Although the exhibition, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism highlights a specific moment in history, many of the artists working in partnership with this show offer dynamic reflections on the current presence of Mexican Modernism’s legacy, resisting static and linear interpretations. IDEAL PDX, a collaborative group of Latino artists established in 2010, is in partnership with the Museum on a mural in the Schnitzer Sculpture Court from April 8th through May 29th. This collective, comprised of artists Daniel Santollo, William Hernandez, Jessica Lagunas, José Solis, and Romina Del Castillo, is working on a multi-panel mural called Frida and Diego Are Here, which depicts the arrival of Frida and Diego from the Mictlan, the Mexican infraworld, as they visit the Pacific Northwest. Both the title and vision behind the work emphasize the presence of Frida and Diego as figures that are in motion, extending their influence in the present day.
IDEAL PDX’s mural beautifully and intricately depicts Frida and Diego’s visit from the Mictlan, as they bring some of the traditional and cultural symbols of Mexico to the lands of the Multnomah, Cathlamet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other tribal territories of the PNW. Rich in images of nature and mythology, IDEAL’s mural gives visual language to the ways in which culture, place and movement show up in artists’ practices today. In this article, each IDEAL PDX artist shares more about their journeys, their influences, and their inspirations within their own work. It is inspiring to see the varied ways in which artists of the Mexican Modernism movement are still making an impact on contemporary, diasporic Latinx practices. Read on to learn more about each artist’s path and practice.
Daniel Santollo (Tekpatl) – México
“INDIGENOUS PEOPLES ARE PRESENT IN EVERY FORM AND ART FITS THEM VERY WELL.” —Daniel Santollo
My journey began right after graduating from High School: I started my art journey working in digital illustrations, murals, fine art, and apparel design. I was influenced by the work of Akiro Toriyama – Japanese Manga Artists, and my high-school art teacher, Gwen Hullinger, whose teachings introduced me to different artistic mediums and whose encouragement inspired me to pursue my artistic career.
I was born in Michoacan, México, which is known as “the soul of México,” as it is one of the states that impeccably preserves its nature, arts, culture, and indigenous values up to the present time. The love and admiration I have for my roots are the most significant inspiration for my work—and although my parents emigrated when I was very young, I have found my own ways of preserving their culture within my art.
During pandemic times, I reinvented myself in my most recent work and developed my branding, called Toltekpatl Clothing, which focuses on Mexican Meso-American art.
My work can be seen around the city of Portland through narrative murals and social media platforms. In addition, I have worked with the Portland Trail Blazers, Portland Street Art Alliance, and Portland Parks Foundation, while also collaborating with other local artists and businesses to create and participate in different art shows.
I am an active member and a lead mural artist of IDEAL PDX, a latinoamerican art collective.
I am currently working on a series of digital illustrations emphasizing my culture and personal experience in my studio located in the center of Portland.
Follow my journey on Instagram: @tekpatl_art
William Hernandez – Perú
“IF YOU WANT TO BREAK BARRIERS, AND MAKE SOMEONE WELCOME, THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO CONNECT.” —William Hernandez
Since moving to Portland in the early 2000s, I have dedicated myself to introducing art to the wider community. I have been an artist-in-residence for Milagro Theater, held workshops through the Portland Art Museum, and am currently teaching painting classes for all ages through the Latino Network-Studio Latino program, Catlin Gabel School, and more.
Even when I was a child, I found joy in creating art and was determined to pursue the field as my profession. When I was 17, I spent a year learning from art books so that I would be ready for the National School of Fine Arts entrance exams in Lima, Peru. Unlike most of the applicants, I did not receive any formal training in art, but I persevered and was selected for admission from a large pool of candidates. This accomplishment felt so good.
It was very emotional and gratifying when I was leaving our first meeting at PAM with the news of this important art commission that we got: a huge 30 ft x 10ft mural. Wow! If you want to break barriers, and make someone welcome, there are many ways to connect. For this reason, I see art as a way to create connections with others, and this is especially true of this commission to paint a six-panel mural in the Schnitzer Sculpture Court at the Portland Art Museum in honor of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The theme I wanted to focus on is Globality. While they are important icons in Mexican history, they are also well-known globally and are influential in the greater scope of global history and culture. They bring their amazing lives, traditions, and art to our region, the Pacific Northwest. Our entire community can appreciate and share in their splendor and universal messages.
I am convinced that this important collaborative project will give way to the beginning of new creative proposals, founded on the values and vision of creative leaders with Hispanic heritage in our community. I would like to continue contributing to the community using my passion for the arts, teaching, and leading IDEAL PDX in new challenges and opportunities for the future.
