Torch of Friendship Creator Sebastián Gets Citywide Retrospective

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A sculpture from Mexican artist Sebastián is on view at Plaza de Armas in downtown San Antonio.

The City of San Antonio and the Mexican Cultural Institute on Thursday will begin a citywide retrospective exhibition of Sebastián, the Mexican sculptor who created the landmark Torch of Friendship that occupies the busy roundabout at Losoya, Commerce, and South Alamo streets downtown.

The retrospective will include more than 100 works of art covering the 71-year-old artist’s 50-year career. Though Sebastián has enjoyed similar outdoor exhibitions in Paris and throughout Spain, “it’s the first time that I’ve done something at this scale,” he said during a Sept. 20 interview at the San Antonio River Authority.

Twenty locations in all 10 City districts will host sculptures, from Market Square, the Spanish Governor’s Palace, Institute of Texan Cultures, and UTSA’s downtown campus, to outer locations including UT Health San Antonio, McNay Art Museum, Mission Marquee Plaza, San Antonio International Airport, the Semmes Branch Library, and the Promesa Building Courtyard near Plaza Guadalupe.

Sebastián

All are accessible to the public, including two indoor exhibitions. Two-dimensional works will be on display at the Culture Commons Gallery at Plaza de Armas, and the galleries of the Mexican Cultural Institute will be given over to smaller sculptural works.

The exhibition will remain on view through May, when the artist promises to reveal a new special project that will be kept under wraps for now.

Sebastián, who visits San Antonio periodically from his Mexico City home, sat down for an interview with the Rivard Report.

You and San Antonio have enjoyed a close relationship for many years. How did that start?

I was born near the U.S. border, so I’m from the Texas border zone, where both sides of the border coexist culturally. I’ve been very close to Juárez and El Paso. My ties to San Antonio go back many years. Most importantly, I worked with the Mexican empresarios who donated the Torch to San Antonio [in 2002].

Where exactly on the border were you born?

I was born in Camargo, Chihuahua, which is farther south. It’s a town that gained importance because David Alfaro Siqueiros, the Mexican muralist, was also born there.

What from that environment inspired your forms?

The aridity of my home state, the desert, the mountains in the distance, the landscape in general, and seeing the light and color [of it] has inspired me. The vastness of the state, its dimensions compel you to create monumental things. From the origins of humankind, it’s been in our nature to want to create landmarks like the dolmens or los menhires, or later like obelisks, Trajan’s Column, and the Arc de Triomphe. I’ve worked on these types of representations in my time. I’ve designed a lot of portals, or gateways, to cities – symbols of cities – for example, the Torch of Friendship here in San Antonio, which is now an icon and a symbol.

It strikes me as both the curl of a flame but also a gateway.

It’s everything at once, but at the same time it’s two elements supporting the flame – one is smaller than the other. It’s a symbol of both countries, of the strength of one and the smaller strength of the other in relation. In the end, they are both united by the flame and its movement and transformation in that torch.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Tourists walk by the Torch of Friendship sculpture at the roundabout at Commerce and Losoya streets downtown.

A retrospective is a way to look back but also, for the artist, a way to look forward – asking ‘What have I not done? What can I still do?’ Are there still breakthroughs happening for you with this show?

That’s exactly what retrospectives are for, to recognize the process and progression of the artist. When the artist is aware of that, they then must think of what is still to come. There are a lot of things that haven’t been accomplished yet, but that’s what drives an artist to keep creating: that feeling of not being satisfied and wanting to do things they haven’t done before.

Are there new works included?

There are some pieces. There’s one piece that we’re going to assemble that’s here in San Antonio already, The Star of Texas [tentatively to be placed at the airport]. It’s four pieces in a plaza that make the shape of a star, but the star [form] is the air [between them], it’s transparent.

Texas has its own meanings for the “Lone Star.” What are your meanings for The Star of Texas?

During my whole career I’ve dedicated myself to geometry and mathematics. In geometry and mathematics there exists a cosmos of stars. For me it represents light, transformation, grandeur, the future, everything cosmic.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A pair of Sebastián sculptures can be found at Mission Marquee Plaza off Roosevelt Avenue.

It sounds as if you’re asking Texas to think of itself as less of a “Lone Star” state and more a part of an entire cosmos of stars.

Absolutely. I also belong to the desert and mountains of this region, with its similarities between Chihuahua and the Texas landscape, so it’s a regional sentiment, a feeling of belonging.

What unites the elements and themes of your work? Is it a kind of cosmology, or spirituality, or both?

I think it’s everything. It’s cosmic, but it’s cosmic from a mathematical point of view. That’s what really moves me, contemplation of the scientific. And then to be able to convert those mathematical models into sculptural models in a way that’s not so esoteric but more scientific. But it also may end up seeming esoteric because now there are studies of the mathematical and scientific existence of the soul, and that becomes our cosmos, our contemplation, our spirit. It is intimately linked.

Your Wikipedia page says that you are thinking of making work beyond Earth.

All artists dream. I wouldn’t be an artist if I stopped dreaming. That’s the future of humanity: outer space and traveling to planets or beyond. The idea is to have cosmic spectacles created by artists of that time.

The arts are perceived to have become somewhat separated from the sciences, but many artists cross those disciplines.

I think that the future of humankind – not just of artists or art – is a mix of art, science, and technology. When that is understood, the comprehension of the universe is complete.

A free public opening reception for the Sebastián in San Antonio citywide retrospective is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Hemisfair. Other locations also will hold public openings during the next several months. Check the Department of Arts and Culture website for details and updates.

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