We got the mural done. Actually, we didn’t “do” anything. Actually, we just watched Renato Pacheco turn an old garage wall into a world of its own. Maybe 15 years ago, the prior owners of our home in San Miguel took a two-car garage and converted it into an entertainment/tv room. We didn’t want a TV on the first floor, so we converted the room into a kind of living room space with this weird two-car wall and a column looking thing in the middle. We sat with it for about four months trying to decide what to do with the wall. Hang art, fill it with plants, the usual routine. Then we thought, what if we made the wall disappear? Could we have someone paint a mural on it that would make the wall go away? Our friend and building contractor Norburto Estrada said he knew a guy named Renato who could paint a mural on a wall. He said “Renato - he has a gift”.
We had no idea if we could afford such a thing, but we also knew that often, many things totally unattainable in the US, are often pretty commonplace in Mexico. So we checked. I asked if we could meet Renato and see a portfolio. Norburto brought him over and interpreted for us. Renato is about 60. Doesn’t speak a word of English. He is a man of tremendous positive energy. He saw the wall and then waited for us to tell him we wanted the viewer of the mural to feel as though they were standing in an outside courtyard of a house somewhere in the hills of the high desert, looking out to a view of a desert farm landscape and San Miguel in the distance. As though the wall did not exist. He almost bounced off the floor with energy and started gesturing around up and down the wall and talking nonstop at break-neck speed about this and that in unintelligible Spanish. I don’t know how long he talked. We don’t speak Spanish yet, but we understood every single word. You know what I’m saying – positive energy, emotion, and passion are its own language. It’s universal. It has no intelligible words to it.
I asked if he had some samples of his work with him. Let me just say I know a little something about portfolios. I know what to expect from a visual portfolio. I didn’t expect what I saw here. For those of you who know portfolios, you’ll like this. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a beat to crap Zip Lock plastic sandwich bag with holes worn into it. In it were some terrible 4x6 color prints from a local choke and puke drug store photo lab. But the subject matter - the work was incredible. Multiple styles on multiple surfaces and limitless possibilities. He didn’t seem so much the pure self-contained artist as he was the perfect mimic of Mexican art in general. He could do anything we needed. A portfolio of faded, dog-eared prints in a sandwich bag? You know, from my experience, as a pro, you can go ahead and show your artwork in a beat-up sandwich bag if you want, but if you do that sort of thing, you better damn well have the goods in the sandwich bag when you do it, or you’re gonna be screwed professionally for the rest of your natural life. I know some highly packaged and branded “artists” who, after spending thousands on their state of the art portfolio designs, would be jealous of this guy and his beat-up sandwich bag. When I saw the work, I immediately thought we’d stumbled into something like what Ry Cooder found in those Cuban musicians in 1996, when he produced Buena Vista Social Club. No one had ever heard of those artists before, and suddenly there they were.
At somewhere around 15, Renato taught himself to draw and to paint. Never went to art school. He loved Picasso and he loved color. Everything else just came out as it came out. He spent time in Mexico City painting murals at the Four Seasons Hotel, and he created objects of art for the Indian Embassy for five years. He was invited to Spain to paint murals, but he turned it down so he could stay close to his family in Mexico. Since then he’s continued to work for individual clients, he builds a little furniture and runs a painting/frame shop on a dirt road, in a hard to find, low slung, burnt to dust, local, far away neighborhood in San Miguel. He has no online presence at all and he could not be happier. When I finished these photos of him working, I asked him if he wanted digital files so he could promote the work - I forgot he doesn't own a damn computer. He thanked me and said “Prints are all I'll ever need. 4 x 6 is perfect.” He wanted one copy of each. That's all he needed. The prints are in his beat-up plastic sandwich bag by now for sure.
He worked on our wall on and off for about a month. He did not ever sketch anything in first. He just showed up with a couple paintbrushes, and maybe ten cans of paint and something like fifty-odd years of experience. Then he just sat down and did it. It became clear very quickly this wasn’t going to be a reality based mural. It was going to be an interpretive caricature - part cartoon, part fantasy, part real. A very Mexican style view of a desert, rural, urban scene. In its own way, it is an accurate representation of the world around San Miguel, during the rainy season starting in June. The hills are electric green from the rain. Flowers are coming up. Walter is fishing. Deb is working with the chickens and the pigs. Atticus and Luna are chasing after sheep. Sometimes I’d sit in the room on the laptop with him working. Now and again I’d glance up and reach over for a camera and grab a shot. Often, I would just stand there staring at the process, shake my head and simply chuckle loud enough that Renato would pick up on it and glance over at me and chuckle back. He knew and I knew what the real truth was here. This mural – it had always been there, even when it was a tv room, even when it was a garage, even before it was a house. It was always there waiting for Renato to simply fill in the blank spaces. And he did.