August 17, 2011 11:13 AM
Let’s take another artistic detour from the gallery scene.
The Apodaca Federal Prison near Monterrey,Mexico has a small art program. Under the instruction of Alvi Cardona, inmates learn painting techniques along with many other craft skills for which there might be a market. Apodaca believes in inmate rehabilitation. See some of this work on display at Laura’s Beauty Salon.
The paintings are by Cardona. His imagery includes figurative, still life, and abstract styles. A painting of Al Pacino as Scarface goes further than the initial assumption of mimicking. The figure is placed in the artist’s house. “Cardona said that when they were children growing up in poverty,” reported Ramon Garcia, McAllen Educator, “they emulated him.”
The national minimum wage in Mexico is reported to be $5.35 a day, and Mexico has a generation of 17 million people between the ages of 14 to 27 called the NINIs. They don’t work; they don’t study. They live off mom. The cartels offer them thousands of dollars just to be their eyes. “They’re young people with a gang mentality, continued Garcia, “they want to be a part of something, and they get to ride in the back of trucks and have a gun. Most of the inmates are from this group.”
Another painting shows the place where Cardona was arrested. The view is an empty bar. We see a second room, darkened, with a lone figure. This is a self-portrait of the artist. He uses dark images because, as he has stated, “Dark was my life.”
Interestingly, the still life and the abstract paintings show more sophistication. Cardona swings from a naïve style to more mainstream styles depending on his emotional distance from the subject.
Another artist, Matias Najera, draws on leather. The two drawings displayed are flawlessly crafted and finely detailed. This artist’s imagery uses traditional Christian religious subjects, with the first drawing depicting St. George on horseback helping a homeless man, and the second, a cherub grouping. Both works are expertly suspended within dark wood frames by leather laces.
High-relief soap carvings by an ex-inmate only known as El Pollo are quirky. Painted images result in a folk art look, such as the portrait of a father and son.
At Apodaca the inmates are allowed to sell their work in an open-air family area. A particularly interesting aspect is that they will accept commissions. Laura Garcia, Owner of Laura’s Beauty Salon, has taken on the project of helping with the sale of the arts and crafts, serving as the representative for the valley customer. Art sales allow these artists to purchase art materials, pay lawyers fees, and to send money to their families.
I can’t decide whether to send a photo of me sitting on a bench or the Photoshopped image of me envisioned as an archangel for my portrait clock from Apodaca. Ah, the agony of the aesthetic decision.