Mexico has fascinated me for a long time; the culture, the arts, the scenery, and the food all appeal to me big time. So, when I came across the work of Meghan Hildebrand I was very excited. Meghan took a trip to Oaxaca and produced a lovely series of watercolour paintings drawing from her experiences there. These aren’t just landscape paintings, though – they embody the emotions, atmosphere, and vibe of the city, too.
The paintings in your mapas y cuentos series all have a lovely, pure style. How did this develop?
I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach the series. In my first couple weeks in Oaxaca I did some watercolours that were more straight up representations of the landscapes, but I knew I wanted to include more of myself in the work. I was also thinking about how I could somehow paint the sounds of Oaxaca City, the birds, dogs, traffic. In the piece “Esta Mañana” I painted the view from my roof and included the imaginary birds and dogs I love to draw. It gave the piece life, and I knew how to proceed with the series.
Can you tell us a bit about your trip to Oaxaca?
The State of Oaxaca has been on my radar since 2006 when I heard about the teachers’ strikes on community radio. Once you hear about a place it seems to come up more often. My husband really wanted to learn to surf and I really wanted to experience a new art scene, and Oaxaca is legendary for both.
What stories inspired the paintings in the mapas y cuentos series?
More than any particular stories, it was the idea that looking at a scene, or a painting, brings stories to mind. The idea that every shape has a history. I like to create situations that suggest a narrative that isn’t clearly defined, that let the imagination take over. Like illustrations with the story missing. A few days into the series, we visited the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic Sculpture. The faces I saw that day made their way into to paintings, first playfully as faces on onions, then as monoliths in the landscape that symbolized the rich layers of history buried there.
What do you hope the pieces tell viewers about the city?
These painting represent my experience of a beautiful and complicated city. I hope people can get a sense of the magic of the colours and sights and sounds that I took in to create the work. I hope viewers enter the painting and allow their imaginations to wander. I hope it makes them take another look at the place where they live and see the magic there too.
Let’s talk about process. What steps did you take when creating each piece?
Mostly we did a lot of walking the streets and taking pictures in the mornings before it got hot (or hotter). In the afternoon, I sat in the shade and reviewed my photos, and would usually settle on a couple that I liked and combined aspects of each into a drawing. Then I would include my cast of characters, the giant tropical birds, dogs barking from rooftops, etc. I was careful to create a limited palette for each piece, which I find is my key to capturing the mood and atmosphere of a particular place or time of day. Then the fun part, the paint! Watercolour is such a fun medium, it does magical little things that are hard to control, and on the other hand, I find it easy, because I’m just filling in the lines. As opposed to my abstracts, which is about making decisions all the way. At the end of the series my husband and I lined them all up and named them.
Do you have any tips for artists or art-lovers visiting Oaxaca?
Naturally I would suggest doing some art while there! Nothing that I know of can embed a view in the memory like drawing or painting it can. I would also suggest bringing some art home. There is so much there that it can be overwhelming, but once you have it at home you would be so happy to have it. I would recommend the independent, more underground galleries/workshops where you will find incredible and very political art. (There are a couple along Porfirio Diaz Avenue) There is an incredible amount of magnificent public galleries and museums that are free or very cheap to enter. Go to some of those but don’t overdo it! Take time out for the hammock and don’t burn out. Oh yeah, also take some time to explore back alleys and discover the unbelievably good graffiti!
Another thing I did while there was paint a small mural. That is a great way for an artist to share their work with the public that don’t visit galleries, and that doesn’t take money out of the community. People have a deep respect and appreciation for artists there, during the creation of the mural that was very evident by the number of people that stopped to watch and comment.
To see more of Meghan’s work, visit her website.