Talking with Internationally Acclaimed Painter Alfredo Arreguín

Talking with Internationally Acclaimed Painter Alfredo Arreguín

Brian Smith here and welcome to the
dream path podcast where I try to get inside the heads of talented creatives
from all over the world my goal is to demystify and humanized the creative
process and make it accessible to everyone now let’s jump in what a
privilege it was to talk to Alfredo at a game please forgive me in advance
for the long introduction but it’s not often that I interview such a
distinguished accomplished guest with so many awards and accolades born in 1935
and morelia michoacán Mexico Alfredo became at age 9 the youngest
people at the Morelia school of fine art at age 13 he moved to Mexico City living
there for 11 years until he came to the United States in 1959 in our talk on
this episode Alfredo tells us the incredible story of his move to Mexico
City and his journey to America alfredo eventually moved to Seattle where he
earned BA and MFA degrees from the University of Washington he has received
numerous awards including a Humanitarian Award by the Washington State
Legislature a governor’s arts award from the state of Washington and a National
Endowment for the Arts visual artists fellowship grant among others according
to the University of Washington press Alfredo’s Camus azar tapestries that
mingled diverse and interpenetrating influences and images the traditional
crafts of his native Mitchell con the lush rainforests of his homeland and of
the Pacific Northwest sacred and endangered animals gods and totemic
figures icons like Frida Kahlo and Cesar Chavez and motifs including masks eyes
and abstractly patterned tiles professor Lata Flores has referred to Alfredo as a
genuinely American painter in the real hemispheric sense of this term an artist
of magic mystery and revelation whose place in the history of North American
art has already been secured Alfredo at a ging has exhibited his work
internationally most recently at the museo de cádiz and
bane in 2015 he has exhibited solo shows at Linda Hodges gallery in Seattle since
2001 a neguin is a long and distinguished list of accomplishments in
1979 he was selected to represent the u.s. at the eleventh international
festival of painting in France where he won the palm of people award in 1988 in
a competition that involved over 200 portfolios at again won the Commission
to design the poster for the centennial celebration of the state of Washington
the image was his painting Washingtonian that same year he was invited to design
the White House Easter Egg one of the most crowning achievements came in 1994
when the Smithsonian Institution acquired his three panel painting
entitled sueño for inclusion in the collection of the National Museum of
American Art a year later in 1995 and again received the highest recognition
given by the Mexican government to the commitment of distinguished individuals
who perform activities that contribute to promote Mexican culture abroad more
recently he was invited to show his work in the framing memory portraiture now
exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery one of his paintings
included in this show will remain in the permanent collection of the gallery in
2018 he collaborated with Doug Johnson for in the shadow of the master in
Tacoma and had a solo retrospective at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art that
same year Doug Johnson and Lata Flores edited and published a book entitled
alfredo at a gheens world of wonders critical perspectives in this book are
not only samples of his work over the years but also poems short stories and
narrative tributes to alfredo from iconic writers such as ray Carver and
Tess Gallagher two of my all-time favorite writers in this episode of
Fredo talks about his close relationship with ray Carver leading up to Carver’s
death in 1988 and his continuing friendship with Tess Gallagher I had the
privilege of seeing some of Alfredo’s paintings up close at the marmot art
space in Spokane recently and while I encourage you to go online and check out
as work as with all art involving paintings
on canvas there is no substitute for seeing the work in person so I encourage
you to find Alfredo’s paintings at a gallery and check them out they are
something to behold so without further ado or in spanish
scene mas pre ambrose please enjoy this intriguing and lively discussion with
the great Alfredo at a game we’re here with Alfredo at
again and I guess I’ll start off with a discussion of the show in Spokane that I
saw at the Marmot art space I was there last night looking at your your
paintings there and I had seen your paintings in books because of the the
book that just came out Alfredo at egons world of wonders
critical perspectives edited by Laura Flores and Doug Johnson and stunning
stunning paintings and writings about you in that book but of course it does
not do your paintings justice to see them on a page so when I saw them at the
marmot art space in Spokane I was I was struck by the the depth the the 3d
there’s there’s two things that struck me one some of them almost seemed
three-dimensional taking a 2d image and things were just leaping off of the
canvas the the wildlife mm-hmm but also the depth of the the image so that you
you’re actually seen far back behind the the subjects in the paintings and and so
I just wanted to I guess comment on how how stunning those paintings were in
person and I recommend that anybody who is interested in seeing your work go
beyond the books and go outside of the web to actually see them and
person thank you thank you you’re right absolutely yeah
um so how did that how did that show in Spokane come about well marshal Peterson
have already heard about me because they had an exhibition at the Museum on
Northwest are there in Spokane he’s very well-connected with with with with
people in Spokane because he’s lived there most of his life with his mother I
think she has a ranch outside the city but he was already interested and
thought that I will never show there but he wanted to try it anyway and he called
me happen he says I have his little tiny gallery and would you like to show
they’re here and I said sure and it blew his mind that I was ready to accept
without even seeing this page you know and so one of the things about that he
opened the gallery was because he wants to buy one of those little mini houses
that they’re building you know and around that area and so when I had my
first show there he saw like three or four paintings and he says that made my
budget for the whole year you know so that’s why he insisted that I have
another show this summer again you know and I agree because I
wanted to help them you know it’s a big contrast from the exhibition that I
should sell the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art because they have a fantastic new
museum is only five years old and real close to the ferry and they have all
these beautiful windows that the light comes in and it’s so spacious and I had
the whole museum to myself including the lobby you know so that was very
impressive the first night for the opening I had like 500 people
and the last the last day of this before the show closed I had 600 people there
and I brought a lot of people that usually don’t go to museum people that
are very humble and some of them came from all the way from Morelia my sister
came from Mexico City with a husband and everything else
my Lea is that when I have up I have probably I am probably the the artist
I’ve have shown in the state of Washington more than anybody else I’ve
shown in every high school and every college and every museum the only one
that I haven’t shown is the Seattle Art Museum you know for some reason they
haven’t invited me to show they’re all my friends that graduated at the
University of Washington with me have had shows but they have enough for me
and I was really bitter and around the sixties when I was drinking and stuff
and then I thought well maybe I can shoot a little farther and I ended up
showing it with my Sounion you know and having told my paintings and their
public collections they even have an installation called the struggle for
justice where I’m the only oil painting there are and they have relics from all
