(Originally published Jan. 26, 2014)
As the ice began to melt from our little winter storm in San Antonio I made my way downtown to meet Xavier de Richemont, a French artist who will be displaying his video installation, "The Saga," this summer on the façade of the San Fernando Cathedral.
Update: The public unveil is scheduled for Friday, June 13 at 9 p.m. in Main Plaza. Click here for more details.
Richemont is an internationally renowned artist who has travelled far and wide to honor cathedrals, historical sites, museums and even boats with his beautiful and unique art form. Richemont, a painter trained at The National School of Art at Aix-en-Provence, has fully embraced the technologies of this century with the help of myriad high-definition projectors and surround sound.
“I add music to compositions (as well as) video and that’s why I call myself a video painter,” he said.
I was lucky enough to attend a preview of Richemont’s work and what I saw was an exciting visual tribute to the city and history of San Antonio. Whatever cold I may have felt on this wintry day was immediately cast away as the vivid kaleidoscope of colors enveloped my sights.
An image of the San Fernando Cathedral's facade was quickly covered by branches on a red background that transformed into the cave paintings of the indigenous peoples of this region. Vibrating lines of blue, green, and turquoise paired with the sound of rain and rivers flowing. An eruption of mountains, desert blues and reds, totem poles and teepees; a visual parade of the city’s origins.
Suddenly we watched the emergence of holy figures and of the Catholic Church. I became acutely aware of his juxtaposition between man and nature, tribalism and modernism, natives and conquerors.
I heard music from Spain and Mexico and I saw an image of the Virgin of Candelaria, the patroness of The Canary Islands from where people migrated to San Antonio and built the San Fernando Cathedral. Always, though, there was a convergence of holy images with historical indigenous figures.
In glorious vermilions and oranges, the Battle of The Alamo took place on the façade and I saw both a celebration of the culture of this city and a testament to the bloody nature of war and conquest. The video painting continued to map out the rest of the history of the United States, but more specifically Texas.
From Abraham Lincoln to Frederick Douglas, and from the first railroads to the Roaring 20s, a visual portrait of the U.S. was painted in front of my eyes in this 21-minute video installation. The video interposed the Mexican heritage of this city with European and Northern American influences to create a dizzyingly beautiful skeleton of Texas.
Ending with a pulsating neon landscape of the modernization of this city – skyscrapers rose before my eyes and I was enthralled not only by what I saw, but also by imagining how mesmerizing it will look on the façade of the San Fernando Cathedral. I already picture myself wandering down the River Walk on a sultry summer night only to reach Main Plaza and see behind it shifting patterns of colors, images, historical figures painted on the façade of San Fernando, accompanied by guitars, accordions, drums, flutes, and folk songs.
I felt as if I had gone on a journey through time by watching this video painting. The installation was stunning and the fact that such a high-caliber artist will be showcasing his work here in San Antonio is huge. I also was charmed by Richemont himself. Although he did have the stereotypical, yet stylish, French scarf tied around his neck, he was humble and genuine.
Some representatives from the Main Plaza Conservancy saw Richemont’s work two years ago at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya in Merida, Mexico and they immediately knew this man needed to come to San Antonio.
“I’m from 10,000 miles away,” said Richemont and “I’ve come four times to (San Antonio) to meet with people, to write the story of this place.”
Richemont is very aware that he had and has a lot to learn about San Antonio's culture. Therefore, this is a true and living example of collaborative art. Not only has Richemont studied San Antonio in these four visits but he was still open to suggestions at the very preview that I attended. Most notably Juan Tejeda, a professor of music at Palo Alto College and founder/editor of Aztlan Libre Press, and Lance Aaron, a historian and Mexican art collector, were spiritedly giving suggestions on music, transitions, and historical figures.
Many a self-righteous artist would scoff at such input but Richemont modestly said, “I’m not imposing something from another planet. We’re working on something international because San Antonio is international and always has been ... I’m going to take care of the knowledge and the discussion of others and that makes me more rich.”
While Richemont has some musical tracks from his own background, like a song by Donovan, in the installation, he explained that what he's looking for is "the justesse" or accuracy of the music. Seeking this accuracy, Richemont was completely open to suggestions and even invited Tejeda out for a beer to discuss how to further elevate his artwork so that it may truly be representative of the history and people of San Antonio.
Here is an example, then, of an internationally acclaimed artist going to different parts of the world and working in collaboration with the people and the city as opposed to the traditional trope of the imposing artist who refuses to alter his work because of his “integrity.”
Richemont counters this honestly, “You always need help, so I’m talking to specialists. It would be a shame to make some mistake.”
Richemont, in collaboration with the Main Plaza Conservancy and San Antonio locals, has succeeded, then, in creating a sublime piece of artwork that will captivate and mesmerize you this summer. More than a work of art, this will be a saga.
As Richemont said, “I call it a saga because it is about the whole history of the San Antonio area.” So get ready and keep this saga in mind because if all goes as planned, this video installation will definitely live up to its hype.