In addition, I firmly believe in the positive effects of art, especially during these difficult times. “Being creative,” “as well as motivated and carefree without perfection are key pieces to staying active, inspired, and maintaining a positive attitude. “My life is bright, so my colors need to be bright. I’m an optimistic, happy person, and I want to transmit this feeling to the people who view my work.”
I am feeling overwhelmed in a good way with many amazing personal projects and much more on behalf of my group that is happening right now. This is the time, be prepared! Finally, I am currently preparing for my third solo exhibition in Seattle. So, if you want to know more about cool things, please don’t be shy to ask.
Jessica Lagunas – México
“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.” —Eckhart Tolle
For eleven years, I have served as the Creative Director for IDEAL PDX. This role has allowed me to help cultivate Latin American arts and culture in Portland, develop emerging and professional artists, increase Latin American cultural visibility and expand the identity of the Latin American artist in our community. I have given all of my love and energy to this volunteer role. It is my life’s work and personal journey. For this, I am grateful.
I have had the privilege to witness and participate in the creative transformation of community spaces in this role. Honest and humble artists have taught me to be vulnerable and flexible. I have learned to develop interpersonal bonds between communities to forge networks that lead to exciting collaborations. The compensation I have received from this work has been personal growth and leadership development.
I entered the world in Toluca, México. From a very young age, my dream was to be an artist! I can still see myself as a young girl painting the patio of my grandmother’s house with red clay or drawing on her white walls with charcoal. In college, I traveled throughout México, visiting different towns. Every trip allowed me to discover, learn, and embody my culture. These root experiences ground me in my work today. They are my strength and pride. They shape the heartfelt role of being a cultural ambassador for my country. These formative experiences are the source that I draw from and create with to work through life.
Gratitude fills me endlessly. I am grateful to all the artists who have trusted me. Their gift to the world is their magic, time, and knowledge. I appreciate every person who has believed in me and helped cultivate my talents. I have received much more than I could imagine. Everyone has opened my mind and heart. I am lucky.
I found my purpose. I work tenderly and arduously for it. I discovered the “why” of all my actions, and I have endured the lessons of my journey. Day by day, I am closer. I see the lighthouse. It guides me and holds my hand. It never let go.
José Solis – México
“LIFE IS AN ODYSSEY.” —José Solis
I became an apprentice washing brushes, sweeping floors, and learning some primary painter’s tricks of the trade. I helped paint large banners for theaters, wall graphics, brush lettering, and mural restoration techniques at a very young age. One day, while browsing through a magazine, I found an ad for the Customizing Center School in Los Angeles, CA., where I put all my efforts to enroll. It was at that time that I was able to learn design techniques for painting airbrushed murals and graphics on vans. My work was shown in Hot Rodding magazine right away, and I started to get requests from personal and business clients to paint graphics on their vans.
On weekends in the studio, we would gather with other artists, friends, and neighbors. While some of us painted portraits just for fun, others brought their guitars and musical instruments to play music, and sing. We bonded over sharing our ideas and future goals and dreams. Those were my wonderful years! As a child, I always felt the need to create art in different forms: from pencil drawings, palm weaving, and wood carving to making colorful kites with china paper and straw. I sold these kites to kids in my hometown in San Luis Potosi, México.
After a few years, I eventually quit a good-paying job in Washington, the Studio, and gave up good times to move to Portland. I was in search of a future as an artist with my wife and kids. I became a student at the Museum Art School (Pacific Northwest College of Art) in Portland to study Graphic Design. Through this program, I got to meet and talk to several artists who incurred and inspired me to pursue my dreams. I had no idea that becoming an artist and following my dreams were going to be so hard; trying to survive as an artist in Portland is an odyssey, especially when you have a family to feed. However, I did not want to give up my dreams. My family needed food on the table, so for days and weeks, I walked the streets with my box of paints and brushes in one hand and business cards in the other, looking for work in art studios, sign and body shops, car dealers, stores, etc.
I knew that I eventually would “find the light.” I did—while I was sweeping the floors at the church, working as a janitor making $3 an hour. The Franciscan friar, Michel Gagnon (RIP*), called, “Jose, please follow me; I want to show you something.” He pointed to a massive wall and asked, “Do you see that wall? Do you know someone who can paint a Mural?” I responded, “No, I don’t.” He then replied while pointing his finger, “Jose, you will paint a mural on this wall.”
I thought I was dreaming; I had never painted anything this big! I knew this was the opportunity of my life. I never focused on why I came to Portland and worked so hard in my spare time, but thankfully, after eight months of intense painting (with some all-nighters), the mural was completed. The Oregonian newspaper published a page filled with photos of the mural calling me “The Michelangelo of Ascension.”
Since this happened, the opportunities have not stopped, and I have had the chance to grow my art skills day by day. After The Ascension Mural, I created The Viacrucis (Stations of the Cross), a permanent display of sixteen hand-carved woodblocks for the same Ascension Church.
