Ideas never develop in a straight line. This is especially
true in the process of making art. Those that are sufficiently compelling
not to be jettisoned at the onset are subject to countless revisions,
mutating so many times that they frequently end up having little in common
with their original concerns. Such was the case of La Pierde Almas.
It occurred to me that the microcosm of the cantina offers an especially
interesting stage upon which the theater of the human experience could,
at any hour of the day, be intimately observed, playing itself out under
the powerful, magnifying influence of mezcal.
The original idea entailed the production of a group of studies in
situ that could later be translated to large canvases back in the
studio. With this in mind, I put together a miniature kit, containing
only the most essential drawing materials, so as to be as unobtrusive
as possible while at work. I chose to use parchment as the support for
the drawings because, apart from the exquisite texture of its surface,
it was tough enough to withstand almost any abuse that either draftsman
or barman could have contrived. Having cut out several rectangles to correspond
in scale to the canvases I had recently stretched in the studio, I was
now equipped for my voyeuristic mission and began to frequent some of
my favorite haunts with a new sense of duty.
Working in situ is always a pleasure because of the heightened lucidity
that the uniqueness of place induces. The smoke-filled chambers of the
cantina are no exception and indeed have their own special appeal.
To be cloistered within those meter-thick walls enamelled a ravishing
green the color of dying chlorophyll and dazzlingly tattooed by generations
of flies into a copro-galaxial chart of the cosmos; to dog-paddle through
a cumulo-nimbus of tobacco fumes from the urinal to one's table; to inhale
the pungently sweet perfume of broad-shouldered transvestites mixing with
the reek of industrial-strength floor cleaner... who can resist a cantina?
Each new darkened doorway, broadcasting its umber ness out to the sunny
street, is more seductive than the last.
However, it didn't take long for me to realize that, by insisting upon
documenting what I saw, I was painting myself into a corner in which the
depth of truth that art is capable of sounding would be compromised by
the doctrine of fact. Verisimilitude versus veracity. I decided instead
that I would, at least on canvas, invent my own cantina. Art feeds
on life, but should never imitate it.
Before you open for business you have to have a name. I chose La Pierde
Almas after an epithet given to a cantinero I knew long ago
who ran a tavern high on a windy hill outside a village called Santos
Degollados, forty minutes north of the city of Oaxaca. His nickname
was El Pierde Almas or, 'the loser of souls'.
This book started out simply enough as a catalogue. But, soon that idea
also fell by the wayside, eclipsed by bountiful fate which fashioned an
intersection between my life and the lives of two wonderful writers who
happen also to be authorities on the subject of cantinas: Guillermo
Fadanelli and Ulises Torrentera.
The paintings and drawings comprising the series La Pierde Almas represent
a first filament, which was eventually interwoven with the stories, authored
by my esteemed friends, to form a braid. Each strand, whether it be made
of images or words, stands clearly on its own, but plaited together -
echoing, but never illustrating one another - it is hoped that they will
create a unique thread to guide you, Reader, Beholder, like Theseus, ever
onward, toward the nether regions of our colective cantina experience,
toward the Minotaur: the horned, archaic and corrupted innocence that
Jonathan Barbieri, 25 November 2001