SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE – While his grandfather’s paintings are widely-known but often overshadowed by other Mexican muralists, Marcel González Camarena opened the official building of the Jorge González Camarena Foundation in December to bring overdue recognition to the late artist.
The foundation works to preserve the memory and awesome amount of artwork by Jorge González Camarena, who González says remains overlooked by the trio of Mexican master muralists that continue to be Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros.
“I had been planning to open up the Jorge González Camarena Foundation for the past 28 years… Two years ago I decided to go for it and here it is,” he said, pointing to the hacienda-style main house architecture he selected for the construction.
His grandfather, Jorge González Camarena, was born in 1908. Although he was talented and masterful at painting, he came after Diego Rivera as part of a second generation of muralists. While much of his work is less known, one of his works, called “La Patria” or “The Nation” has been printed at least 583 million times, according to official figures. It was the recognized cover of free text books used in public and private schools from 1960 to 1980, when the artist passed away.
His name has somewhat waned over time but not his work. For González, remembering his grandfather is unavoidable.
In the past, González had a printing shop business in Mexico City but was slowly forced out of the business by modern times.
“The printing business has changed radically over the past 25 years. Computers came to revolutionize the business but ruined it, as it has all changed. Now only big printers can survive for printing high-volume magazine printouts, with modern machines in which you stick a roll of paper on one side and get a finished product on the other.
“Traditional printing with dark room technology has disappeared. In Mexico we have a well-known person who owns Latin America’s largest printing shop. I am talking about Carlos Slim. Who can compete with him?”
Slim is considered the world’s second wealthiest man, according to Forbes Magazine.
But González also recalls that Slim, just over a year ago, paid 1 million dollars for one of his grandfather’s easel paintings called “The Embrace” now hanging at the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City.
The establishment of the Jorge González Camarena Foundation in San Miguel de Allende is intriguing, in a city with 160,000 inhabitants. The city boasts several arts foundations and a reported 117 art galleries. It may just be a small city with the highest per-capita rate in terms of art galleries. The González Camarena Foundation also finds its home in the outskirts of the city as a non-profit organization.
“I came to San Miguel de Allende 21 years ago running away from the concrete-jungle that is Mexico City … Here (in San Miguel) you can enjoy a sunrise or a sunset, and in Mexico City you just forget that those wonders exist,” said González.
When González moved to San Miguel de Allende, he brought his printing shop tools and became “the Slim of graphics” for San Miguel. The many small jobs aided him in having a better life quality alternative.
“I bought this property 20 years ago, and what better use could I use this property property for than to honor my grandfather?”
The city with the most per capita art galleries in the nation also made it a good option, he said.
“That places San Miguel on a higher level culturally than most cities in the nation.”
But unlike most galleries, which are businesses, Marcel said the González Camare- na Foundation is registered as a civil association, or non-profit organization.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have to survive and bring in some business through a multi-tasking effort such as running a restaurant and a series of small shops where artisans can come show and hopefully sell their works.
“But the ultimate objective is that once we level off financially, we will be sponsoring artists with grants and other benefits of that type. We’re not doing that now because we’re just starting but we have long- range plans to develop.”
González said the Jorge González Camarena Foundation has two basic objectives:
“One is to promote my grandfather’s works and name … For people to know that ‘The Nation’ was painted by him. Also to let people know the artist’s “The Conquest,” at the Chapultepec Castle, which was printed on the $50,000 peso notes in 1990 was painted by him … Most Mexicans have seen his work but only people who love art and have a higher cultural level know who he was.”
The reason why Jorge González Camarena is less known than Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, said his grandson, is because he belonged to a later generation.
“But it was also a matter of marketing. Who is best known? The person who promotes himself. To make my point, the most expensive painting crafted by a Mexican is not by any of the great masters. It was painted by a minor artist, Frida Khalo, who promoted herself with her self-pity and her relationship with Diego Rivera. Her works are among the most expensive in New York.”
The second objective of the Jorge González Camarena Foundation is “to continue the work started by my grandfather of sponsoring culture, which is something I believe in. My grandfather was the founder of many art associations such as the Mexican Association of Plastic Arts and he represented at the United Nations all of the arts of Latin America, not just Mexico. He was a promoter of culture, of the painters’ guild and so on. So the Foundation has the objective of promoting the arts and artists. He did it and I believe in it.”
By RICARDO CASTILLO / The News
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