the struggle that of all people that since the country started there you know
and so I’m really honored to be there and of course they sent thousands of
students every day to see like serious you know because Washington DC you know
is an international place where people come from all over the world they want
to see the museum’s you know well I guess take that Seattle Art Museum they
you got into the Smithsonian so yeah well so how did that happen how did your
paintings wind up in the Smithsonian well I had a first of all they had the
the beginning of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco I read in the paper that
yes they opening a Mexican Museum in San Francisco
so I contacted the men that started the museum Peter Rodriguez who was an artist
that always wanted to have a Mexican Museum and so he started the museum in a
shoe store so he called me up and he says they have a left wing for Chicanos
and they also have a right right wing for Mexicans which wing do you want to
show I said Peter I don’t know and actually it’s fine with this says well
how long have you been here and I said oh like 17 years then you’re a Chicano
and what’s funny is there is also some sort of a situation into which isn’t
isn’t this a common thing that happens all over the world that we are the
minorities and we’re struggling to be recognized and fighting but then those
same people that form these groups to complain are doing the same thing you
know like for instance Cheech marine you know who he is and Chong yes he has been
collecting Chicano art all his life well since the Chicano Movement started and
so he he loved my work he saw it in an exhibition at the Museum in Chicago but
he lived by any of my work for his collection because he probably felt that
I am NOT a Chicano you see these guys not a chicken oh he
comes from Mexico he paints landscapes and so anyway when I had a show in in
Albuquerque the museum in Albuquerque these men
Andrew Connors the the the curator of the show he called me up and he says
Alfredo we’re having an exhibition of Cheech Marines Chicano show but you’re
not in it but don’t worry about it because you’re next and you’re gonna
have the whole gallery for yourself so anyway that’s that’s how is it happens
and his Missoni ins saw that show when when they first moved the mexican museum
move over I had a traveling show the started at
the Bellevue our Museum and went around the nation and that but the Smithsonian
one of the shows and that’s when they they discover my work so they called me
up and this Andrew Connors and he said we’d like to make a visit to your place
and I said how please do come over and he was very humble and wonderful and we
had been soup here and everything and he said can you give me some slides of your
work to take over to Washington because we want to collect one of your pieces
and I said all the kosher and I send them a painting of a triptych very 144
inches by 72 inches big one big one and so he called me up and he says the
director of the museum wants the big piece I said wow really I can’t believe
it and so they acquire this piece called sueño and it was the fourth most
important in a cuisine and I was I was there with O’Keefe you
know the same time they work they were collecting her and I said man that’s
gonna really put me in the map you know and it did and it did and so and when
they were celebrating me for the acquiring this triptych I was sitting
next to the walk to the to this woman and she said I am the director of
education of the Smithsonian I want to ask you a question what do you think of
there what do you think of the National
Portrait Gallery and I said well it’s it’s it’s a little too white and too
gray and a little bit depressing you need some color here you know what I
mean and she laughs and three years later she called me up and she said um
guess what now I am working for the National Portrait Gallery and I remember
what you said so he says not only do we want to acquire one of your piece but we
want to give you a show and I said wow that’s great so during the opening I’m
walking passing the presidents of the United States and is everything so great
and dark and I look at the end and out of the gallery shooting all these pinks
and blues and oranges and everything they have painted the gallery in all
these bright colors and I said oh no they took it too literal but they show
me and they show five other artists that were we were all my
Norah’s you know they represented a very famous woman that is Native American
from New Mexico on a very wonderful black artist from New York and so they
got the idea but they painted my myspace with all these colors that was the only
one that was shooting the color outside the gallery so so when did swing you’ll
make it into the Smithsonian what year was that that was like 2004 we have 2004
and yeah I called my father from the Smithsonian and I said I miss my Sony
and pop and of course he knows he’s very he’s very very well aware of what the
Smithsonian is I mean most people in the world know that you know so he says you
you hit the top there man and all that and it was a really nice experience and
it keeps on giving because people especially one of the reasons that I
like the component of Education museum says because they bring all these
elementary schools and all these children to see the shows and I just
love that you know yeah I was in Albuquerque I to the to the curator I
said you know what I wanted you to do I have an idea I said can you can you take
a photo of my paintings two maybe two paintings and make him into lying lying
drawing paintings to give him to the kids to color like a coloring book yeah
well there were posters and so when I went to the opening there were like 300
kids outside the museum color in these books at least these prints you know it
that’s what makes me really happy you know
so all I have also because there are a lot of
me seems that do not have any money to buy my work I’ve been donating my work
to these museums and that’s what I have like three pieces and four piece and
bought Mexican museums the Museum and Stockton California donated one to them
the one that it was really hard to donate was the one an Albuquerque
Cultural Center because they called me up and he said Senora Reagan your
painting is attracting so many people from all over and here we’re very dry
and you salmon there they make people feel so good
can you donate this painting I said it took me eight months to paint it’s a
huge painting and you wanted me to donate it to you okay I will have it
eight months yeah oh it’s it’s a real big pain it’s called Shawanna because I
like to give Native American names to is there the Colombia is called Shawanna so
I that’s what I call it and that was there two years ago visiting my daughter
so they gave me a tour of the museum and I’m walking and then all of a sudden and
there is your painting mr. Reagan I said you’re absolutely right it is my
painting because I never sign any documents and he the guy goes what what
she’s the second and she wasn’t called the director on Sunday at him you know
it was a Sunday and so he called it there she was over there and 20 minutes
trying to do the clients for me to sign the painting because they have forgotten
to give me you know so so your problem what’s your
your process if you have you’re working on a painting for eight months is that
the only painting that you’re working on or do you have multiple canvases up and
working on those simultaneously yeah no not usually sometimes because I use
pattern as a background and it’s sometimes it puts me to sleep to repeat
over and over and over there is a one-point into which I’m meditating and
then passing that I’m sleeping you know and so that the the reason does paint
well when you go downstairs I’m going to show you that that did thing that I’m
working on all the Orcas the Orcas yeah oh yeah you can see that that process
how how I have a billion little dots and then I pain every day you know I mean so
it’s very time-consuming and I work with little brushes to do line drawing to do
the design can we go down right now with the mics
sure you could hold on to the microphone and then all I think that might be
interesting okay okay so we’re going downstairs and Alfredo’s Seattle home
undisclosed location in Seattle well now you could see all the little
