblivious to the chaos and destruction raging around them. They are dressed in black, symbolizing the void, absence of light, mystery, mourning and perhaps comfort. Enigmatically they hold goblets of wine. Red wine represents celebration, opulence, strength, passion, love: it is the blood of life. The glass goblets represent the fragility of the vessel which holds life. 
In art, a skeleton is often used as a symbol of death and mortality. The Latin phrase "Memento Mori" translates to "Remember that you will die," and it's a reminder of the inevitability of death.  One skeleton wears a crown of roses representing the fleeting nature of beauty and life. Here, death is happily taking life that disappears forever. 
In the background are burning cities. Mankind is at war and masses of people are caught in the conflagrations of violence and destruction. They flail helplessly against fate. On the left, a terrorist holding an automatic weapon stands beside death. Bewildered people crowd together, not knowing if they live or die. Fists with swords sweep through the air, while other arms and hands reach toward the sky in anguish. A stunned man gazes next to a death figure on the right. There is no place of safety.
In the midst of death, between the two skeletal figures is a child, looking up in bewilderment. Even children are being swept into the void of death.

The painting came as a response to current events. Our current world is in travail with countless threats to the fabric of existence. 

As an artist, I pictured it. For now, and forever as testimony.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Gates of Awe


Every so often in life we have a profound experience that awakens our sleeping soul and opens the gates of awe. On November 4th, at the end of the annual Dia de Muerto, or Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, while Amy, her visiting sister Cari, and I were on our way home from Oaxaca we decided to stop at the cemetery in our village San Pedro Ixtlahuaca. The big gate was strewn with huge garlands of flowers as we walked into a sight that took my breath away. The entire graveyard had been cleaned and bouquets of flowers were everywhere⏤covering every grave. In all my life in the United States, I never saw anything like it. 

As I walked I was almost brought to tears noticing that all the graves had been commemorated with flowers. In death, all had been forgiven and redeemed and nobody forgotten; including those from the distant past. I intuitively knew that it goes beyond remembering only the illustrious or the well-known; here, every soul is embraced by the warmth of recollection. Even the graves of those who led troubled lives or are unknown to many, are not forgotten. 

By far, the most common flower is the marigold, known as “cempasúchil." In Mexico, they are not merely flowers; they are vibrant messengers bridging the gap between the living and departed. With golden hues seeming to echo the warmth of cherished memories, cempasúchil invite us to reflect on the interconnectedness of life and death. The air fills with their sweet aroma, supposedly to summon the spirits back to the world of the living. 

For someone from a culture where death is often treated with solemnity and separation, Dia de Muertos in San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, serves as a gentle reminder that death, too, can be a celebration of life. A moment to acknowledge and honor those who came before us, recognizing the impact they had on our existence. 

In a world often quick to overlook the marginalized, I felt touched walking over the extensive grounds with graves spanning the centuries, witnessing universal remembrance.

A touching and humbling experience.

In the presence of the marigold-strewn graves, I realize that the Day of the Dead is not just about remembering the departed; it's about embracing the cycle of life with gratitude. San Pedro Ixtlahuaca has taught me that in remembrance, there is a timeless beauty that transcends borders—a beauty that invites us to celebrate the vast intricacies of the human experience, both in life and in death.

For an American like me, it's a privilege to witness the beauty of this tradition and be a part of it—a communal embrace of the past, a recognition of shared humanity, and a poignant reminder that, in the tapestry of life and death, every thread contributes to the richness of the whole.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Tapestry of Humanity


A week like no other . . . and to think⏤Amy’s sister arrived from Minnesota and experienced it with us. Cari arrived along with Dia de Muertos, an extraordinary week of color, tradition, and creativity. 

In the heart of Mexico amidst the vibrant streets of Oaxaca, Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a time-honored tradition in Mexican culture, celebrating the lives of departed loved ones with colorful festivities and heartfelt remembrance.

The two sisters stayed in a nice hotel in the city for two nights as events ramped up. There is so much to entice the eye during the course of the holiday.  I always drive to town from our village every day to photograph.

We feel honored and bonded in our adopted community. Especially with the family of Mayolo Galindo, our neighbor who makes our tin frames. His wife Marta gave a cooking lesson in our home on making molé and traditional tamales. That evening we had a wonderful traditional tamale dinner to mark Cari´s birthday.

Every day and night are parades and celebrations. I threw myself in as much as possible to get photographs. A book of Dia de Muertos portraits will be forthcoming with one more year of picture taking.

