The Magic Realist, Part Three

Hallucinatory Beauty Blooms From Painstaking Efforts

Arreguin, who first demonstrated a talent for drawing and painting when his grandfather enrolled him as an 8-year-old in the Morelia School of Fine Art, heeded the advice.

He quit painting for three years, concentrating on drawing instead.

Detail from 'Chiwana,' 1999. Photo by Rob Vinnedge. Click the image to see a larger view of the complete work.

"Chiwana," 1999. Photo by Rob Vinnedge. Click the image to see a larger view of the complete work.

"I thought I heard too many voices other than mine," says Arreguin, who received his bachelor's degree from the UW in 1967 and his master's of fine art in 1969. "I had to get away from painting for a while."

During this period, he noticed patterns on a tile floor and it dawned on him that the patterns were art in themselves, and worth further exploration.

He developed a unique style of "pattern paintings" that was heavily influenced by Mexican and Latino icons, jungle rainforest experiences from his youth, and the Pacific Northwest. His complex compositions were filled with colors that dance between hot and cool. And he frequently incorporated concealed iconic or religious imagery behind an overlay of intricate design.

His big break came in 1977, when a museum in San Francisco featuring Mexican art wanted to show his work. That led him to a curator in Washington, D.C., who selected him as one of three American artists whose work would be shown in Paris.

Bird detail from 'Perico's Bay.

"I consider him an artistic genius," says former Washington legislator Phyllis Gutierrez. "He is creative and most of all, he paints from the heart, so it brings out the traditional feeling that he has for our Mexican culture, but also the special feeling for the Northwest."

"I often wonder," muses Roberto Maestas, '66, '71, executive director of El Centro de la Raza, a Seattle-based Hispanic community service agency, "without Alfredo, how would we have projected the brilliant art that characterizes Mexico. In this part of the U.S., Chicanos have been invisible for so long, even though we have been here for many, many years.

"Because of his political statements and his artistic talent, Alfredo has helped put Washington on the map. He has paved the way for appreciation for other Chicano artists. He is the dean of Latino art in the entire Northwest."

Arreguin draws repeatedly on images of the Mexican jungles and rainforests of his childhood in the state of Morelos, where he was born. In contrast to his reputation as a rowdy kid, he uses a deliberate, painstaking method in creating his paintings. Looking at a blank canvas, he starts with a grid pattern, using intricate detail and a wild array of colors and patterns to develop flowing, nearly "hallucinatory states of complexity and beauty," says art critic Matthew Kangas. He went so far as to call Arreguin "a magic realist."

Waiting for his English 101 teacher to show up, young UW student Alfredo Arreguin was one of just a handful of Hispanic students at the UW in 1962. Photo courtesy Alfredo Arreguin.

Waiting for his English 101 teacher to show up, young UW student Alfredo Arreguin was one of just a handful of Hispanic students at the UW in 1962. Photo courtesy Alfredo Arreguin.

Arreguin kept painting but needed to take on odd jobs to support himself and his wife in the early 1970s, while living in "a shack" in North Seattle. "We were poor," he says, "but we were happy. We didn't have much, but we were painting." As more people discovered his talent, the need for other jobs fell by the wayside. He proudly says the last "real" job he had was building speaker cabinets in 1974.

In 1979, he won the Palm of the People Award at the International Festival of Painting in France. The following year, he won a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. In 1986, he was the recipient of the Governor's Art Award from the state of Washington.

"Arreguin paints the natural world not as a scientist, but with the unbridled enthusiasm of a child fascinated with every detail and willing to believe in forces that are unseen but sensed," says Andrew Connors, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution. "His paintings unleash our imagination and free us to envision an ideal world by celebrating both the ethereal and the tangible in the contested world around us."


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