After-School Artists – The Children of Ajijic
Focus on Art
By Rob Mohr
Painting the village of Ajijic provides the visual artist an incredible range of colors and textures in the natural world – pungent reds, a range of blues, pale purples, brilliant yellows – seen against an unending array of textures: broad fronds, lace-like vines, slender bamboo, aromatic pine needles and an unending verity of leaf shapes. As a result, this ‘magical’ lakeside fishing village has spawned a number of successful Mexican artists and, in recent years, has attracted artists from other parts of North America. This burgeoning art community and a stable writer’s colony have become major attractions for new visitors and those seeking long-term residence here at Lakeside.
Sensitive to this rich visual and cultural milieu, native Ajijic artist Efren Gonzalez has created paintings that encapsulate the environmental richness, while bringing to life an idyllic village that seems more mystical than real. These visually calm works consistently evoke a sense of place and a tranquil life lived in simpler times.
A child of his ‘ideal-village,’ Efren Gonzalez developed his love of art as a student of Neill James and Dona Angelita.
Not wanting his own children to become captives to television, and responding to request from a number of parents and children with similar concerns, three years ago Efren took a financial and personal risk by moving his studio into a large house at #7 Marcos Castellanos, just below the church in Ajijic. There he and his brother established a school for forty or so young people who come to learn painting each day after school.
Students come each day after school learn how to become a self-sustaining artist. Within the joy filled ambiance created by the children and the gentle, supportive teaching provided, each child is encouraged to develop their own vision as an artist. The variety of works created prove the wisdom of this strategy. The quality of the student works is remarkable. To sustain their sense of professionalism students help support the cost of their materials by selling their finished works as mailable post cards for 125 pesos. Framed, the paintings sell for 250 pesos each. A percentage of this money covers the cost of materials and the rest is paid to the students making them ‘professionals’. As artists, the after-school students gained in fame, when in 2010, Harriet Hart selected the students’ works to illustrate her bilingual book about the adventures of an unusual bird living in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The book may be purchased at Diane Pearl’s gallery in Ajijic.
To be present when the students are at work (at 4:30 each week day) on the back terrace and in the garden is a gratifying experience. For those who love the visual arts, the center provides a perfect place to volunteer and to support the life-changing gift of art awareness. Current financial support for the educational program comes from the combined patronage of residents and visitors, from a percentage of the sales at quarterly auctions of art works, and from commissions from the sale of the students’ work to local collectors and visitors. If you are interested in participating, your help is welcomed.