This year we were honored that a premiere gallery rushed to take our work and highlight it as part of their offering for Dia De Muertos. They installed a grand ofrenda in the midst of our paintings. It was a surreal experience to see our art displayed alongside other talented artists, each piece telling a unique story of life, death, and the mystical in-between. We had hoped for such an outcome but had not expected. Then it suddenly occurred.
Memento Mori, by Steven Boone,  oil on linen, with tin frame by M. Galindo

The art gallery reception was warmly received. Many people stop to photograph our pieces and pose next to them.

Entre Culebras y Colibríes, by Amy Córdova Boone,  acrylic on canvas, with tin frame by M. Galindo

In the aftermath of Dia de Muertos, on November 4th as we drove home from the city, we stopped to walk in our village cemetery. I was moved that every grave in the large plot had flowers on it.

Because of a glitch in Cari´s flight home, she stayed an extra two days. We visited the largest tree on earth (in circumference) and drove 40 minutes to Tule to see the Tule tree. Another breathtaking experience in our panorama of experiences since she arrived. 

Cari discovered the true essence of Dia de Muertos – a celebration that transcends boundaries and connects us all in a beautiful tapestry of humanity. Today she arrived at the airport without delay and boarded for home, full of stories to tell.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Lo and Behold, Dia de Muertos

Dia de Muertos is so deeply embedded in the fabric of Oaxacan life, that the typical three days of commemoration from October 31 - November 2 is apparent everywhere throughout the year⏤mostly evident on walls that are painted with emblems. Living in our village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, just outside of town, I have been deeply influenced in my own way, and expressed my feelings in a body of art that surprised me, and even more so, the people who have collected and watched my work over the years. I created a series of skeleton paintings. 

Viaje Final, oil on linen, 90x140 cm

While making these paintings, I had to admit it was not in any way a commercial venture. Even so, I harbored feelings of hope that these works were not for myself only, but would be received publicly somehow, someday. Lo and behold, our wonderful neighbor Mayolo who makes fabulous tin frames for Amy and I, went in to town smartphone in hand equipped with a screen to show off the website DosVenados I recently created for our Mexican art. Immediately he secured one of the best galleries in the city to show our work, called CuatroSiete Galeria. It happened so suddenly and amazingly, our paintings are already up on the walls and even figure prominently near the gallery grand “ofrenda”  the traditional altar, built to honor lost loved ones. People can walk in from the street to see it.
LA HERENCIA SAGRADA DE MADRE MAÍZ, Acrylic on canvas, 70x90 cm

Besides all the activity preparing our work for show, Amy’s sister arrived from Minneapolis to stay with us for nine days. 
Oaxacan days of Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) are marked by a joyous and colorful revelry that engulfs the streets in a lively atmosphere. As the sun sets and darkness descends, the city comes alive with celebration that honors and remembers departed loved ones. Streets adorned with marigold flowers and flickering candles create a surreal, otherworldly ambiance.
For me, as a photographer it is thrilling to see such color and artistry. 

The three of us drive into the city every day and spend hours, witnessing parades, visiting ofrendas, walking the streets while mingling with crowds of people who most often have decorated themselves. The air is filled with the aroma of traditional Oaxacan cuisine, including the enticing scent of tamales and molé. Music echoes through the streets, featuring mariachi bands, folk musicians, and dancers, all contributing to the festive spirit.  

Tonight we will visit a cemetery where families gather to clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors, offering their favorite foods, drinks, flowers and mementos, and lighting candles.

In our home we have made our ofrenda and decorated it while offering prayers.

Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca is not just a celebration but a profound cultural and spiritual experience, where the boundaries between the living and the deceased blur, allowing for a heartfelt connection with those who have passed away. The streets of Oaxaca during these days are filled with love, laughter, and a profound sense of community, making it a truly unforgettable and magical celebration.

Amy and I are especially blessed this year to have our artwork accepted and honored in Oaxaca⏤in the spirit of Mexico and Dia de Muertos.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Remembering Deceased Loved Ones

Each year, Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead arrives to great fanfare in Oaxaca, Mexico. The holiday has indigenous roots and combines elements of pre-Hispanic beliefs with Catholicism, and is dedicated to honoring and remembering deceased loved ones.

Dia de Muertos occurs at the end of October and first 2 days of November. It is a a vibrant and deeply meaningful celebration⏤a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated throughout the country, particularly in the region of Oaxaca. 

At this time, families create elaborate altars, known as "ofrendas," in their homes, adorned with marigold flowers, candles, photographs of the departed, and their favorite foods and drinks. These ofrendas are believed to help guide the spirits of the deceased back to the world of the living for a brief reunion with their families.
People also visit cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Families gather to share stories and memories, and there is often music, dancing, and other festivities. The atmosphere is one of both reverence and joy, as it is believed that during Dia de Muertos, the boundary between the living and the dead is temporarily lifted, allowing for a special connection with those who have passed away.

