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AMULETOS

Early and Latest Paintings

by Luis Guerra

About the Artist

Luis Guillermo Guerra is a painter, sculptor, and writer who divides his time between Real de Catorce, a mountain village in San Luis Potosí, and Austin, Texas. He is a recipient of various awards, among them the Award of Excellence for Lifetime Achievement from Austin’s Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, and the Siqueiros-Pollock Award from the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. Guerra’s artwork is in numerous museums, including the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in Washington, D.C. For two decades, he also narrated his Cuentos de la Sierra on National Public Radio’s Latino USA.

Like Aztec or Zen art, [Luis Guerra’s] work has a presence, an energy that makes itself felt at some level other than the cerebral. . . . The result is works that evoke the mystery of life and impart a reverence for life itself.~Amelia Malagamba • sociologist, art historian

Luis Guerra Garza, siempre tan creativo y siempre tan fiel a esos valores indígenas espirituales que han dado aliento a toda su obra y vida.~Tita Valencia • cultural critic, novelist

Luis Guerra is a mystical, visionary artist. His life has been an amazing journey and his art has been a part of that journey.~Thorne Dreyer • writer, editor, broadcaster

Works in Prominent Collections

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Migrant Health, by Luis Guerra, 1976, silkscreen (edition of ca. 200), 20.5 x 12.5 in.

In 1976, the National Migrant Referral Project commissioned me to create a poster to be displayed throughout the country in the health clinics that served the farmworkers. The idea was to create a recognizable image that told the farmworkers that they were welcome. I was inspired by the farmworkers themselves, who share their energy to feed the world. I created a symbolic plant form with radiating energy. You can read more about this work in my “Three Farmworker Projects and a Mural.”

Hasta la Gloria, by Luis Guerra, 1977, eight-color silkscreen (edition of 150), 17.5 x 22.5 in.

This poster was created to commemorate the Texas Farm Workers Union’s epic march to Washington for human rights. It was also created to help with their fundraising efforts. I chose to portray the core group of farmworkers that walked all the way from the Valley in South Texas to Washington, D.C. In 2017, I also created a giclée edition of 40 at the behest of the farmworker families, on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary celebration of the historic march. You can read more about this work in my “Three Farmworker Projects and a Mural.”

Austin Community College

Homage to the Letterform, by Luis Guerra—with ACC students Armando García, Charlene Starr Jones, Celia Martínez, and Jean Page—1984, acrylic on canvas mural, 5.5 x 25 ft., Northridge Campus Library

As the professor of a class on visual communication, I selected the theme and set the parameters for this project. Everyone who worked on the mural contributed to the content and overall design. Homage to the Letterform was in part an exercise in typography. In the center, we placed Da Vinci’s study of human proportions, showing how they relate to the proportions of letters. Another theme of the mural is diversity, a major principle of community colleges. For that, we went all the way from the future back to prehistoric time. You can read more about this work in my “Three Farmworker Projects and a Mural.”

AMULETOS

Artist Statement

Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.~Fred Rogers

This exhibition combines a number of my early works together with my latest works. The new works were created during this difficult time of Covid. They began as an exploration to understand why the Earth is punishing mankind, which led me to the realization that she is simply defending herself, and that we should thank her for all her gifts.

I call these works Amuletos: blessings for the home or workplace. Fanciful images to cheer one up. Or focal points for prayer and contemplation. This is what they became for me, as I painted during this time of isolation. Their meaning unveils over time, even for me. Sometimes I know what I’m doing, but many times I don’t fully understand what I’ve done until much later.

The paper I used in this series is a rustic artisanal paper from the Taller Arte Papel, a cooperative founded in Oaxaca by the late Mexican artist and community activist Francisco Toledo. Difficult to work with, this paper gave me another opportunity to not know what I was doing: I was free to experiment and create. Using this paper was also my way of honoring Toledo’s memory.

The early works in this exhibit present an intriguing resonance between what I am doing now and what I did forty years ago. I realize now that I have always sought to create profound yet simple works that can somehow serve to enhance our perceptions or alter our perspective.

