My painting is all about “coming home.” My parents were both Mexican who came to the US as children during the 1910 Revolution. I returned to Mexico to live in the early-90s because, though I lived in the U.S. for 60 years, raised my family, and had a “successful” life as an attorney, I never felt at home. Often while running in the fields near my home in Northern California, I would cry with the feeling, “I just want to go home.” After Patrice and I met in March 2013, the way opened up to me.
It is the colors of Mexico that constitutes my coming home. My painting reflects the heart of Mexican culture – a blend of Huichol (brilliantly colored yarns pressed onto bees wax) and Alebrijes (brilliantly colored dot painted carved wooden figures). “Colores de Mi Corazon” (Colors of my Heart) is the name I chose for my work and it’s printed on my business cards.
Last year while Patrice was in the U.S. I found a mesquite stool in the house. On the terraza I began dripping paint on to the chair, then dots began to take form. When Patrice returned from her travels, I showed her the painted stool. She asked excitedly, “Where did you buy it?!” When I told her that I had painted it myself she was astonished. It was that enthusiastic, loving and appreciative response that launched me.
I bought the most brilliant colors I could find or mix – turquoises, yellows, greens in 4 shades, blues in 5 shades, ROSA MEXICANA, purples and began painting the dining room chairs in our home! When I posted them on Facebook, they all sold in an hour.
That inspired me, too: People responding to my art! Nobody even asked what they cost! Amazing!
Since I can’t draw, I just do dots and lines. I have absolutely no idea where the designs come from, they just emerge from the juxtaposition of colors and losing myself in the process.
About 90% of my painting is done with toothpicks and sawed-off paint brush handles. My favorite base colors (upon which I apply the lines and dots) are dark green, dark blue and black. I paint traditional Mexican chairs and I just follow the shapes of the wood. I never start with a design in mind. Often, about 1/3 of the way in, I get a strong feeling that the work is inferior. I have learned to smile because the remakes always explode into more beautiful patterns and designs.
I’m inspired by Patrice’s constant support – she’s never complained that I get up between 1:30 and 4 a.m. and work most days (except for eating) until 5 p.m. I’m also inspired by the enthusiastic praise I’ve received from friends, customers, and artists I respect.
About 4 months after I started painting at 70 years of age in September 2019, we were visiting the renowned alibrije town of San Martin de Tecaltepec outside of Oaxaca, visiting Javier Hernandez, a 4th generation Alebrijista. Patrice showed him photos of my chairs on her IPhone. He kept sliding the screen back and forth. “Tu eres me competencia!” he exclaimed. (You are my competition!) To receive such a high compliment from a revered Mexican artisan sent me to the moon.
Another inspiration is that I humorously say I have 2 prices: “As much as I can get for 5 weeks of painting per chair, and free.” Last December during the Abrazos Christmas party one of the little girls sat all night on one of my children’s chairs. When I asked if she liked the chair, she shyly answered “Si, mucho.” “Entonces es un regalo para ti” (Then it’s a gift for you).
Since then, I have been giving away chairs to Mexican families with little children, making my “coming home” process a delight. I hope to give away 50 chairs as gifts before I die; it will be a treasured thank you to the Mexican people memorializing my “despedida” (departure) and embracing my return to a land, culture, people and place I love. I’ve never been happier and my painting expresses my “alegria,” my joy.
~ Ernesto Perez, San Miguel de Allende