I participated as a scenic artist, painting the backdrops for the movie Coraline, the Best Animated Feature Film of the Year Academy Awards USA 2010 produced by Laika Entertainment. I won the Silver Medal Award at the International Film & Television Festival of New York, and Best Spiritual Documentary Judge’s Award winner for Art director on God save Us from Your Followers, to mention a few.
In the end, I believe that my most significant achievements will be with me forever, as they are the reward for my hard work. The life of an artist is an individual journey, and I’m thrilled to be able to build and create a legacy in this world through all my projects, and I hope that they inspire many to continue pursuing their work and never give up.
I feel grateful and honored to be chosen by the IDEAL PDX team to paint Frida’s mural and to be able to work with other talented Latino artists- “brothers and sisters of the brush”- who I can learn from, share ideas, and techniques with, have fun and write history with for future generations of Latino Artists in Oregon.
* Franciscan friar Michel Gagnon was my spiritual leader and a motivational person who influenced my life in a big way at a time when I was starting to lose faith in myself. I was mentally fragile and vulnerable, and he helped me turn my life around so that I can be where I am now.
Romina del Castillo – Perú
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” —Pablo Picasso
My desire to create art stems from the memories of my childhood in my native country, Perú. But this is something I wouldn’t understand until much later. I lived in Lima, Perú in my grandparents’ apartment. During the 1950s, my grandparents migrated to the capital from the Andean region of Andahuaylas in search of a better life. But in their new home, they also encountered the struggles, and sometimes indignities, of being “provincial” in the big city.
Soon enough, at the age of 6, I found myself on my first of many migrations. This one was with my mother to our southern neighboring country, Chile with the promise of prosperity and stability; no hyperinflation, no terrorism, no blackouts, no bombs. My younger self was blissfully unaware of Perú’s perpetual internal political conflict, and I happily continued to visit my grandparents, spending my entire summers back in their apartment.
Lima was “the grey,” as we say, because of the endless coastal fog that covers it, but to me, it was full of color and life. The busyness and chaos of the city, full of colors and patterns set amongst a concrete jungle, was a sensory overload to my young self. Fluorescent paint seemed everywhere. The “mantas” or aguayos woven fabrics, which are seen on display at markets and adorning everyday people, had the most intense polychromatic combinations.
It is easier now for me to see how my experiences as a child deeply impacted my artistic self.
It was sometime later… after more migrations, after college, after learning fine arts techniques, after working on murals and after showing my own paintings … when I met Paulin Paris, the artist who would introduce me to a technique I now practice in my own art. He was in need of an assistant and I was eager to keep the ball rolling with learning and making art. Paulin had a heart as big as his imagination, and he quickly went from being my employer to be a friend and mentor. At that time, Paulin was working on a technique called straw marquetry which he had learned by watching videos of Martha Stewart. By a lucky twist of fate, he decided to switch me from mostly administrative tasks to hands-on assistance with his projects.
This is how I learned straw marquetry, slicing and ironing straw after straw, gluing, and making countless decorative tiles. It was hard not to fall in love with the material, the “poor man’s gold” as it was once referred to. Each straw was one of a kind, and the way it reflected and interacted with the light was very special. Working with an exacto knife as my main tool felt very satisfying too. The concentration and involvement that this process-oriented art form required created a calming space for me, much in contrast to the existential battle that oil painting had sometimes felt like.
One day at the atelier, Paulin received a shipment of straw. Along with the usual gold, ivory, and bronze hues we had been using came a catalog with the full array of tinted straws offered. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the loudest pinks, fuchsias, canary lemon yellows, and shamrock greens. Pablo Picasso once said, “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” And it did. Now I wanted to explore the material in a more selfish way than within the confines of my workday at Paulin’s studio. I wanted to fulfill my own vision. So, I began buying and collecting my own palette of hues. My inspiration? The beautiful geometric patterns of the aguayos, the humble fabrics sold by the meter in Perúvian markets which had captivated me in my youth, provided me with endless ideas.
I gave my new body of work a name in Quechua, the Andean language my grandparents had once spoken but never passed on to their children for fear of discrimination. I wanted to honor that part of our history. I named the work Maimantataj Kanki’ or Where Are You From? because it alluded to my experience as an immigrant, never fully belonging to a place, feeling like a forever foreigner even in my own country. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It has been a great honor to be invited by IDEAL PDX to collaborate on a large size mural for Frida Kahlo’s exhibition at Portland Art Museum. Deep diving into Frida’s history, exploring the early Méxican cosmovision, working in creative synergy, and learning from each other with this amazingly talented cohort of painters has been an invaluable experience. I hope this collision of works and styles brings about new pathways of art-making and storytelling for all involved. Even you… so see you at the Museum this spring! I hope you find inspiration and that it finds you working.