original plan was to be the delivery of a few dogs to the vet (to say nothing
of the cat.) But nothing goes according to plan when you’re in “Mr. Guevara’s
Stepping over the threshold of artist Jacinto
Guevara’s house is stepping into a timeless world. Bohemia without the alcohol.
The rich colors of a South American county without the loud music. A monastery
with (hungry) animals.
and White on Lime Green
|Works in progress
and works long out of progress decorate the walls. The kitchen table displays
a brightly colored architectural study while a svelte pale lemon papier-mâché
Anna Mae Wong (last seen in the rear room) has made her way to the front salon.|
Mae Wong (pursued by Douglas Fairbanks)
and half cabaret-musician figures occupy the music room where an accordion and
banjo sit ready – in case the muse of music strikes without warning.
animals were gathered and the trip begun, the patients remarkably patient and
tranquil. Later, after the return home, the human members of the party left for
a restaurant. By chance, the car is stopped by a red light next to the parking
lot of another restaurant and it’s one that Jacinto vouches for. The “party of
The rush is over and the rear of the restaurant is sought
to avoid the television and juke box. The place appears overstaffed, but all of
the servers are animated and busy despite the lack of customers. In the time it
takes to look up the spelling of guacamole we’re greeted, watered, and salsa and
The conversation up until this point had been memory, the fathomless depths of
the human mind and the rental of medical equipment to Hollywood movie companies.
Carlos Cortés, an artisan in the rather unusual medium of cement. Jacinto
and Calos have worked together on occasion, and an introduction is made and the
party of two becomes three.
Quiet Invitation to Observe
Rings with Gloss
|It happens that cement
works is an art form that has a substantial history in San
Antonio – one that has won acceptance through longevity (three generations)
and San Antonians’ appreciation of functional art.|
Cortés had recently
returned from Europe where he toured the three dimensional art of Spain, France,
Italy and Switzerland. He reported the high point of his trip being Lucerne’s
famous dying lion, carved into the side of a limestone mountain.
Lion of Lucerne
|The figure, which
symbolizes the sacrifice make by the Swiss guards protecting France’s monarchy
in 1872, has been described as one of the most poignant memorials in the world.
The design and completion of the statue is a story in itself.|
a three-way conversation that covered Art, Mexico, the facial structure of the
waitress, and Cortes’ various works in progress (including a repair job on his
father’s 1927 bus bench on Broadway, we left with an invitation to meet him later
at his open-air studio.
Shelter in Use
Melding of Supports and Roof
|On the way there we
passed one of his 2004 designs – a bench (shown above in use) on an otherwise
unusable triangle of real estate on La Vaca Street. The sheltered bench dominates
the landscaped triangle, but upon close examination, both the structure and the
land are an interwoven memorial to the neighborhood.|
The sidewalks have
been sandblasted with quotations of former residents – describing their love of
place. The area between the bench and sidewalk has been covered with a complementary
set of tiles, tinted with soft pastels and containing leaf skeletons and other
organic designs – giving the space an autumn feeling no matter what the season.
Former Pig Stand Piglet
|It was only a few
blocks to the studio, hidden in plain sight on street – across from the old Pig
Stand pig – another project that Cortés worked on restoring. Production was at
full tilt – a relaxed but constant application of wet cement slush on three pieces
by three apprentices. A radio provided music and the three craftsmen-in-the making
were too devoted to their work to conspire in conversation. From time to time
Cortés would comb his tool through the setting cement – a process something like
a baker brushing butter on a pastry. Cortes’ controlled slow-motion swipe with
his tool effortlessly created a rough faux-cottonwood bark. |
Carrying On a Family Tradition
|Carlos has kept a
sharp eye on the changing landscape of San
Antonio, over the years, buying back work of his father or great uncle – or
other artists of the craft. Sometimes they are a bargain and other times they’re
frightfully expensive. But if they’re imprinted with a name or date, they are,
as the television ad says, priceless. |
Quality Goes in Before the Date Goes On."
|In the wide-open yard,
flamingos with exposed rebar vertebrae stand beside other classics of the “golden
age.” The serape-clad unknown peon, donkeys with the simple lines of Chinese terra
cotta horses and sundials, fountains and deer that en masse demand recognition.|
Green lichen makes headway on a sunflower tabletop and neighborhood grackles drink
from the fountains like it’s happy hour. Decapitated cherubs sit above copper
dragons and a wedding couple of calaveras seem happier than a lot of living newlyweds.
Daisy with Lichen
of the Cortes Collection
with Death's Head|
|The yard’s denizens
are durable, but crumbling and Carlos appreciates the decay. Since construction
requires many layers (and reinforcement when the sculpture serves as a planter),
it’s an education to observe the slow un-layering process as well as the exposure
of stress points and the ravages of time. Think of it as a body farm for cement
life forms or a garden of wabi-sabi. |
Cortés’ art is the destination where
this art form was headed, although no one could’ve anticipated the detail that
would evolve in time. The joints, wood grain, growth rings and even the roofs
reveal the professional insight of sawyers or thatchers.
If you see the
individual pieces of the museum as something that your homeowner’s association
would never approve of, you’re missing the point. Remember they’re antiques from
a pre-air-conditioned era when people walked outside to cool off alongside their
concrete deer. They may have brought joy to your grandparents or introduced nature
to generations of toddlers.
Escargot on an Imported French Piece
Traditional Burro Yard Ornament - Rescued from Oblivion
If you spot any
benches, by Carlos, please stop and inspect them. Sit down and glide your hands
over their cool smoothness without fear of splinters. If a bus pulls up and you
don’t get on - the driver will understand.
|Samples of Cortés’
individual pieces can be seen on his website www.studiocortes.com.
Since each piece is designed separately, it’s worth a visit to see each piece
in the places they were designed to complement.|
Minutes of Separation" -
October 9, 2009 Column
Copyright John Troesser