Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Rick Bayless the famous Chicago Chef and expert on Mexican cuisine writes:
Nicolás de Jesús was born and raised in a small Nauha village in central Guerrero named Amayaltepec.
At a young age he learned how to paint on amate bark paper from his father Pablo de Jesús—one of the first artisans in all of Mexico (he started in 1962) to produce the type of work that is now mass-produced and sold at tourist destinations. By the time the well respected art activist Felipe Ehrenberg started to teach Nicolás etching and other printing techniques, the young artist had already adopted the traditional amate composition with many whimsical and detailed characters and a great empty space atop the page to suggest a great distance.
The reoccurring theme in Amayaltepec amates is everyday village life—it’s celebrations and beliefs. After moving to Chicago in the 1980’s, de Jesús additionally started to depict urban life in U.S. barrios in the same manner.
Both of the prints on display at Frontera Grill are prime examples of Nicolás de Jesús’s work. The compositions and perspectives are a direct reference to his father’s self-taught, naive background. Although Nicolás’s work is clearly more refined, one can still recognize his strong popular art roots. As is true in the work of many mestizo (Spanish and indigenous) artists, the notions of everyday life, work and traditions is juxtaposed with a spiritual reality in de Jesús’s work. Secular and sacred go hand in hand to complete life’s big picture. In Campesinos we see a detailed nostalgic scene of work in the fields of a Nauha community, while El Regreso depicts the ardent faith in the annual return of one’s dearly departed souls every November 1st and 2nd.
The extremes of social inequality which he and his family experienced in their native village of Amayaltepec, located in the arid province of Guerrero, Mexico, continue to inform and pervade his work. Nicolas says that he is “an engraver, a defender of the rights of indigenous peoples and anti-clerical.” Using wit and satire, Nicolas is a printmaker and muralist whose career has developed from its beginnings as the son of one of the founders of the Amate School of Mexican folk artists from Guerrero, through a period in Chicago in the 1990’s, to international standing, with exhibitions throughout Mexico, the United States, France, England, Japan and Holland. Drawing on his life experiences living with a Nahua community, Nicolas explains that to create, one must explore one’s internal memories. Those memories, such as the celebrations of his town and how the elders prepared for those ceremonies, resurface in his etchings and paintings.
His career began in 1982 with the painter Felipe Ehrenberg, from whom he learned the techniques of printmaking. Nicolas is best known for his works on amate bark paper, a traditional product of trees local to the San Pablito, Puebla region, pre-dating the arrival of the Spanish in Central America. But Nicolas De Jesus is also a prolific illustrator and muralist, his work adorning books with the text in Nahuatl and which have been translated into English and French.