Alfredo Arreguín’s paintings are visually engrossing, expertly executed works of art. Rich in color, intricacy and meaning, his style is uniquely versatile. Whether he’s depicting a jungle scene or orcas breaching, Arreguín’s work is instantly recognizable. “La Virgen Negra” is a large oil-on-canvas depicting a Black Virgin Mary, her arms are slightly outstretched in a welcoming manner. A halo frames the top her head. Her eyes are closed and she’s surrounded by flora and fauna. Patterns and Indigenous symbols permeate the canvas.
“La Virgen Negra” is one of nearly 50 works in the exhibition “Life Patterns” at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA). The show highlights five decades of work from the prolific artist.
“What I’ve tried to do with this show is not repeat what has been done before. We borrowed a lot of pieces from his own personal collection,” said BIMA Curator Greg Robinson. “I’m always very curious as to what artists keep for themselves and their family and their legacy estate.” Works in the show also come from BIMA’s permanent collection and private ones. Visitors will get to see a sweeping overview of his work and the breadth of his talent.
In addition to Mayan and Aztec cultural history, Arreguín is also influenced by Japanese printmaking.
“Pachamana with Sinner 1&2” depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe. She’s surrounded by the sinners of the world in the panels. Upon closer inspection, faces in the panels begin to appear.
Religious figures aren’t the only people appearing in Arreguín’s work. He often paints Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist known for self-portraits, bold works, socialist politics and her unibrow. Sometimes it’s a solo painting and in others she’s hidden among complex patterns. Arreguín also excels at portraiture. From his mother to the late arts patron Ann Gould Hauberg, the artist often approaches portraiture subjects by asking them to share their experiences and their values.
“I use that as pattern. So when they see the pattern, immediately they own the painting,” said Arreguín. “They already believe that that’s them because it has all this information in it about their own life.”
In “Nuestra Señora de la Poesía” local poet Tess Gallagher is enveloped by flowers and hummingbirds. “Mi Amigo Ray” depicts writer Raymond Carver, who is formed with words and phrases.
“He has a real ability to just distill the essence of someone’s face and capture those few features that really define them. That’s part of what I really enjoy,” said Robinson. “You look at his work and you see all those patterns and design. And yet when you meet these individuals, he really has captured the essence of the person.”
The artist has formed a strong bond with writers and enjoys the connection in part because they are able to use their imagination in interpreting his work.
Arreguín begins each painting with a color wash as a base, rather than the white surface of the canvas, because the white is too reflective. “I paint warm color like browns and red, warm colors for the base of the painting,” said Arreguín. “So when I paint the blues they’re not too chilly. Not too cold.”
He uses colored pencil to draw grid lines, and then the painting begins to come to life. In “Green Lake,” the grid lines are still visible. They are as much a part of the painting as the sun and cranes.
Arreguín is from Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. When he was 12 years old, his grandfather secured his enrollment at an arts school. There he studied alongside other artists such as dancers, poets and sculptors. The experience opened his eyes to the possibility of building a career as an artist. He moved to the U.S. in 1956 at 21 years old. Soon after, he was drafted into the Army and served in South Korea. In 1967, he received a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Washington; two years later, he completed a Master of Fine Arts there. Arreguín initially began studying architecture at UW, but later switched to art. At the time, he said, artists were wearing overalls and throwing paint on the canvas. He enjoyed it, but ultimately he didn’t stick with that method.
“I could never find satisfaction in abstract art because I wanted to have messages with my paintings, and abstracts didn’t allow me to do that,” said Arreguín. “Being Mexican, I thought there would be no chance that they would take my abstract art seriously. So I decided to be more representational with my work.”
Arreguín said his work stood out because it wasn’t in vogue at the time. His peers were doing modern and conceptual art. Fast forward a few decades and now his work is influencing a younger generation.
Today, Arreguín is well known in the U.S., Mexico and Spain and is locally represented by Linda Hodges Gallery. “César Chávez” is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition “The Struggle of Justice,” which showcases historical and contemporary leaders who strove to achieve civil rights for marginalized and underrepresented groups.
Now in his early 80s, Arreguín is still disciplined in his approach to art. His daily routine includes breakfast and a walk. Afterwards he heads into his studio around 9 a.m. to paint until 5 p.m. He’s currently working on a series of koi paintings because he loves the lotus and what it represents. He’s comfortable depicting everything related to nature and finds painting meditative. He doesn’t try to fit into any particular box.
“When you get inspired, you don’t listen to all those boundaries,” he said.
While taking in one of Arreguín’s paintings, it’s easy to get lost in the details. His work is best viewed as if you’re on a stroll outdoors, when you have time to ponder and pause. Because they’re so elaborate and stunning, moving too quickly could mean missing a hidden Kahlo, his daughter or the artist himself.
WHAT: “Alfredo Arreguίn: Life Patterns” at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art
WHEN: Runs until Feb. 3, 2019
WHERE: 550 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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