death city arrow oh the pixels ah yeah yeah that is you
know I took some painting classes in college and I saw I I have a very
cursory understanding of painting styles and I wouldn’t call this pointillism
well it’s very close to it yeah but but it is similar to pointillism it looks
yeah you could everything comes every you know like
when I was in Korea and then I had my R&R in Japan I was fascinating I’m
fascinated by their art and their music and everything else and then I end up
painting salmon paintings with Hokusai waves you know yeah then I go to Mexico
and visit Mexico and all of a sudden the music and the atmosphere starts because
it’s not is not something that that you say with your mind you don’t say oh I’m
gonna do a painting with a monkey in this jungle and I’m gonna do this over
here it’s sort of like you shhhh is gonna be the medium and to all these
things filter out and go through the brush into the canvas you know and if
you start thinking about it it breaks the floor right because you’re sort of
in a meditative state and that’s one of the reasons that I have never understood
or like the idea of conceptual art because his brain art and – soul art and when I do portraits now I am doing
portraits of two more justices I did the first one with with what was his name
was made the first black justice in the state of Washington and I said I said
too because Steve Gonzalez came over and asked me he says my son was at the
Palace of of the justices and he says and he sold out those portraits and said
that how come we don’t have people that look like us
so I’m T I’m here to ask you to see if you do a portrait of the of this Justice
Smith and I said well you know I look portraits of Frida but she’s dead and
she doesn’t complain but to do portraits of living people it’s very hard for me
because of their ego zina right but anyway I have my I have this idea that
that if I have solve and talked to you for a while is gonna come that something
in your features are some about you made an impression not consciously I’m not
because if I start doing a drawing of you wouldn’t look like you but if I have
some feature of you that is important to you you recognize it as your portrait
besides that I said to you for instance if you wanted your portrait I said to
you I’m not gonna paint your portrait we’re gonna paint your portrait I want
you to tell me what’s important in your life
is it a poem that that is in your mind movie or what or a childhood dream or
what was something that comes to you that that that is part of you and then I
use that as pattern so of course the judges love his portrait because had all
of his children all the people that he had Mayer
his mentor’s everything wasn’t there you know there was it was that the
background becomes part of him you know and then he he’d enter fides with a
painting so much because all of a sudden is Nigel ego that starts saying he
painted me too old and I don’t have that wrinkle over there is the connection
that you make with the painting that that that is what creates an emotional
connection that is really important you know well I’ve heard it described and I
forget the the famous painter who used to paint like chairs and tables and
things like that you know what’s the difference between painting a chair and
a picture of a chair that it just a snapshot and someone described it as the
painter painter can stare at the chair for weeks before they actually capture
the essence of the chair yeah and is that kind of what you’re talking about
with portraits that you’re really you’re really going for the essence of who that
person is yeah III did try III tried that’s why it would be difficult for me
to do a portrait of somebody I don’t know that sends me a picture right but
like the ones are dead heroes are they’re like Zapata I get away with it
because I make his song and his horse and everything else to adorn him into
which people immediately then to find with all this other stuff you know
because after all you know how do we know what Jesus Christ looks like
somebody paint some blonde somebody paints in black yeah it’s just an
illusion but if you put a halo on anybody then all of a sudden it has some
spiritual connotation well you know yeah so what do we just because we’re on
audio here we have no video I’m gonna try to describe what I’m
looking at and maybe you could help us understand it better what you’re what
you’re painting here we’re in the basement of Alfredo’s home and this is
his studio apparently there is a there are two canvases that are glued together
no there’s just that there’s just clamped other clamped together clamp and
the size of these canvases is is what this says 60 by 96 inches wide okay
and the and we’re looking at I mean this is this is just stunning hopefully we
can get one of these pictures on the website but there are orca whales
jumping or you know breaching the the surface of the Puget Sound and those are
the is at the Olympic Peninsula in the background this Alesi okay so yeah the
mountains this is sort of a silhouette of Mount Rainier and all the mountains
there’s just invented by me okay I just want to create a feeling like I keep on
saying if I was very accurately describing Mount Rainier then there is
nothing much to say about it but if you are it has some ambiguity with it it
makes makes you wonder about things because you know people that look at
paintings they spend a few seconds going through them you see them they should go
by walk by and pass them but with mine they stopped quite a lot because there
is a lot of little ghostly things in it a lot of mysteries that you cannot see
so some people sometimes come to three times to see the show right so they can
see more you know and that’s and that’s another thing I wanted to point out with
the paintings that I saw at the Spokane
gallery and in this this painting that’s in progress right now the Orcas painting
is there so there’s so many layers and so much to see in it I don’t know I
don’t want to call it complex but you definitely cannot absorb what is on the
canvas just walking by it I mean there there’s a lot there to take in and it’s
just a it’s an experience for sure just to try to appreciate everything that’s
on the canvas so what we’re looking at here how many weeks into it are you
oh this about six weeks yeah and I’m still working on it
but what it what is interesting is that it will be kind of corny to think that I
read the paper and the Orcas s are making news lately about their extension
or some and then all of a sighs oh I’m gonna paint a painting of orcas you know
but I’ve been painting salmon and orcas for quite a while actually my first
painting of salmon was when ray Carver came to one of my opening said Foster
White and the first exhibition he’s ever been to and then she went to Syracuse
and a week later he called me and he said I have cancer all over my lungs and
I’m sorry that I said I was crying he says no no no I’m coming to Seattle and
I’ll I’ll give you they’re gonna kill me I have a specialist and I went to I will
go and wait for him at the hospital where he was having chemotherapy and all
of a sudden this big large man gets into my car and start hugging me and since I
wish I was fishing and I thought I’m gonna give him a painting of a jungle
and then I said no I’m gonna give him a painting of salmon and that’s my first
salmon painting I did you know it is called the hero’s journey and it’s just
blew his mind when people from New York will come to interview him he will say
sit here and meditate on this painting and they’re on top of the painting had
the ghost fish I love the ghost fish on top you know and so that’s when I
started painting the eye all of a sudden hokusai came to mind with a big wave and
the salmon and then I started a general of paintings of salmon and and the waves
which saved me completely economically because then all these billionaires were
collecting my salmon paintings but they were not collecting my so so ray Carver
was I think he died in what 89 yes and so his diagnosis was about what 88
or so yeah yeah it was like a year yes yeah and just for the audience who who
may not know ray Carver’s work he’s one of the most famous short story writers
from from the 80s and just remarkable um big influence on me because I studied