The earliest works, some done while I was still in art school, show the influence of abstract art, prevalent at the time. I’ve included them to illuminate my early struggle to find my own vision. As time went by, I gravitated toward works that express universal, or sacred, symbols.

Most of the works in this exhibit are available for purchase. You can contact me through my website, www.GaleriaGuerra.com.

Early Paintings

Puzzle, 1967, oil on canvas, 48 x 38 in. SOLD.

This work was done while I was still in art school. In the guise of creating an abstract painting, I was expressing the tenuous condition of a society at war. The feminine, in a precarious and even scary time

Man on Earth, 1968, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in.

Also in the guise of creating an abstract painting, I did a tumultuous landscape with the silhouette of a man practically exploding. The Viet Nam war was accelerating, and so was the antiwar movement.

Energy, 1968, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in.

This was a time of exploration. I found that I was always saying something, even when working in an abstract style. I was trying to come to terms with the forces of conflict. My works of ’68 and ’69 were created during an extremely difficult time for me, when I was working as a counselor in a halfway house for mental patients. I was serving my country, doing alternate military service.

Dog in the Sunshine, 1968, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 in. SOLD.

This work is a whimsical painting of our pet dog. Ignorance is bliss. I wanted so much to be free of the oppressive news of the day and all the conflicts of our society.

Peacock on Throne, 1968, oil on canvas, 42 x 60 in. • collection of Roger and Susan Lindsey (virtual exhibit only)

The same whimsical approach led to this symbolic representation. Sometimes it’s best to flow with what’s happening on the canvas and understand what the subconscious is revealing afterward, over time.

Beauty Is in the Eye, 1968, oil on canvas, 48 x 58 in. • collection of Randy and Cathy Lusk (virtual exhibit only)

This piece is a joyful exploration of forms as music and objects as symbols.

Eternal Landscape, 1969, oil and spray paint on canvas, 48 x 52 in

This work was the product of a conscious decision to express the chaos and tragedy and sadness of war through a tumultuous, devastated landscape.

Woman Flying, 1969, oil on canvas, 60 x 46 in.

In many ways, I wanted my work to be a celebration of life. We must go on and be happy, even in the midst of turmoil. Happiness is the antidote to violence. This was the year my daughter was born. I admire her mother for her ability to be happy and free amid the chaos.

Carnival Lights, 1980, oil on canvas, 54.5 x 66 in.

It was difficult to work on my art after I left the halfway house—yet, when I did create, I was able to infuse my work with a joy that had been absent during the halfway-house period. This was a scene from my back porch when the carnival would set up in Austin, on the Auditorium Shores of Town Lake. I would enjoy the lights, even if it was a bit noisy. In retrospect, I can see that this painting helped me work my way toward the mandala form.

Nahui Ollin, 1980, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in.

In many ways, this work expresses my true vision: sacred symmetry, symbolism, a focal point of contemplation. I worked on this painting for a year and a half of weekends. At the time, I was teaching and running the art department at ACC—working on this painting was my salvation during a very stressful time. It was all done freehand, without ever drawing with a pencil. It was my meditation. Years after it was done, I realized that this work, which was inspired by the Hindu mandalas, is actually the Aztec four-petaled flower, Nahui Ollin, fused with the Christian cross.

Latest Paintings

Aguililla II, 2021, watercolor on paper, 8.5 x 14 in. • collection of Fernando & Jennifer Del Río

With this painting, I was remembering the time I brought an injured hawk back to health. While this imposing warrior was in my patio, I felt protected—but nothing would stir: lizards and birds, even the neighbor’s cat, were nowhere to be seen. Releasing it in the mountaintop and seeing it fly off is an experience I’ll never forget. (I recently published a story about this incident in LareDos: “Cuentos de la Sierra: La Aguililla.”)

Corazón en Llamas, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.

A heart in flames, or a sacred heart, is a must. We must be passionate about life.

