In an old building at the corner of Calle 2 and 9 Oriente in the historic city center of Puebla, is housed what is to become the Amparo Rugarcía Museum of Colonial and Pre-Hispanic art. The Museum, which will likely open to the public by the end of the year, is possible thanks to contributions from the Mary Street Jenkins Foundation.
Intense, sustained work has been taking place at the museum for some time now. Inside, artisans from various specialties place the finishing touches to what will be the exhibit rooms and museum spaces. There is also nonstop work taking place on a specific art piece in the entrance hall: a mural by the artist Pedro Diego Alvarado..
Spread before a 12.20 by 4.88 meter curved surface on to which Alvarado is drawing and adding colors, is the painter’s particular universe of objects that share his daily life. Piled in the corner and covered in dust because of the ongoing construction process, are a pile of compulsory reference books: The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer; México Barroco by Tovar y de Teresa; the Renaissance of Mexican Muralism by Jean Charlot; Los murales de Diego Rivera en la SEP, published by the same Secretary of Education, and Forty Centuries of Mexican Art.
Closer by, the gypsy’s laboratory, effluvia and essences of enigmatic, forgotten names: Ultramarine blue; Sap green, titanium white, golden ochre, naples yellow, alizarin crimson, venetian red, prussian blue, cadmium blue, and so on.
Armed with this baggage and his own learning and education, Pedro Diego Alvarado has started on a cosmic adventure that has found a wall in Puebla.
Woven together over a panoramic vision of the valley of Puebla are its real history (Spain, conquest and influence), its mythical history (the angels that founded the city), its geography (the immovable volcanoes), its contemporary pulsations (technological progress, the powerful eyes of modern man) and the rhythm of evolution. The yet-unnamed mural, which is about 70 per cent complete, displays, like any mural worthy of respect, all-encompassing pretentions that are educational, edifying, total. Its author explains:
The idea of evolution is suggested by my first approach to the mural: the evolution of thought and of Mexican science. That’s why the symbols overlap: Tlaloc and the infraworld, the Sunstone, the Spanish Catholics and their aesthetic. There are diverse, even opposing conceptions of life, as well as their encounters and eventual fusions, such as the Virgin of Guadalupe, both an image of worship as much as war banner. Our country’s transformation rests on these pilars: our pre-Hispanic and Spanish legacies. We are no longer—emphasizes Pedro Diego Alvarado—neither one nor the other; we are the universal man that Vasconcelos spoke of. This is what is illustrated in this work.
Pedro Diego is on a roll. He wants to clarify all the details clear but it’s obvious that his last explanation is painted on the wall. He puts himself into the difficult poistion of trying to explain what the eyes already see. Young and somewhat nervous, he reviews a chapter of national history so that it is clear that this is both a homage and a proposal; he reviews history and suggests the idea of a necessary return to humanism, “a new humanism with a different view of life”.
At 34, Pedro Diego Alvarado not only paints but has also studied physics at the faculty of Science at the National University of Mexico. Though he didn’t complete these studies, it is evident that they have given him his painter’s vision and his cosmogonical approach to mural painting. He talks about how man has distanced himself from respect for his fellow man, from respect for nature, from his own world and says, “this is a call for an awakening; we must seek a new humanism that rests on the technical possibilities reached by man, a humanism that ensues from science but that also comes to the rescue of the cultural and historical legacies of its ancestors”. Pedro Diego speaks emphatically, almost excited; as a comparison, he mentions the supernovas, our own membership in the cosmic club; the wonder of man…. Abruptly, he stops talking and turns around to paint on the mural board an illustration of his conclusions in a brief and spontaneous lecture on Mexico’s history, astronomy and philosophy.
A devotee of Puebla. Pedro Diego validates the phrase of Fray Juan Villa Sánchez who said: There will be no pilgrim nation nor people in the world, who has not heard of the fame of Puebla of the Angels, applauded and famous in the Annales, celebrated in stories, drawn on the maps, copied in paintings and noted by all the geographers in their charts (…).
This devotion and respect are both present in the mural. The city’s founding makes up the main segment and is precisely the one he has barely outlined: the angels dreamed of by Father Julián de Garcés, measuring the field with twine. From there, the dream turned real unfolds: the valley of Puebla, its most important nexus with the Pre-Hispanic culture, Huejotzingo, Teotihuacán, all beneath the vast celestial dome of time.
When justifying the reason for painting a mural, Pedro Diego explains that this artistic format is the one that better expresses messages wishes to represent and, although this is the first time he attacks a work of such magnitude, he considers himself tested and knowledgeable. No doubt, his bloodline and his artistic inheritance come to his aid in this respect.
Pedro Diego does not really like to talk about his grandparents, who were, on the one side Diego Rivera and Lupe Marín, and on the other, Carlos Alvarado Lang, although he does display some pride when he mentions them.
On occasions, a legacy can be a heavy load: after time, a more authentic phenomenon occurs: the appreciation of the specific, personal worth of the heirs. “Once,” recounts Pedro Diego, “Raquel Tibol said to me: ‘Don’t paint like Diego Rivera…’ So, he invited her to dinner, he recalls amused. “Imagine, painting like Diego is no small matter!”. In addition, he underlines another aspect: an artist is the product of his time and we owe him. Diego Rivera got to live in a wonderful, vital time, and I got to live in entirely different one: my search is different and my perception is different because my society is also different.
With this awareness of his time and his need to rescue and reevaluate his own roots, Pedro Diego Alvarado goes back in time to find technical options for mural he is painting. As if remembering another one of his ancestors, engraver Carlos Alvarado Lang, (“a very refined, meticulous, delicate cultivator of the traditional techniques of engraving" according to Raquel Tibol), Pedro Diego reverts to the Venetian technique for his artwork in Puebla.
This technique, he points out, goes as far back as the fifteenth century and is based on the properties of the lecithin contained in a hen’s egg. Pedro Diego, loyal to his scientific information, gives another extremely intense crash course in chemistry: the egg, its protein, admits a molecule of water and one of oil, producing then a docile, effective, durable substance for painting that provides different possibilities in brightness, shades and textures. That’s what the ancient Venetians discovered.
In reality, this Venetian technique made the impossible possible: mixing water with oil, and was an essential discovery for the pictorial art. However, science also progressed and continued to do so up until oil tubes, which are very practical and accessible. However, these tubes create mistrust and frustration in Pedro Diego: “Like everything,” he says, “oil tubes are not what they once were. They contain too many preservatives and other substances that diminish their quality. In their heyday,” he clarifies, “they were revolutionary. Picasso could grab any tube and create a masterpiece. But, now it’s better to go back to the old school.
Pedro Diego’s choice explains all the technical books on coloring with tempera, all the eggs on plates, and so many pigments of color “decorating” the workshop and that, at the same time, illustrate an artistic vocation, the cultivation of a painter’s craft, the exhumation of a practical legacy that deserves a better fate. This is the belief of Pedro Diego Alvarado who day after day returns to the scaffold, wrapped in a jacket very similar to the one his grandfather Diego wore, wearing a red bandanna around his neck, possibly as a secret homage or maybe as a pure coincidence, and with which he has protected himself for the last seven months while climbing up to create, in a large format, the dream of the ancient Puebla and the hope of the man of our time.