In essence, Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico, is a celebration of life and death, a time for families to come together, honor their ancestors, and celebrate the continuity of life beyond death. It's a unique blend of indigenous traditions and Catholicism, creating a rich tapestry of cultural significance and remembrance.

Our ofrenda, 2022

Today during our Sunday free art session for our neighbor children, we made decorated masks from gourd shells. Everyone worked happily on the project and went away with a creation to share with family and friends.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

La Sagrada Herencia de Madre Maiz

Amy and I share a studio at our home in Oaxaca, Mexico. Our approaches to painting are very different and we both admire each other for the unique abilities we bring to creation. Being with Amy when she makes her masterpieces is enthralling and perplexing both.

Amy usually begins work without a clear idea of what will arrive in the end. The entire process is a journey of discovery which she refers to as a ¨conversation¨. It is as though she opens herself to the power of energetic vibration and then uses that to bring forth visions and stories. 

I am amazed at the potent stories that are told in her paintings. My frustration is when I see her come and go from her work, which she does frequently. She gets something done and walks away, sometimes for a day or so, only to come back and change it. She insists she does this at the painting´s request. She is self taught and has to see her work in stages⏤fine tuning all along. 

My paintings take much less time to accomplish than Amy’s. I have a degree in fine art with much academic training. Over the years I mastered my techniques and work with strong impulse, not second-guessing as I go along. 

Amy has done very well in her art career and has more recognized achievements and awards than I during her forty years of art making. It is because she is pure in her creation.

Here in Mexico, we both have been inspired by the culture and our art reflects some new paradigms.
Amy has just completed a fine example: called, 
La Sagrada Herencia de Madre Maiz.  ¨The Sacred Inheritance of Corn Mother¨
She says: ¨Since childhood, I have felt a connection to the jeweled colors of corn, and throughout my life, it has become a totem symbol that represents me. I felt a deep sense of reverence while bringing this prayer to life."

"In my painting, the vital force, coming from the potent world of Spirit is also in the memory and breath of our Ancestors. The Human Being; in this case, a child wrapped in Guadalupe´s rebozo is open to receive the gifts / blessings that surround her. 
And, Corn, the staple of life, is the heartbeat of it all.”

For more : Amy Córdova Art

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Life in the Balance

In the heartland of Mexico, where azure skies stretch over vast, rolling fields, a way of life has been intricately woven with the golden threads of corn. Our village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca is on the outskirts of a worldwide cultural capital: Oaxaca. Our home is surrounded by corn fields that are planted in the beginning of the wet season that lasts from June through September. For generations, small farmers have depended on planting their corn crops, nurturing them with dedication. These farmers, often with weathered hands and faces etched with stories of perseverance, understand the dance between the heavens and their fields. Their hopes, dreams, and sustenance spring from the corn they sow. Yet, if the rains prove unkind during the critical growing season, these dreams are shattered, leaving behind daunting uncertainty. 

This year all looked good and I could look out over the green rows of corn and breathe in the vibrancy. Two companions of corn are sown among the corn⏤pole beans and squash. 
Then in mid September the rains stopped prematurely. It did not take long for the stalks to begin to wither. Unfortunately, now there is not much to harvest, and most of the fields will be fed to cattle. 

The delicate balance upon which the lives of our neighbor farmers depend is fragile. The rhythm of their existence is dictated by the capriciousness of nature, specifically the rainfall during the growing season. If rains prove to be scant, the corn crops suffer. The once vibrant emerald green fields wither under the scorching sun, and the once-promising stalks stand stunted, bearing the weight of dashed hopes. In these moments, the very essence of life as they know it hangs in the balance. 

In rural landscapes of Mexico, small-scale agriculture is not merely a livelihood; it is a heritage passed down through generations. Families rise with the sun, hands calloused from tending the soil, planting the seeds of their hopes within the nurturing earth. Among these seeds, maíz holds a special place. It is not just a crop; it is a cultural icon, a symbol of resilience, and source of sustenance. In the fields, the very essence of Mexican identity is rooted.

Not long ago, before climate change, more fields existed. Now, with all the uncertainty, land is being sold in lots, called “lotes.” As Amy and I drive to town, we see a plenitude of signs vending lots for sale. Already numerous lots have been sold around us. 

Small farmers, with unwavering spirit and deep connection to the land, continue to plant their seeds, nurturing the fragile promise of a better tomorrow. But, perhaps new techniques are needed to continue production of the sacred maíz. Hope must be found, rising like a resilient sprout through the hardened cracks in the parched Tierra Madre, our mother, the Earth.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Give It To The Dogs


Give it to the dogs this week. I will explain in a moment.