Ovni I, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.
Ovni II, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in. • collection of Dr. Rodrigo Ceballos

I didn’t believe UFOs (“ovni,” in Spanish) existed. But one night some years back, while camping in the desert of San Luis Potosí, I saw a flying saucer. I would never have imagined it. Yet I never felt fear. But awe, yes: It was beautiful, luminous, out of this world. To portray a flying saucer as an omen for the unity of mankind was certainly also a surprise for me.

Dove Alighting I, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in. SOLD.
Dove Alighting II, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in. SOLD.

When a dove comes down from the sky to the earth, for me it is as if it has brought the heavens to the earth. As it comes down from the sky, it lifts my spirit.

Ode I, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.
Ode II, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.

For some time now, I have felt that the sorry state of the world can be attributed to a lack of reverence for the feminine. The universe requires a balance of the masculine and the feminine. We need balance—without it, there is chaos.

It was in the 90s, when I was working on my Madre Tierra series, that I first portrayed the ulvic symbol. (The term “ulvic” was coined by my brother Victor Guerra, a wordsmith, but it has not yet entered the general lexicon.)

Luna Llena I, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in. SOLD.
Luna Llena II, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in. SOLD.
Luna Llena III, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in. SOLD.

Every technological advance simultaneously gives and takes away. Television has robbed us of so much. I remember as a child, before television, the joy that admiring the moon gave me. I feel that the moon misses our attention since the advent of television.

These paintings are my way of thanking the moon for all that she has given us. We need to learn to appreciate the moon. That’s why camping is so important: it helps us get closer to the earth and the moon and the stars.

Amor del Bueno I, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in
Amor del Bueno II, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.
Amor del Bueno III, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.
Amor del Bueno IV, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in. SOLD.

I was seeking a way to express everlasting love. Intertwined trees became a metaphor for love. If we could only learn to listen, trees have so much to teach us. There is a 500-year-old oak in my backyard that fills me with peace and calm. Trees are our lifeline. They give us the oxygen we breathe. They are fountains of energy.

Quetzalcoatl, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.

This is a portrait of the Aztec flying-serpent deity. It was challenging for me to create a watercolor portrait of a stone carving. It’s formidable and fierce, yet there is nothing to fear: on the contrary, the flying serpent is our ally.

Guardián de la Tierra I, 2021, watercolor on paper, 8.5 x 14 in.
Guardián de la Tierra II, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.
Guardián de la Tierra III, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.

The flying serpent protecting the earth became very important to me. So, I painted several versions of this theme. I found it to be a wonderful prayer that helped me cope with these difficult times.

In Europe, a serpent is commonly associated with the devil, to be feared. In the New World, the serpent is the guardian of the earth and of its inhabitants. A person on the right path has nothing to fear from a serpent.

If we only heeded the flying serpent’s pleas to protect the earth, the earth would no longer have to defend herself from us. When the earth defends herself from us, it’s easy to think that she’s punishing us.

El Secreto y Su Guardián II, 2017, watercolor, gouache, and acrylic on paper, 39 x 24 in.
El Secreto y Su Guardián III, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.
El Secreto y Su Guardián IV, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in.
El Secreto y Su Guardián V, 2021, watercolor on paper, 14 x 8.5 in. SOLD.

The first of this series of images was a stoneware sculpture that was part of my Madre Tierra series from the 90s. I needed to continue creating versions of this symbol, at least until I came to fully understand what the image symbolizes.

There are things that I perhaps should not mention, for fear of giving away the ending. When a work unveils over time, it creates a richness, a payoff, for the viewer. Suffice it to say that seeing a human aura is a sight to behold, a luminous form wondrously beautiful and spiritual. For me, the aura is symbolic of a new beginning for humanity.

All of the recent works are framed in wood with pH-neutral matboard and tape and museum-quality UV-blocking glass that is also nonreflective. The only exception, because of its size, is El Secreto y Su Guardián II, which is behind UV-blocking plexiglass. The early works are all oil or acrylic on canvas and do not take glass. Most of the works in this exhibit are available for purchase. You can contact me through my website, www.GaleriaGuerra.com.

¡Gracias!

Credits:

Nahui Ollin, by Luis Guerra, 1980 • oil on canvas • 25 x 30 in.