him I went to the same College as ray Carver attended and I think he may have
even flunked out of yvc oh but I don’t want to disparage him by saying that but
I think I remember hearing a rumor that he maybe didn’t do so well at yvc but he
ended up writing some amazing short stories that actually made their way
onto film in the movie short cuts directed by Robert Altman and Birdman
their latest one oh yeah yeah yeah yeah this one’s over they’re receiving their
it was invited by like and row in Yuri toe for the Oscars and
all that so she was she wasn’t sharing and Hollywood with him made real good
friends which they still write each other and they asked me for the movie if
I will let him have a photograph that Susie took of this ray and I outside on
the porch and also one of the portraits a little raid they did it on poster size
and we went to see the movie and I couldn’t find it and all of a sudden we
had to see it again and there was stuck between the sofa and the dressing room
of the guy you know and they a little portrait of the three of us way back
there UK at the end I I am with my wife saying maybe they gave us some credits
and my daughter’s with me and the whole theater has left and here they
recognitions and it’s going real slow and they’re also Ellen thank you to this
Gallagher and a federal Reagan for blah blah blah I was really nice in the
credits for Birdman yeah that’s also I really don’t think I think that Ray
would have have loved Birdman but that was a thing I don’t think he would have
liked was short cuts yeah that much short cuts was um it was difficult to
the I think the audio on the movie was strange because that’s the just Robert
our Altman style he has he mics up everybody in the background and so you
hear hi you know the clinking of the silverware and and everything else but
it was I still enjoyed the feel I love Robert III I like I like the film but
the reason that I don’t is because they made up a lot of stuff yeah dull Terrell
you know is one artist making the version of how he sees his own things
that’s what I mean you know all money seen it hey this is
the way I see it you know and he’s pretty he’s pretty opinionated Altman is
I mean he has a vision yeah very specific vision
uh-huh so so ray Carver Tess Gallagher when did you meet those two well Tessa
when she was a teenager still and going to the University of Washington I was a
waiter at this Mexican restaurant called Campos the first Mexican restaurant in
Seattle and she will come and sell Alfredo I only have two dollars can you
just give me a couple of tortillas and some beans and I will bring him the
deluxe platter with all these extras you know so we became really good friends
and she will visit me at a boring her up house called the Magic Mountain and we
became really good friends and then she disappeared for a while and then when
she came back in 1977 I think with ray Carver to introduce me to ray Carver and
he walked in there in the house and he immediately liked me because I was
getting drunk and telling him all these stories you know and he had a little
notebook and he was writing all this stuff and I was feeling so important
that this guy cares that much about me and so yeah that’s one of the reasons
that he wrote menudo you know oh yeah and it was really funny because thez
says ray is writing and short story about you I said oh my god really and
I’m imagining he’s gonna talk about my paintings and all this stuff and all of
us and he he he he’s writing about menudo you know and he you know what
menudo is is a stripe soup beef tripe soup but anyway he called me I call him
up and I say ray I got some some of your draft is not Morelos is more Elia more
Elia and he goes okay are afraid of Morelia okay and then he calls back and
I said this is crazy Isis read your menudo recipe
you don’t put vinegar a little less horrible right and he says oh I said
where did you get that recipe and he says the library I said well as horrible
and and then he I call him back and he says Alfredo
first of all let me tell you something this is fiction my trying to correct his
fiction yeah did you at the time that you were hanging out with Ray and TAS
who Tess Gallagher by the way for those who haven’t read her work she’s she’s an
incredible poet very influential poet and an writer but when you were hanging
out with tests and and ray did you know at the time that they were going to be
so impactful and in the you know in the world of writing well I thought well it
was not hard to guess the labor because Ray had already received that
big a war for $300,000 said thing with a MacArthur oh yeah reward yeah that’s
when he he’s his body best buddy died in a motorcycle accident and then he went
over and bought himself a Mercedes Benz on his Lipper’s I thought it was crazy
you wanted to pay cash but anyway he it was a that’s what I have been so
fortunate as a painter because what happened and to convince the public
about how to digest abstract art they had to have these wonderful writers you
know and so I thought I need some great writers and there was this gallagher and
ray Carver you know and so Tezz wrote that book about when she wrote about my
book it made it into a treasure you know he won an award and stuff and since then
I’ve been meeting a lot of Latino poets black poets Oh Native American poets and
I go and listen to them and stuff and when my grandfather as a child took me
to see if they will accept me in the School of Fine Arts of Morelia and they
said he’s just a kid we have professional artists over here and he
and my grandfather but he has a lot of talent and so they let me in there for
one year and it was the most fantastic experience and because I could go into
the poetry room I could go into the dance room it was a big colonial
building and the dances were phantasm eeen it was a world of fantasy and so
the idea love of poetry already you know the one of the reasons that Eileen
become a poet was because all of a sudden I run to my
mother and I said they as an assignment they won the kids to recite a poem and
for in the yard in front of the whole school so I want to do this poem called
the the one of Francis of Assisi’s the one about the wolf and he was like ten
pages you know long and I memorize every single line and recited to my mom and
she said you got it really good so I walk into the middle of the thing
petrified and all the school is around me and I start reciting my poem but it
was so long that the band start playing and took the whole people out they all
follow the band out and left me Stephanie came before it but I love
poetry yeah well you know what a what a poet to be friends with and and what a
tribute she made for you and I mean those the poems and the the writings in
that new book that that test contributed it just it brought tears to my eyes
because it it’s um it shows what real friendship is and I think that that’s
hard to find you know I think people are I don’t know maybe it’s just I’m
protecting my own struggles with trying to cultivate and maintain friendships
over the years but what a bond you guys had and still have Yale to to have
someone like test some write such beautiful things about you and in
tribute to and to you for that book I’d like to before we leave this room I’d
like to know if you have a philosophy or an approach to when you know you’re done
with a painting yeah that’s always has been of the most difficult question for
art is because sometimes I finished the pain
and I put it away and all of a sudden three months later I’m working back on
it and it’s because it’s a continuum you know it’s not something like you say
this is how it starts and how it ends this is do you have enough courage to
start the journey and go on it and go on it
you know and they always say that the voyage is more important that the
destination you know and so I can keep on working and working sometimes if you
you can overdo your work and become stale if you if you should stop says
with something but it’s just sort of like a song you know it gets to a point
and a repetition and everything else and then it ends up with it that leaves you
still with the music inside and that’s one of the things that I like to do with
my paintings is that they continue miss the connection to the viewers that are
seeing them because then the painting is moving in another direction which is
