Creative of the Month- February 2014
Since 1977, Centro Cultural Aztlan has presented the Segundo de Febrero Commemoration. The signing of the Treaty on February 2, 1848, ended the Mexico/U.S. War and began what has now been 166 years of peace between the two countries. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo also established the new American southwest and the Mexican American community.
Artist Raul Servin leads a group exhibition for the 2014 Segundo de Febrero Commemoration, titled Tierra Y Libertad, that includes new works by over 20 artists. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, is on view throughout the month of February and during the scheduled hours of the On & Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour.
An Interview with artist Raul Servin
It sounds like a pretty interesting story to come to the United States to help paint murals in San Antonio in preparation for HemisFair '68. Tell us more about how this opportunity came about and what it was like to come to San Antonio. What was the painting you were asked to replicate? Did you attend HemisFair '68?
The opportunity to come to San Antonio started in 1966 when I took an art intensive course on pre-Colombian color. Later that year I was decorating and painting the Flying Indians' stage on the roof of the Palacio Tropical Hotel in Acapulco, GRO. Nothing fancy, just Aztec motifs on some walls with the same colors I had just learned in the class. I was told that the stage looked like an old Aztec temple. Unfortunately, it was destroyed. The same company of Flying Indians came to San Antonio for HemisFair '68 at the Pepsicola Frito Lay Pavillion. They said nobody replied to their ads for an artist with pre-Colombian background, and I was then asked to come and paint the stage and to create 2 murals; one in the pavilion building and another on the landing platform.
I read an article that stated you began studying art at the age of 7 at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, after you tried piano playing. What sort of things do you remember learning at the age of 7? Are those skills you still use today? Did you ever go back to the piano?
I was really 9 years old when, after constantly moving around the country my family settled in Acapulco. My father was in the Mexican army and they moved their troops frequently. In Acapulco I started school in the third grade. In the mornings there were regular classes and in the evenings there was art, tech, hygiene, and cooking classes. They said they would help the students to acquire a trade. I was first sent to music, and after 4 months I finally got to the piano, only to discover that I could not reach the black keys since I have short fingers. I was immediately rejected and then the only class that would take me was the drawing class. Later, when we started painting, we were moved to the Bellas Artes National Institute. I never did touch the piano again.
Who did you study under at the Instituto? Who/which artists have been your greatest influences?
One of my instructors at the Bellas Artes National Institute was Master Genaro Bernal. My early influences in art were the local artists and many national artists who showed at the Bellas Artes National Institute and other local galleries. Artists such as Eppens, Belking, Rivera, Betteta, Navarro, Leal and many others.
It sounds like your themes and subject matter have changed over the years. Would you say there is one event that has impacted your style most?
I was painting bodyscapes, which were paintings of naked people piled up of top of each other with a somber background. At one of the openings at the Art Cellar, a lady started crying loudly. Everyone was trying to calm her down, especially me. When she finally stopped, I asked 'why?'. She said that those paintings reminded her of the concentration camps in Germany and that she had been there as a child. After that, I changed my style and color to the new Chicano movement.
After coming to San Antonio for HemisFair, was there an artist, arts organization or gallery you first connected with to get involved in the local arts community? Tell us more about those initial relationships with the San Antonio arts community.
My interactions with the local arts community started in the late 70's and 80's because prior to that I did not speak English and could not communicate. I had also stopped painting for almost 10 years after learning that art could not feed and support a family of 5. After divorcing my wife I chose to fight my depression by learning English, getting my GED, going to college and taking refresher art classes. I attended the San Antonio Art Institute, San Antonio College, and the Southwest School of Art. I joined the Art Alliance, the L.A. Heights Art Space and later the Art Cellar. And best of all, I could now communicate with all those creative artists that only San Antonio has.
Regarding your current exhibit at Centro Cultural Aztlan, tell us what we can expect from your art on display? How many pieces are there? Tell us more about the Tierra y Libertad exhibit.
Centro Cultural Aztlan has been helping the young, emerging artists, as well as the established artists to portray their culture. For years they have been commemorating the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) that ended the war between Mexico and the United States. It stated that all the Mexicans living in the seven states that Mexico lost to the USA would be respected along with their property of land, cattle, money, etc. The same way Mexico respected the citizens of Spain when Mexico won it's independence. Unfortunately the Mexican-Americans were never fully respected, leading to the theme of the show: "Tierra y Libertad" in honor of Reis Tijerina. He was a Chicano activist who in the 60's, 70's, and 80's formed an alliance to recuperate the lands of Tierra Amarilla in New Mexico. In my painting, I represent him as an angel of the land with the motto of "Tierra o Muerte," Land or Death. I used earth tone colors to have more impact on the subject.
To have a better perspective of contemporary thinking of the subject, we invited a variety of artists from different backgrounds, gender, and age groups. There are 22 pieces in the show, all unique.
What have you noticed most about how the local arts community has changed? How would you like to see it change in the future?
There are more art galleries, art spaces, art centers, and art studios, with free art schools for children (Say Si), and many adult centers with free art classes for senior citizens. There are art festivals such as Luminaria and La Noche de la Gloria. Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine all this would exist. I only hope that the city of San Antonio will become the best city for art in the USA.
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