Sunday, March 31, 2024

In Life´s Tapestry


I like artwork that defies predictability and traverses emotional landscapes. Two recent paintings from our studio Dos Venados in Oaxaca, exemplify this art. 

Amy Córdova Boone has continued her fantastic storytelling through art in her latest piece, called El Peregrino Sagrado; “The Sacred Pilgrim,” (acrylic on canvas, 60 x 80 cm.) Her paintings emerge from deep within her psyche. This painting was inspired by a book she wrote and illustrated several years ago, entitled Talking Eagle and the Lady of Roses, published by Steiner Books, NY. 

The story of Guadalupe and Juan Diego is one of the most revered and iconic tomes in Mexican Catholic tradition. It dates back to December 9-12, 1531, when according to tradition, Juan Diego, a devout indigenous man, experienced a series of miraculous encounters with the Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill near present-day Mexico City.

During the encounters, the Virgin Mary, appearing as a young indigenous woman, instructed Juan Diego to go to the Bishop and request the construction of a church in her honor on Tepeyac Hill. Initially, the Bishop was skeptical of Juan Diego's claims, but after a series of miraculous occurrences, including the blooming of Castilian roses in the middle of winter and the imprint of the Virgin's image on Juan Diego's tilma (cloak), the Bishop was convinced of the authenticity of Juan Diego's visions.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on Juan Diego's tilma became a symbol of faith and unity for the Mexican people. It is said to contain layers of symbolism that spoke directly to the indigenous population, bridging the gap between their traditional beliefs and Catholicism.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was eventually built on Tepeyac Hill, becoming one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Americas. The tilma of Juan Diego, with the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, remains on display in the basilica to this day, attracting millions of visitors each year.

The story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only a cornerstone of Mexican Catholicism but also a testament to the power of faith, miracles, and the enduring presence of the divine in everyday life.

Oil painting by Steven Boone

Within my own oil paintings, I hope to surprise an audience, and do this by occasionally shifting artistic direction. The last few years my work has been somber and introspective. I made a series of "Memento Mori" paintings, where skeletal figures grapple symbolically with mortality. Recently, after I felt closure, my art has taken a dramatic turn towards vibrancy and celebration⏤exemplified by my most recent large piece, Two Dancers at a Fiesta, (oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm.)  It is in a world bursting with color and life. The canvas pulsates with the energy of the dance floor, as two figures whirl and twirl amidst a jubilant fiesta atmosphere. The subjects dance along with the brilliant colors and bold twirling designs. Even the floor is bursting with vibrancy. Gone are the solemn reminders of mortality; instead, we revel in the joyous rhythms of corporeal existence.

This shift is not only in artistic evolution but also the embrace of multifaceted human experience. Through my paintings, I embrace both the darkness and the light, finding beauty and meaning in every aspect of life's tapestry.

To see Amy and Steven´s Mexico inspired work, go to Dos Venados Studio

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Timeless Faces

We see masks often here in Oaxaca. There are many celebrations throughout the year when masks are worn along with a traditional costume.

Mexican masks have a rich history deeply intertwined with cultural and religious practices. These masks have been used since ancient times, dating back to 3000 B.C., initially by priests for summoning gods and during sacrifices. When the Spanish arrived, they introduced the devil to Mexico. Soon after, horns were added to the masks of native gods, transforming them into "devils" to promote Christianity. Devils often appeared alongside death at festive occasions. Yet, the Aztec underworld was not a place of punishment, thus, people were less fearful of death. The devil became a benign figure. 

Recently a new friend we made on the coast insisted we simply must see an exhibit of masks in Oaxaca. Called Timeless Faces, at a museum founded by artist/philanthropist Fernando Toledo in the village of San Agustin Etla the exhibition of 700 pieces is from the anthropologist René Bustamante's collection.

Amy and I made the 50 minute drive from our village to see the exhibit. For a Saturday, it was remarkably quiet. The building is grand and the grounds too. Climbing the grand, broad stairway in front, we entered the cavernous space full of masks. What a delight for two artists that love culture. Immediately we became engrossed, wandering off separately then recombining to marvel and discuss.

Most traditional masks are made of wood, while some are made from leather, wax, cardboard, papier-mâché, or other materials. They commonly depict old men and women, animals, the fantastic or supernatural.  

Masks, including devil masks, have been an integral part of Mexican cultural and religious life, with mask makers being revered members of society. Today, devil masks in Mexico retain features of ancient gods, showcasing a blend of pre-Hispanic history and Spanish influence. These masks are used in various dances and rituals, symbolizing a fusion of the two cultures and serving as a link between Mexico's past and present traditions.

Wearing masks during mystical, religious or communal celebrations is practiced across the globe.

Personally, I have always enjoyed masks and own a small collection of African, Asian and Venetian masks. 

My brother from Santa Barbara, California is coming in a couple weeks to visit us. His wife is originally from Mexico. Amy and I will return with them and see the exhibit again.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Getaway to the Coast


The Pacific Ocean is not far away from us here in Oaxaca, Mexico. About 125 miles. Yet we have not visited often since arriving four years ago. The reason has been that the old highway to the coast led us around the city and then over the Sierra Madre Mountains on a harrowing two lane road that could make a person sick from the twists and turns. About a seven hour trek. 

Everything is different now that the long anticipated and awaited highway 175, a sleek asphalt “autopista” is newly opened. 

With a desire for adventure and a celebration on the horizon, my beloved wife Amy and I embarked on our journey to Puerto Escondido, a coastal gem on the Pacific shores. However, this time, the route took an exciting twist as we drove the new highway, cutting our travel time in half. Gone were the days of perilous journeys over the Sierra Madre Mountains, with their treacherously winding paths. Instead, we found ourselves cruising along the smooth asphalt of the new highway, marveling at the picturesque landscapes unfolding before us. The reduced travel time not only ensured a safer passage but also allowed us to immerse ourselves in the beauty of our surroundings without the constant worry of hazardous roads.

After a seamless journey, we arrived at our coastal haven in Mazunte: Casa Ofelia. The small but famous town attracts a diverse crowd that includes hippies, yogis, spiritual seekers, and those interested in animal conservation. It's laid-back atmosphere, eco-friendly practices, and focus on yoga, turtle conservation, and spiritual activities make it a popular destination for alternative travelers. Bohemian vibes abound, which is fine for Amy and I⏤both former hippies. We enjoyed people watching: men with tanned, muscular builds, beards and “man Buns”; that is long hair tied up in a bun atop the head. Women sauntered scantily dressed. Many go topless on the beach.

Greeted by the salty breeze and the rhythmic sounds of the ocean waves just outside our bedroom door, our accommodation in Mazunte provided perfect sanctuary, offering a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We stayed three days then headed back to Puerto Escondido for two nights.

In Puerto Escondido we lodged at Hotel Santa Fe, namesake of our former hometown. It offers a mix of colonial elegance and modern amenities. Furthermore, it is set directly opposite Zicatela beach, providing guests with sweeping beach views and stunning sunsets. 

As the sun dipped below the horizon on the final night of our retreat, we gathered to commemorate a special occasion—the 71st birthday of my beloved Amy. With laughter, love, and gratitude in our hearts, we raised a toast to our togetherness and the adventures yet to come.

Our getaway to the coast was more than just a journey—it was a testament to the joy of exploration, the importance of cherished moments, and the power of love. As we bid farewell to the coastal paradise, we carried home to Oaxaca with us memories for our lifetime, forever etched in the sands of time.