At long last, the old tires that served as steps out front of our grand house are replaced by stone and mortar. I had a masonry contracting business forty five years ago⏤so old skills came in handy. The steps properly give a grander entrance to our home from our gate and parking area. 

Back to the dogs. We have two: MaliNalli is our proper house pet and a pedigree Xoloitzcuintle, the famous native Mexican breed. Avión is a dog that showed up on our property, starved and living on trash. He was in such bad shape that although we were helping two other dogs in similar plight, Amy fed him against my advise and he stuck to us like glue. The other two dogs are gone. One killed by mongrels and the other went back to former owners. Avión is our outdoor dog. We had him neutered and given vaccinations. His name means “airplane” in Spanish. His ears stand out like wings when he is attentive. Avión will always have problems. He would certainly be dead by now if left to himself.

Recently, MaliNalli became listless and scared us. She had a temperature of 105. The breed normally runs high temps but we were very concerned. A drive to the vet takes forty minutes. We took her for tests. At the gate when we arrived home, was Avión, covered with blood. I thought there had been an accident. Soon I saw blood spurting from his nose and he was snorting it out in red blasts of droplets. Turns out both dogs have been affected by ticks. Avión has parasitic worms around his heart and probably in his nasal passages. We have made long trips to the veterinary clinic every two days for checkups, injections, tests . . .

The dogs seem to be on the mend. MaliNalli is back to her old self and Avión has had only one brief bleeding spell. We have been advised to keep the two apart, since Avión is in much more trouble and could infect MaliNalli. MaliNalli has had a series of four injections and both dogs are on pills for two weeks. Whew! A handful.   

Americans that visit or move to Mexico are shocked at the condition and circumstances of the dog population. They can be seen roaming streets⏤maimed, hobbled with broken limbs, starving or with mange. Humans seldom take animals to vets for vaccinations or to be neutered. They are left on their own in poverty and blight. Not to say all Mexican dogs are like this.

A couple days ago, Pilar, the girl who lives in the large family above us on our hill showed up at our gate in the morning. Several puppies were missing. Their mother had been run over by a car, so the story went. Her grandmother heard puppies crying during the night. The sound came from our property. MaliNalli had been running up the hill sniffing the ground. Close to our property line, under a big fallen cactus in a cove in the ground, amidst dense underbrush, two squealing puppies were found. They were newborns and did not have their eyes open yet. Strangely, a bowl was there. Amy asked, and Pilar said it came from her house. Amy asked if someone had put the puppies there. Pilar looked confused and did not answer. She was very happy cuddling the pups in her arms as she left. 

Amy and I have never visited these particular neighbors who have been troublesome. Yet some of the kids come to our home on Sundays for art classes, free materials and refreshments. We love the children. 

We often hear of animals mysteriously dying up there. We have found a dead dog on our land, and at least once saw a father from the hill clan racing down with a bag to empty somewhere by a creek. Probably dead puppies. 

The night after finding the pups, after watching our evening movie, we went outdoors to stand in the fresh air and let MaliNalli do her business. Amy heard whimpering from above. We went to the cactus log and I could hear the crying. After searching with a flashlight, I managed to pull a pup from out of the earth. It was too young to have its eyes open. We fed it warm milk and put it in a dog kennel for the night. The next morning we called the grandmother and within seconds three children were at our gate. Pilar took the pup with joy and her little brother said, “How sweet!”

Monday, September 18, 2023

¡Viva! Art On The Streets


Amy and I are artists who spend time together creating art in our wonderful home in a village outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. We go to the city at least three days a week and feel excitement. I always make a new discovery and am surprised by something I have not seen before. Much of it is art on the streets. 

The street art is awesome and mysterious because we assume it is done for free by artists who create masterpieces.

My daughter Sarah during a visit

One group, called Subterreneos, is a collective of artists. They have their own atelier and make woodblock prints, sometimes on a massive scale. Much of the work is of somewhat political nature, making social justice statements. The prints are for sale, but often also are printed on special papers that are then glued with a wheat paste substance on walls around the city. I have seen fantastic works. They deteriorate naturally, but are replaced with something new, often  in a different location. 

Mural being created by the group Subterreneos for a local food market

Artist working on mural

Native culture, heritage, tradition and “raíces,” or roots, all run deep in Oaxaca. Travel and Leisure Magazine has awarded Oaxaca first place in its annual best cities in the world issue⏤more than once. Amy and I chose to live here after an initial visit. We felt a definite allure. When we found our dream house at a price we could not resist, we made the move. It was like holding hands and jumping into the unknown, but trusting something bigger.

We live outside of the big city in a growing community called San Pedro Ixtlahuaca. Not much around but cornfields and rolling hills, but it has a town center with businesses and is not far from a hugely important Mexican archeological site called Monte Alban.

Oaxaca and its charms are all close by.