what I aim to do you know that’s what what what true art is you you you you
you wanna play the song again again and you you big because it’s fading away you
know but but there are things that are indelible than your life you know and my
playing heat arson and the mounts of Mexico was one of the most beautiful
things because I had a lot of struggles growing up you know it’s a kid real sad
childhood and being in the forest and then that’s not what I do I every day I
walk go take picture of the the beautiful animals and fauna the lake and
every I visit all these parks so when I come
to my studio Here I am with all that inspiration and I don’t dare turn the TV
on until I’m done so let’s maybe we could go back upstairs and then talk
about your childhood because you mentioned growing up and Maria yeah well
you know it’s a very useful because most people you know this is the way I’d like
to be interviewed because because this spontaneous is a chunk of the iris
rather than mechanical questions that you have to answer right yeah
and it doesn’t have to be a chronological history you know starting
when you’re born and ending at the Smithsonian or Indian ending here in
your home it can be nonlinear and that’s just the way I think we process
information anyway we don’t think linearly but you you were born in
Morelia I was born in Morelia illegally
I’m illegal in every sense of the world and every aspect of my life I have been
illegally brother well I was I think have a father my I grew up with my
grandmother and my mother because my mother had an affair with this
incredible man that was six foot tall with blue eyes and Mexico and rode a
motorcycle into the bull rings and people used to make songs about him and
marry a movie star in Mexico and so the women were crazy for this man and my mom
was one of them and that’s how I was born without a father and my grandmother
was who was to care of me she actually I
considered her more my mother but I accepted that my father they even made a
story that he died in the Second World War or something like that
and when my mother remarried when I was probably around 11 years old she married
this horrible man that had three I have three brothers and a sister
from him but he left my mother but one of the things that happened was a change
my life was that my grandfather had left me a 45 revolver ball decorated from the
revolution and I had a little bullet inside of it there was 38 that this was
a 44 caliber so when I will shoot it the whole bullet will come out you know an
eve of course didn’t work right because it wasn’t the right caliber but this
time I was with a friend of mine doing my homework and my half-brothers came
running in to bother us and he pulled the gun out and said I’m gonna shoot you
and he pulled the trigger and it worked it went right through his head you know
and so my mother said you got it you got him leave because he’s gonna kill you
he’s kissing like he was a guy that wanted to try to play for the Olympics
lifting weights and throwing the disc away he had muscles every worried and I
was a horrible guy in anyway so so the next day I was riding on the Main Street
of Morelli and my bicycle and I look at my little mirror and behind I saw there
was my stepfather was and he lunch held me and I roll over and
he run all over my bicycle and in he tried to chase me but I was much faster
you know I ran away and that’s when I decided to move to Mexico City and I
will hold were you then I was 13 and when I got to Mexico City my my answers
would we found a school for orphans and Veracruz where you could go to for high
school and it’s this you’ll be okay over there but it’s not it’s cold and I said
well okay so I was ready to go and then she she came over the next day and she
said you know what I call your father I said my father she said yeah he’s very
wealthy and he lives here and I call him up and he’s coming over to talk to see
you your biological brother yeah okay and he showed up in a big Cadillac and I
got into his car with my hand and he says well I don’t know if he’s my son or
not but I’m gonna help him you know and so he started helping me by putting me
in a school in Mexico City and so I wasn’t a lot of houses for students and
things like that boarding houses and then about the third year she said he
said well I convinced my wife for you to move in with us and man I was in heaven
there is this big mansion with a swimming pool and three beautiful
sisters and a little brother and I’m in heaven
I’m going to school this is like the late 40s early 50s you’re right yeah
yeah and he said then then my father bought me one of those harley-davidson
motorcycles that I could hardly live it was 500 buy every time he left my
friends will help me lift it up again you know and I was in heaven but then my
older sister got the idea that she was that she was madly in love with me and
all of a sudden I said oh no no this is not right and she will you know then she
got so close to me that the other sisters started thinking that jealous of
them because I will go to the movies and stuff and they didn’t want to come and
they told finally one night my father showed up in the middle of the night
with a rifle and broke the door where I was leaping and said I’m gonna kill you
you rape your sister and all these stuff and they threw me out of the house and I
thought I said why I you know and it was horrible you know because then I went
back to the boarding houses and everything else and then she came over
one time and he said to me when I left my house I was 14 and now you root 17 or
so or 18 I’m gonna give you some money so you could start a business and you
could be independent from us and so he gave me all his money and I was looking
around for some business to get into and everybody said you don’t know anything
about that and you don’t know anything about that
and then hey then I bought myself a convertible and went to Acapulco and
blew out all the money he cried and I said but Dad that money that you gave me
was I bought this convertible where I met this American family and I took her
around Mexico and they are the ones that took me to the United States so you got
rid of me really for good you know with that that investment it wasn’t no thrown
away yeah well I think sometimes money can hold you back too because then it
takes away that you know the drive to do what you need to do you know what your
whatever your calling is if you’re too comfortable you know you’re not gonna
have that drive yeah that’s true and well that that was a sad thing because
when I will visit him in Mexico the last years he was alone in this chair and I
said what’s going on that you look so sad and he said yeah I’m really feel
horrible he says Alfredo I gave a house to each
one of my children I gave them trips to Europe and I gave them money for
businesses and to you I didn’t give you anything I said no no no no no no that
you gave me what I wanted you gave me your love that to me has always been the
most important thing that’s one of the reasons I quit drinking because the
Ang’s that I have and the hate that I have and the bitterness that I have I
mean I had a horrible time and they are me being discriminated and
and and then my father you know no connection with him and when he threw me
out of the house and so I became real famous drunk you know and one time I was
at the Blue Moon Tower and somebody said you’re in the newspaper I said really
and he said yeah here here’s the article and it was a little blurb that said
Alfredo a dragon is not only a famous drunk but he’s also but he also paints
he says won an award at the Bellevue art museum show so so when did you decide to
stop drinking well after when I I actually met Susan
my wife at the Blue Moon tavern and I said oh you you you’re gonna be my wife
you’re my darling and and everybody said Yeah right
I said she’s going with me tonight and everybody said yeah right and so she did
and so we end up together and but she had to go to Europe
with a friend and I kept on writing there while she was in Paris and
everything else and then I managed to gather all these money to rent a house
that in those days were really it’s a hundred and seventy-five a month with
one month for before the beep when you get the lease and whatever so I gather
