(The Easter Rock)
18" x 15"
Antonio C. Ixtamer
I bought this painting from Antonio Ixtamer when in December of 1991, I first visited him in his parent’s house where he lived in San Juan la Laguna. Previously, I had bought two small paintings done by him which I had liked, and before my visit to Guatemala had written to my friend Vicente Cumes if he could arrange a meeting. Vicente, a San Pedro la Laguna resident who at that time did not know Ixtamer, went to nearby San Juan la Laguna, a small town, and looked up Ixtamer arranging a meeting. Ixtamer had not been painting for about a year, although there were about five of his paintings for sale at a local cooperative. Inspired that an American was interested enough to come to Guatemala and visit him, he began painting again, doing a rather nice painting of a market on a piece of white cloth which, having little money for supplies, he improvised for a canvas. Ixtamer told us that he had decided to move to Guatemala city and work construction, but Vicente and I talked to him for about an hour, telling him that we hoped he would not give up painting. He was clearly very excited by our visit. He told us the story of how he had stopped painting. An American named Jim Bell who lived in Antigua Guatemala had been interested in his paintings. Jim commissioned him to do paintings for him, on consignment, which he would sell in his store in Antigua. This had worked very well for a while, but Jim suddenly died, and in addition to losing his patron all of Ixtamer’s consigned paintings disappeared in Jim’s estate. Very discouraged Ixtamer stopped painting.
Pascual Abaj, certainly one of Ixtamer’s most beautiful early paintings, at that time was not such a common theme as it is now, although almost certainly he had seen Pedro Rafael’s small painting of Pascual Abaj because he was taking lessons from Pedro Rafael about the time it was sold to me. Ixtamer’s version of the theme, however, has the church of Santo Tomás in Chichicastenango looming bright and prominent in the background. It is an interesting contrast, bringing into play the entire history of the Mayans and their culture since the Conquest. We see an ancient Mayan ritual performed hidden by darkness of the very early morning in a forested area on a hill outside of town, a very ancient rock long considered holy by the Mayans; a large white Catholic church, the religion of the Conquistadors, just in the background looming large and pure white over this small gathering. The three member’s of this family have come to the Pascual rock to perform a sacrifice, asking for some favor—a good harvest, health of a family member, or perhaps success in some endeavor they are about to embark upon. They have brought a chicken to sacrifice, and have lit candles. They have brought a basket of grain, probalby corn. Perhaps this is the corn for the new planting which they want blessed, or perhaps it is an offering for the god of the rock.
This painting tells me that Ixtamer had not at this time ever visited Pascual Abaj, and probably by extension Chichicastenango. It is not uncommon for poor Guatemalans not to have visited towns only a short bus ride away. They would only go if they had business there. The church facade Ixtamer probably painted from a photo or postcard. Although I would not have him change this painting for anything, Ixtamer has Pascual Abaj on the opposite side of the church as where it really is; it is on a hill to the right of church. The church of Santo Tomás can’t be seen from the site of the rock because there is a rise in the hill which blocks it out one’s view of it.
Ixtamer’s colors always attract attention, and in Pascual Abaj limits his palette to shades of red and blue. Part of the paintings strength comes from the faces and the legs of the man, all of which are very stylized. The forearms and lower legs have a shape similar to a baseball bat; the head joins the body via the neck in a sweeping "S" curve; the eyes are horizontal slits. Ixtamer stylized all elements of the human body to a similar degree as art deco artists did in their day. Ixtamer got the "S" curve profile of the head and neck from his teacher Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay, the only other artist I know who used it, but in Ixtamer’s case he took it to an extreme in this and other paintings created about this time. Very soon, under Vicente Cumes Pop’s influence, Ixtamer’s figures would become more realistic. This was the last painting Ixtamer finished before Jim Bell died. It was the first one I bought directly from the artist.
KBBK Studios, San Francsico, CA; Aug. 1992;
Cafe Nidal, San Francisco, CA; July 1993;
French Hotel Café, Berkeley, CA; Nov. 1993;
Depot Bookstore & Cafe, Mill Valley, CA.; June 1994;
Arte Americas, Fresno, CA, May 4 to July 13, 1997
Museo Chicano, Phoenix, AZ; February & June 25 to August 7, 1998
SOMART Gallery, San Francisco, CA; January 1999