20" x 16", oil on canvas.
Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay
I bought this painting at an exhibition in a small restaurant El Descanzo in Panajachel, run by a young German man and his wife. I believe Benjamin Gonzalez organized the exhibition and, although I don’t remember now, probably included paintings by his brothers Mariano and Matias. It has been ten years since that exhibition and I remember four paintings. There was a small [9" x 11"] painting a man in a cayuco on Lake Atitlán, probably with a volcano in the background, and subtle luscious colors. Color-wise it was the most beautiful of all the paintings, and had been bought by Nan Cuz, a German-Guatemalan artist who lives and works in Panajachel. She gained international recognition, and had been an artist who did work for UNESCO. Other than the painting I bought it was the only painting sold at the exhibition. Another small painting I have always regretted I didn’t buy [it must have been that I didn’t have the money, but one doesn’t always remember that later, only the fact that one didn’t get the painting. It could not have been much, because I never got Rafael’s paintings so cheaply again.] was quietly one of the most beautiful small format paintings Rafael has ever done, all in golden browns—a women reading at night by candle light entitled Leyendo la Biblia. The other one I remember but only vaguely and because of the theme—a poor little girl, perhaps with her mother or an even younger brother—asking for alms. It was the sort of subject, which like Festín, would not be popular with tourists, and would therefore not be touched by most artists.
I was in San Pedro and Rafael told me to go the the exhibition in Panajachel. Bejamin had not wanted to let me buy a medium or large painting directly from Rafael, Benjamin always insisted on them being priced just out of my reach. Bejamin was away, and Rafael told me to go to the exhibition because the paintings were priced very well, Bejamin did not at this point own them, but as soon as the show was over all the unsold ones would become his and go up considerably in price. Rafael told me that I would recognize which painting it was because the theme was very interesting. If I recall correctly, it seemed that Benjamin discouraged Rafael painting such themes. Rafael had wanted me to have one of his better paintings and thought this was a good opportunity for me to obtain one.
The four people in the painting, three men and a woman, obviously have been drinking for a several hours, probably in connection with a celebration. One man and the woman, are falling asleep from the effects of the drink, the other two men noticeably intoxicated men standing just behind continue getting drunk. One can come up with many stories, many ideas about what has happened and why, but knowing that there could be a number of others equally plausible, I will present one I favor. From the traje the people are wearing we know the town is Sololá. Porticos generally appear in two places, the first being in front of public buildings—buildings which often surround the Zocalo [town square]. The other more common place is in the interior courtyard of a family’s compound. It is the second of these which I think is the more likely setting for this painting.
The title of the painting, Festín, gives us another part of the story. A celebration with perhaps food, drink and dance. These people have not just gone out and gotten drunk. It is not like Matias Gonzalez Chavajay’s painting Los Bolos, no this drinking has occurred in connection with some sort of celebration. This is where the story comes in. In traditional Mayan towns there are a number of celebrations each year lasting several days—the town fiesta, holy weeks such as Semana Santa and Christmas, and fiestas for each of the towns cofradias. Lets say it was the town’s titular fiesta. Part of this fiesta will be a traditional masked dance which not only will be performed many times in the town square, but also privately for families which have given the dancers money for the cost of the rental of the costumes, etc. At each of these private performances relatives and neighbors will be invited, and each of the dancers will be toasted with drink. This drinking is more ceremonial than social following a prescribed order showing respect. It holds a deeper significance for the mayans, coming out of a belief system and customs which are a blend resulting from the fusing of the Christian Spanish culture and traditional Mayan culture. Perhaps these four people have attended one of these performances, perhaps going to more that one house. Then once started they have continued drinking beyond the ceremonial requirements with the results we see here. Two people passed out, a basket of fruit and vegetables overturned at their feet. Two others intoxicated, talking, one of them seems gesturing somewhat belligerently.
The painting also shows a few characteristics of Spanish colonial architecture as it exists in Mayan communities. There is the portico which probably surrounds an interior courtyard. The wood columns are supported on a chiselled stone base. The corridor open to the outside air, is slightly raised on stone pavers over the open part which is probably dirt. The walls of the building are stuccoed over adobe, and there is a wooden lintel above the door.
KBBK Studios, San Francisco, CA; July—Aug. 1991
La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley, CA; Nov.—Dec. 1992
Farley’s, San Francisco, CA; November 1993 (Café Arts Month)
Krasl Art Center, St. Joseph, MI; Dec. 1994—Jan. 1995
Holland Area Arts Council, Holland Michigan; Feb. 1995
Saginaw Museum, Saginaw Michigan; May—June, 1995
Dolores Street Community Center, San Francisco, CA; Oct.—Dec. 1995
Arte Americas, Fresno, CA, May 4 to July 13, 1997
Museo Chicano, Phoenix, AZ; February & June 25—Aug 7, 1998
Latin American Art Gallery at Casa Latina, Merrill College, U.C.S.C., Santa Cruz, CA; Jan.—Feb., 2000