Sunday, March 22, 2015

Alfredo Arreguin's "pattern paintings" charm in the details

Alfredo Arreguin at March 14 CQA meeting
"When I paint, my problems I paint a lot!" laughed prolific Seattle artist Alfredo Arreguin as he spoke about his work to members of the Contemporary Quilt Art Association at the group's March 14 meeting. Arreguin's paintings can take up to four months to complete. And, given the amount of details contained in each work, that's a whole lot of problems that can just go away!
This kind of detail can take months to complete

Born in Mexico,  Arreguin admits to being a bit of a bad boy in his early years. When his mother created a series of small drawings for him, he took them to school to exchange to other students for candy. When she learned of these transactions, his mother balked and said he should learn to create his own art.  His father took a different approach: When young Alfredo was doing poorly in school, his father sent him out into the jungle to work on-site with engineers. The discipline of creating his own art obviously took root, and  scenes and animals of the jungle became an ongoing theme in his adult paintings.
Elements of the jungle appear in many of Arreguin's paintings
One can spend hours finding interesting details!

Arreguin arrived in Seattle in 1956 at age 23, to enter the School  of Architecture at the University of Washington. The choice  of major was more that of his father's than his own, and after a couple of years he switched to Interior Design in the University's art department for a year, finally coming to rest in the school's painting program, where he earned his BA and MFA degrees.
One of Arreguin's early works, where he adds pattern to the tablecloth to tie elements together

During his senior year at the University he began to develop what would become his signature style--very detailed, pattern paintings that offer the viewer almost endless possibilities to discover nearly hidden elements. "I love painting scenes from nature," he says, "and the use of pattern allows me to hide things in those scenes, like behind leaves."
Birds and forest elements are common themes
There are two large cats worked into the pattern....
(Above and below) Large cats are favorite elements

His favored format is four by six feet, and he prefers working in oils rather than acrylics as the latter dry too fast for the type of detailed, overpainting work he does on each piece. He was once asked why he chose to work pretty consistently in the 4x6 format, and the reason is quite practical: When fellow artist Alden Mason was leaving Seattle for Europe, he put up for sale a large quantity of cheap stretcher bars in that size, and Arreguin snapped them up!
Patterning on floors often appear as tiles
Closeup of a pattern portion showing the "fill" is often faces
"Deep Time," with graceful pterodactyls, is in the collection of the National Academy of Sciences

To achieve the over-all patterning that characterizes Arreguin's work, he will start with a grid of, say, one-inch squares, which he then fills in, often working on a detail in a square on the left side of the painting, then moves to the corresponding square on the right side to create a similar or matching detail. "It's organic," he says. "Often I discover new things by changing a few details as I work back and forth on my grid." He frequently creates "ghosts" by covering his first drawing with another on top. For his striking portraits he will first outline the face realistically, then add patterns to  crowd around the image and sometimes work patterns on top of the face.
Except for the eyes (above) and the red lips (below), the faces are almost hidden

"I paint what I love," he says, "and I love people, women, flowers, birds, gardens...everything that lends itself to patterns." Many of the combinations reflect designs of the tapestries and crafts seen in traditional markets in his native Mexico. Other frequent subjects include religious figures--St.  Francis  of Assisi for  one--and some important in Mexican observances, including madonnas and La Malinche, mistress of the conqueror Cortes. And for a time, he created a series of portraits featuring the noted Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
Mexican-heritage themed piece

St. Francis of Assisi and his beloved birds
A completely patterned madonna
A madonna in a more typical "halo" setting...but look at the background!
A very Mexican madonna
Above and below, two very different treatments of a Frida Kahlo portrait

Arreguin's pieces may now be found in countless museums and private collections, and his resume of solo and selected group exhibitions covers several pages. Some of the achievements of which he's most proud include having two pieces in the Smithsonian (one in the National Museum of  American Art, the other  in the National Portrait Gallery); winning the competition for the 1988 Washington State Centennial poster from among 200 applicants; and having pieces selected by the U.S. Department of State for the embassy in Karachi, and for the collection of the San Francisco's Mexican Museum.
Arreguin's portrait of Emilio Zapata is in the Smithsonians's  National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Arreguin's "Washingtonia," selected for the state's centennial poster from among 200 applicants. When asked why he painted the cat in the foreground, he replied, "It was there!"

In a more recent development, as Arreguin related, he hadn't been known in Mexico for his art as he had been living in Seattle for so long. Now, however, he's pleased that his work is being shown in a San Antonio, TX, gallery as one of the "Mexican Masters" alongside Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
A young Arreguin, right, with the late writer Raymond Carver and his wife, poet Tess Gallagher. Carver's short story "Menudo" was written about Arreguin.
Arreguin's portrait of Carver features a poem by Gallagher , the words of which the artist painted over the entire image.
A portrait of Carver barely emerges from the typical Northwest fish

Noting that he recently turned 80, Arreguin is not looking to mount big exhibitions any more. "A big show drains you," he says, "and I now have just enough energy to paint every day." Given the amount of creative inspiration and just plain detailed work that goes into each of his pieces. that seems just about right.
This piece combines Arreguin's signature patterns with the "big wave" typical of many Japanese paintings. The artist was in Japan during his Army duty as well as on later trips: "I am like a sponge," he says, "I soak in everything I see!"

Arreguin's impression of Washington's Rialto Beach on the Pacific Coast

More about Arreguin and  his work may be seen  on his He is represented by Linda Hodges Gallery in Seattle, where his bio and resume may be found at!alfredo-arreguin/c18o6. University of Washington Press published a book on Arreguin and his work, "Alfredo Arreguin: Patterns of Dreams and Nature," now in a second edition--