all the money to when she will she would come back she will move in with me and
so she did and so we so when did you meet her
there was must have been a 1974 something like that so you were still
drinking them yeah I was really drinking and then then the bloom I will go to a
blue moon and bring the party to my house so everybody party Alfredo party
Alfredo cell buddy will end up in my house partying and and one day this guy
tried to get into my into my daughter’s room and I said that’s it I’m not gonna
I’m not gonna have a daughter with a drunk father I’m not I’m gonna quit
drinking and smoking and Susie said both I said yeah both I’m gonna because they
were scaring me that it was dangerous for me to smoke two packs of cigarettes
in front of all this turpentine and all this smoking in front of all these
paintings and stuff you know that all that orders so one time since he said
that she got that at 3 o’clock in the morning I was sitting with 3 packs of
cigarettes in my hand and the ashtray was full of butts trying to make up for
a week that I hadn’t smoked you know so I said I I have to quit drinking before
I quit smoking because once I’m drinking I hope cares if I die and I don’t care
and so I started I quit drinking and then the hardest thing was to quit
smoking you know because it’s so addictive but I did it and I think that
that is what I am so prolific with my paintings because all that energy that I
used to spend in taverns and doing all that stuff has converted to creative
energy so now your wife is Susan Lydell yes and so she’s an artist as well she
sent out as yeah we share the same suit downstairs and when she was in Paris was
she was she painting over in Paris no they actually were invited by this
friend of the other girl to go there he was very wealthy and I gave the money to
go to Paris and the other woman then had never been there so she Asuza she could
go with her right and I said oh man I’m gonna lose her but I kept on writing and
eventually we got together and we got married at this Suzy’s sister was a
lawyer that participated in that film that I
guess was made in Harvard called the shooted the shooting of big man that
they used for education purposes about that shooting in years later tavern and
the years they’re building over here and she married this guy that was the head
of the lawyers you know the public defender’s mm-hmm so they bought this
big beautiful mansion like household house and that’s what we got married by
a judge that was their neighbors yeah and then your daughter is she noticed as
well she’s also an artist and a dancer she was a belly dancer and then she
became more modernistic than sing and now she’s totally Merce in her garden
she’s doing gardening and she’s interested in plants and she got married
to to this Mexican guy that came here like I did some family support them to
come over and he decided to stay too cuz he had problems with his family in
Mexico yeah so yeah it’s really nice that we have him real
close to their home and they visit and stuff like that so so you have managed
it sounds like to be painting and making a living at art making art for a very
very long time he’s very lucky and so what what year did you start painting in
a way that you were actually able to make a living at it
mm-hmm well I went to university and got a master’s degree in 69 and after that I
started having shows right away at Poly Freelander and all these places and I
was also having doing teaching like for the Parks Department and Queen Anne and
then when I didn’t have any jobs I was getting workers relief for a few weeks
and then they they started with the CETA program this that that had to do with
granting artists money for their survival and I applied to that and got a
couple of those and then I applied for the National Endowment for the Arts
which people say you’ll never get it you don’t even know how to write a proposal
or something like that and I got it twice twice National Endowment for the
Arts fellowship and then they discovered me and there was a man called David
shaft a curator for the in Washington DC and in our critic
and he as the Mexican museum to send them his lights cuz he wanted to choose
a Mexican American to represent the United States and Kenya Stormare
international festival of painting in Kenya summer France and he chose me as
be the third to Americans and me to represent the United States and I won
the palm of the people award and so that he connected me with a law firm the law
firm that was defending Nixon and they loved my work on their brand new
multi-million dollar building in Washington and they bought like six of
my paintings for the building you know so I start making we didn’t need that
much money to survive we never have had really big things cept buying paint and
paying the rent and whatever and then I start selling and I was represented by
several galleries Polly Friedlander foster white gallery and I started
selling work so since then I have been very safe when when the the thing that
that happened was when I we save all these money saved like $40,000 for to
buy a house and they show me this house here and I love that Suzy didn’t like it
because everything was painted green this was mr. Picardo s– house them the
men that started the Picardo farms across the street and they donated to
the city and all of that and he lived in this house so I always tell my Mexican
friends I live in the house of the boss but anyway I had this horrible insomnia
thinking what if I don’t sell my paintings for a month or two what
they’re gonna take our house you know I was so worried about it so when this my
Sounion bought my painting the National Museum of American Art they sent me the
check and I said Susie let’s go to the bank and pay for the house and we were
happy we’re celebrating that now we don’t have we own the house now oh great
so the Smithsonian when they accept one of your paintings they actually pay for
it you don’t have to donate it to the music no there’s both of course I
everybody would like to be part of the collection of the Smithsonian so a lot
of people offer their work but the National Museum of American Art purchase
it purchased the painting and the National Portrait Gallery I donated the
painting yeah so how much of your time is spent doing art you know the the
process of you know thinking about the painting painting versus the business of
art and the hustle I would imagine that artists have to go through to sell their
paintings and make a living do you have you thought about that how much time you
have to spend doing the probably the the less desirable aspect of the art world
which is the business part well if the painting is ASIS part and also the most
natural part that’s what you do the other stuff I be helped because now I
have a gallery that represents me that gives me a show every two years
and so I get all the publicity and all that stuff and she sells my work which
gallery is Linda Hodges gallery they’ve been established they actually
move into a gallery that I was already in from these people that decided to
open a gallery in Seattle from Mexico City and they didn’t take care of
business they were giving tours to all the governors and politicians to Mexico
and abandoned the gallery and they went broke
so then Polly Freelander move into that same space I’ve been with her for for a
few years now and then I have a lot of shows and I’m from Facebook once in a
while I shall work through Facebook oh nice
there are people interested in the nicest thing about Facebook is that I
get teachers from all over the world teaching my are to their kids so they
called me up and when are you gonna finish the painting the kids are waiting
you know I get invited to high schools now wanna do reproductions of my art for
other schools and elementary schools I just went to elementary school where
my daughter went to Bryant elementary school and the teacher said we’re
studying your painting that is at the Smithsonian and could you come and talk
to the students and they said oh okay I come and she said
and so I prepare myself with my eye I got if all my paintings to show the kids
and they had the projector in their library the kids the students came there were
these little creatures tiny little tell them about my ghosts and the paintings
and hell I love animals and how my dog died and now the crows follow me around
