Jacinto Guevara: Inside the Artist’s Studio

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Bekah McNeel, by Jacinto Guevara

Jacinto Guevara isn’t interested in impressing anyone with his artiness – he’d rather impress them with his collection of 1920’s Hollywood production stills, and considerable knowledge of Pre-Colombian math.  He philosophizes plenty and hops on occasional soap boxes, but he does so in the same straightforward way that he paints – and about as colorfully.

His most famous series, “Urban Landscapes,” embodies this approach, featuring ordinary single-family dwellings in his native Los Angeles and San Antonio. The large paintings do not shy away from the mundane or challenging, featuring loiterers, power lines, city trash bins, and the abundance of chain link laced across the inner city.

How this manages to be charming instead of preachy—as could easily happen were Guevara an angrier sort— is in the obvious affinity the artist feels for the subject. He doesn’t use the inner city to induce discomfort or shame, but rather frankness and familiarity.

Guevara’s music shares the democratic flair. This Saturday, Nov 10, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. he will be performing with a the group, “Jacinthe et les Faux-Acadians.” The event, the Eastside Sprout Community Garden Open House with free food, games, and music ensures yet another festive Saturday in Dignowity Hill where Guevara is one of the many neighborhood personalities that make up the unique social scene. The event will be hosted at 601 Lamar, 78202, and all are welcome.

With subjects so deeply rooted in real life, it’s appropriate that Guevara’s own home should serve as his studio. Art in varying stages of completion resides throughout his house. The artist’s love of architecture – less on the grand scale and more on the intimate detail of historical homes – shows the painstaking restoration of his 1895 home in Dignowity Hill. The restoration bears a whimsy that suits the union of art and life.

Figurines and painted walls inside the home/studio of Jacinto Guevara

The walls in several rooms are free-hand painted, found-object collages with leaves and coffee filter “doilies” integrated into the design. Like wall-paper, but hip.  Jane Garza, Guevara’s girlfriend, has her own work station set up in the midst of figurines, paintings, and a diatonic accordion — the portal into another realm of Guevara’s lifework.

“Yeah, people tend to think either that I’m a musician that dabbles in painting, or that I’m a painter who dabbles in music,” Guevara chuckles.

The truth is that he is both painter and musician, and neither pursuit would qualify as “dabbling.”

In San Antonio he can afford to pursue both, a major draw for someone who weathered the 1980’s in Los Angeles. Low cost of living allows many artists and musicians to build up the volume of their works, rather than sweating blood trying to sell whatever they’ve managed to create between part time jobs. Rather than selling insurance, Jacinto is doing what he’s been doing his whole life. It’s impossible to tell which came first; music or paint.

He admits to having perfectionistic tendencies from as young as five, when he one day threw out his old drawings that he deemed subpar. He made another purge at around age ten, but his mother managed to salvage some of his earliest works. He still agonizes over the art he wants to create.

“I don’t paint from photographs, because I want the painting to have a piece of the person’s soul in it. So anything less than that— anything less than looking at a painting and seeing the person’s soul –-and I’m not satisfied,” he admits.

First painting in the “Urban Landscapes” series.

It was a moment of Angelino exasperation that led him to paint his first house in “Urban Landscapes,” when, tired of trying to paint the way he felt like he should, he simply painted what was in front of him and struck inspirational gold. His art began to gain attention on the Los Angeles art scene, but a willingness to sell paintings for hundreds rather than thousands of dollars ultimately made him an accessible peg in an affected hole.

It was ultimately music that led Guevara to San Antonio in 1992. As a child he was fascinated by the unidentified folk music he heard used as intro music on the local Spanish music station – which officially aired only classical styles. His mother disdained it as uncouth, but Guevara was smitten the “gutsiness” of it.

Conjunto music was completely absent from the LA scene at the time, and when he asked around about getting his hands on an accordion:

“I might as well have been asking about a Chinese violin,” he said.

It wasn’t until college at Cal State Northridge that Guevara borrowed a diatonic accordion from his professor Beto Ruiz and taught himself to play.

During the 1980s Guevara rose to the top of the scrubby LA conjunto scene. Only David Hidalgo of Los Lobos was comparable, but he was not exclusively devoted to the instrument, which left Guevara on his own as a serious acordeonista.

When the opportunity arose to transplant to the epicenter of “Tex-Mex” music, Guevara did. Upon arrival in the Alamo City, he discovered that even the kids in San Antonio could play circles around him.

Guevara worked hard to bring his music up to the sophistication of the San Antonio conjunto scene. Meanwhile, his painting found a new and fresh landscape in the humble neighborhoods of east San Antonio.

The city connected to the style and ethos of Guevara, and his anti-ego philosophy suited the personality of the city. Though uninterested in pursuing a career in public art, he was commissioned as part of the Percent for Art program in 1999. One of his paintings hangs in the Convention Center Expansion. Collectors resonated with the work as well, and Dr. Ricardo Romo, UTSA president, has a collection of Guevara paintings in circulation in the UTSA system.

His most recent effort, Portraits From Life is an online exhibition using Facebook as a gallery for portraits painted of various friends and local personalities. Most striking about Portraits is that is demonstrates the artists willingness to embrace the changing social mediums, and engage them without losing himself. The portraits are painted from live sittings, not photographs, and embody the sincerity of Guevara’s style. This unique melding of consistency and flexibility demonstrates that Guevara is not tied to romanticized golden era of “when art was real.”

Instead, he proves that real art happens now, and will not be lost to the digital generation.

Guevara predicts that the next generation of San Antonio artists will be those who continue in this earnest tradition. Those who are honest in their art and painting in their own style, will have the chance to strike a chord with the people of San Antonio, who value the humility of artists who are more about art than ego and are willing to work hard for it. These artists will crave feedback, and look to the patrons to provide critique, not flattery.

“The city should demand the artwork it needs,” Guevara said.

He expressed a critical fondness for the San Antonio art scene from those amateurs still looking to New York to tell them how to paint, to those artists who have found their voice, and the various institutions working hard to give artists the support they need to paint.

“I can criticize it a lot,” he says, “but I wouldn’t change one damn thing.”

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy. She has a blog, Free Bekah.

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