the park and at the end of the session the teacher says do you have any
questions and the little boy gets up can you teach us how to paint goes mister
are looking girl whether your doggy died off anyway is really wonderful to to be
able to connect with young people and then all people like me they come to my
shows and especially at museum shows and I have my paintings and in hospitals and
retirements homes and things to inspire people yeah and it makes me really happy
that that art is not a way to be famous and rich but it’s a way to connect not
only through your paintings but spiritually you make connections with
people and real good friends yeah so the what is a day in the life of Alfredo
that again look like when you’re painting and you know just starting when
you get up in the morning and what your routine is and how much time you
actually spend painting well I’m running out of that creative energy but energy
in general I walk in the morning every morning I get up but I wake up around
5:30 or 6:00 and then I come down and then we have
breakfast and then I go to the park and I take my camera I used to take my dog
with me now I should take my camera and take pictures and enjoy the day in the
morning and then I come home and I paint until 4:00 or 5:00 and then I go to bed
I have to take care of a lot of business so a couple of hours at night I do a lot
of the things that have to do with interviews and I have to plan for
another exhibition and when are they mean me and there are people interested
in Europe and my image is to do jigsaw puzzle so now my jigsaw puzzles are
being distributed all over Europe oh yeah I mean looking at your your
paintings it makes a lot of sense that they would want to do jigsaw puzzles
because they’re they’re very geometric and and as I’ve I’ve read about your
work you know sort of the the convergence of math and art you know
with those patterns and then I they just told me that now they just bought one of
my designs and Turkey for a jigsaw puzzle and the United States just
published one of my jig they’ve got there they’re the skull pomegranate
cards that they’re gonna do it a puzzle and they want me to use one of my Frieda
so now they just publish one of my free dies that is selling like health cakes
around the United States and what happens is that even in education when
you go get educated and then you get a graduate degree you have all these
barriers and taboos that have to do or you cannot be commercial you cannot do
t-shirts or you cannot do jigsaw puzzle so you cannot do posters or you can add
you know and they don’t understand that this is the old way to think about
things and you have to evolve yeah and there are older people that are stepping
into the future with all the stuff that they have learned to pass it on and then
it gets translated into different mediums and new ideas that young people
start picking up on it right and that’s one of the reasons that I don’t care I
really rejoice the fact that somebody in Poland or in Switzerland is doing my
jigsaw puzzle you know well it’s being seen I mean your bid that’s right your
work is being seen by people who probably would not be seen in otherwise
so that’s that’s great and you know I know what you’re talking about though
that there’s sort of an elite ISM about you know frowning upon selling out you
know whether it’s a book being made into a movie or you know a painting being
made into a jigsaw puzzle you know I could see the you know the artists that
want to hold on to you know the old school way of thinking that they would
they would look down upon that but I think it’s great that you’re getting it
into other mediums that’s all you can just imagine how I think that Frida
Kahlo would have been very happy with their image of being all around the
world you know what’s your connection to Frida Kahlo well it’s just that I never
met her she was the age of my father was born in the same year 1906 but I connect
to her because of my mother wanted to be an artist
my mother suffer a lot and she had a horrible life not making it because of
all these chauvinistic situations in Mexico and to which women were always
the household will you that do you don’t even have a chance to get out there I
mean my father married his movie star and she ended up divorcing her because
she wanted to pursue her career as a movie star and she didn’t like that she
was gone she imagined that she was gonna sleep with all these other people and
they wanted to be in that kind of business but she decided that she wanted
her freedom and left them you know they they broke up but that’s my connection
to Frida also I always wanted to have a woman that was a mestizo which she was
mestizo between being half German and half Mexican and that’s what mostly
Mexicans are now they’re mestizos because Cortez and La Malinche had the
first baby together so she was she’s a modern modern mother
of Mexico you know the union between the white and
and an Indian isn’t missed easily okay and so she represents Mexico but she
also represents the European part that Mexicans don’t like to recognize in one
way but want to presume that they are they’re always fighting themselves look
how white I am and yet I hate yeah because she shows up a lot in your
paintings and they’re all they’re all unique and and different but it is a
sort of a majestic it’s majestic amuse is the feminine the feminine idea
of of that exists everywhere in nature the jungle and mother nature is feminine
you know so that’s one of the reasons that I wanted sort of a symbol of that
because when you endure a hard life because of what they the system assumes
you are and I’ve give you the proper rights as everybody else out of that
pain and struggle comes beautiful art beautiful expression and beautiful music
and songs yeah that’s why I think so many artists if you you know examine
their lives you know you see a lot of trauma and from their childhood pain and
suffering and out of that comes an expression of that suffering through
their art that is beautiful you know yeah it filters through yeah and that’s
what you were talking about before but the idea that when you give
everything to your kids and when you assume that they are your friends rather
than you the authorities then you’re in real trouble right and they are in real
trouble because they eventually are gonna blame you for it instead of
thanking you you know they create a resentment you
know and Vito dela Cruz who you know and introduced us his one of his wife’s
sayings naughty she says it’s not my job to make my kid’s life easy so Vito tells it when I when I talk
about raising my kids he brings that up you know once once every few months but
it’s a it’s a good you know way to approach parenting I think you know yeah
it is very very good situation because you they you know like they might have a
crazy idea what do they wanna be but you have to let them try it yeah you know
you cannot say oh you cannot be an artist or a musician you well we come
from people that are engineers or businesspeople or something it’s
ridiculous if you don’t feel it you become slave or something that using
natural is not you and you’re not gonna have a good life having to go to work so
what what advice would you give to young people who maybe have a calling they
feel like maybe a career in the arts is for them but their parents are pretty
rigid with what their expectations are vocationally you’re going to go to
college you’re going to get a real job what advice would you have for young
people facing that dilemma well you know like if a lot of a lot of kids very
early appear to have already something that they’re passionate about but other
kids they like I didn’t for a long time and until I discover art but don’t
become an artist because you think you’re gonna be famous and because you
think that you gonna make money don’t be a meditator if you don’t have a passion
to be patient with your the kids you’re gonna teach if you have that passion
then they’re all this stuff is the periphery of that and life like if you
become if you have a passion for painting or music or something the money
will come to you and you are started doing great stuff but if you’re
searching the money around what you what you think that your profession is gonna
give you and you’re disappointed you blame the art not yourself for making a
bad choice about what to expect you know so it sounds like you start with the
passion and then you focus on the craft and then if you focus enough on the
craft and you get good enough that everything else will flow from that
organically yeah well there’s a point in and in your life into which art is not
like a profession but it’s you you go outside and your eyes are directing you
to things that are interesting it’s not like you are gonna look for a bird is
that the bird appears to you and and music you can learn technique you can
learn how you can go to the best schools and learn all the technique of a
painting if you don’t have the other part which is the most important part
then you become a good designer for commercial art probably will be great
but if you want to suffer somehow and filter all that suffering I can express
it with art then you’re gonna see that there is a lot of beauty and there comes
out of all that pain you know it filters through and that’s one of the reasons
that I could quit smoking and drinking is because the other the the spiritual
part of it was always there I didn’t need the drinking and smoking dope or
drugs it’s always there it’s just that you don’t know how to access it because
your brain is always doing stuff to you it’s wearing yours making you feel this
way or the other way so you have to quiet your brain that’s what because I
said it will be great to paint without a head you know and I know it’s in their
head yeah yeah like the Buddhist thing that you have to pacify the monkeys the
monkeys in your brain around yeah and it’s not much too
as you know when when you give advices something so much more direct but friendship nice kindness the closeness
to two things that are not ego oriented will give you the ability to reach your
soul and being to express yourself in beautiful ways you know because that’s
where the source of everything comes from that’s beautiful you know the
simple things that are important and beautiful in life are not all the stuff
that we think that gets old in a week you get a brand new car and it’s over
and a week or two you start putting mud in and stuff but the other stuff is
always there and so when you meet a friend it’s an oral feeling so good
because it takes you to times that were wonderful and that’s that’s it’s not
like when I’m started thinking about next time I’m gonna do a painting of
salmon I’m not thinking of painting the last painting but I’m already thinking
of new ideas that were impregnated through me but visiting all this place
see no more art even looking at the Internet at designs from Japanese rugs
or things like that they all become part of part of you but not in a not in a
conscious way if you try to imagine it and draw you can’t but if you relax and
you allow that to come through you you are amazed that’s what magic is all
about it it transcends from the inside of you and with your hand into something
and it blows your mind yeah and it’s even though it’s unnatural
and it sounds like he even though you are you’re looking at something you’re
not copying you’re not plagiarizing but you’re being inspired and you’re
creating something completely original um through observing you know the the
beauty around you and you just have to be ready to really see you know look for
and and see the beauty around you and have it you know filter through your
your own lens and this it’s it’s basically this is what I think basically
what happens is that when you’re a child everything is so incredible in tents and
miraculously miraculous the marbles trigger you to look through worlds you
see these little bubbles of water the imagination the the richness of colors
they see no people dancing and gesturing and all these stuff is so fantastic and
then the kids start going to school and learning that no you made a mistake
that’s not a salmon that’s a carpenter all this is this and that so the brain
takes over about oh I made a mistake that wasn’t instead of seeing the fish
as a fish and that’s that’s one of the things that I started doing at first
when I was painting I was I was putting tigers in Latin America and kangaroos
and Africa and whatever because he was a kids expression when a kid draws he’s
not drawing accuracy or data or anything else it’s coming to where I used to try
to come all the time where that inspiration comes from it comes directly
to them because they don’t have all that all the stuff that we build through the
years that that that lots of serpent little
cells of things right the baggages I was right about that and you were wrong
about that and you get mad about these and it’s it’s the lay the labels and
compartments and the rules that sounds like that kind of corrupt corrupt us as
adults and then make us less tuned into art and then you create fear because
these images are in your brain like when I see those Mexicans leaping and on a
cactus with sombrero they’re lazy people I don’t want to hire them because all
they do is take siestas you know these are the hardest-working people the work
of my god I got two three jobs every day and so you know so it takes it takes
only I used to love to give you all these tours to this baby and then I’ll
go turkey museum I had all this board of trust all these business people that
came over and they all had these phases of what am I doing here and whatever you
know when I start talking to them and talking about the paintings and we’re
moving around and put it in there smiling and they’re laughing and I’m
gotten to them they’re becoming children again now I can play with them now we
could play together yeah because now you left all that sort of inhibitions and
all these stuff at the door and now you come into play you know so it’s it’s
it’s it’s a real wonderful situation that we are so much the whole people of
the whole world we’re so united and by our genes and our
ourselves and where we came from from primitive years to now but we have
made ourselves different by differentiating each other and then all
of a sudden we’re creating conflict because there are enemies you know and I
talked to I went to Portugal and I don’t know Portuguese and I had all these
conversations with people I could understand part of it and part of it
with our actions with having fun and laughing with children again you take
those vales you know and you approach people as
friends rather than I am this and what are the directions of that and they
resent you because you don’t respect them all this stuff you know and I love
to travel because I go and sit down with when I was in Korea I was out there
eating horrible dog food sandwiches with the natives up in the mountains and he
was beautiful they were out there playing this wonderful music and it is a
beautiful country all the mounts and they’re all having these picnics and
they have all these little wrappings of delicious food except for the dog anyone
open them you know well alfredo do you think we we covered everything you want
to thank you you probably have an encyclopedia britannica well I’m sure
you know with as much work as you’ve done and the life that you’ve lived that
we probably just scratched the surface but I want to thank you for sitting down
with me in your home and in having me in your home today it was a real pleasure
thank you so much Brian I really appreciate it i right away me when you
walk in the door I knew you were gonna be my friend so I felt really real
to talk to you and things is just like having coffee with a friend things I
love to chat like that you know that’s well you know sharing your life in this
way was a real privilege to hear and I’m sure our listeners are going to
appreciate all the time that you spent to to share your story so thank you
thank you very much hey thank you for listening and I hope you enjoyed today’s
episode of the dream path podcast if so I have a favor to ask can you go to your
favorite podcast service and give me a rating and review your feedback is what
keeps this podcast going I appreciate your time and as always go find your
dream path

One thought on “Talking with Internationally Acclaimed Painter Alfredo Arreguín

  1. Astounding Work, I totally liked it!, See this New Album 'Monish Jasbird – Death Blow', channel link , you might like 🙂

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