“Alfredo Arreguín: Life Patterns”

Thursday, January 03, 2019 1:45 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

Hats off to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, one of our outstanding regional art museums. Its current feature exhibition of the work of Alfredo Arreguín glows on the walls in the midst of our dark winter days.


Alfredo Arreguín populates his wonderland of jungles and seascapes with animals, fish, insects, and birds. Then he embeds in this dense matrix of colors and shapes the faces of well known political activists, writers, poets, friends, and occasionally, himself. The faces deeply disguised within the vast details of the paintings, point to Arreguín’s belief in the harmony of nature, the balance of life, and the crucial place that we have within it, rather than outside it. His work has never been more timely or important. 


Arreguín’s several themes, nature, Madonnas, and portraiture overlap and intersect. In every detail of these intricate works, he contradicts the angry rhetoric of racists creating arbitrary divisions in our beautiful world.


Leaping salmon and whales remind us that the survival of the Southern Resident pod of orcas is hanging in the balance. As the whales dwindle in response to environmental degradation, and the salmon fail to complete their migration upstream because of dams, Arreguín’s paintings celebrate natural processes and inspire us to protect our Salish Sea. 


Arreguín’s life story is unusual. He was born in Morelia, Michoacán Mexico, as an illegitimate child, and passed from one relative to another. On a few occasions, he had the opportunity to be immersed in the jungle, experiences that made a deep and permanent impression on him. He also had enough educational opportunities to learn art as he moved from Morelia to Mexico City. But by extraordinary serendipity he was invited to live in Seattle by a family he met when they were lost as tourists in Chapultepec park. As a result, he came to the U.S. in January 1956, and gained citizenship with their sponsorship. After serving in the army in Korea (where he introduced himself to Asian art), he attended the University of Washington, earning two degrees, then found his way as an artist by the mid 1970s in the style that he still practices.  


He began to appear in major exhibitions almost immediately. The National Museum of American Art acquired his work in the early 1990s. “Life Patterns” includes works from Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s permanent collection, promised gifts, and loans from private collections and the artist himself, for a total of almost fifty works for this 50 year retrospective.  


Arreguín began honoring Frida Kahlo many years before she became a pop icon. They share a love of folk art, peasant expressions, nature, music, and the sensuality of life. Arreguín transmits folk art patterns and their motifs in one layer of his dense jungle tapestries, but more than that Frida as well as Arreguín embraced the spiritual significance of ordinary people’s beliefs in Mexico, beliefs that survive transformed to this day. 


Likewise Arreguín’s love of literature and language pervades his paintings, sometimes literally in his homages to his Seattle friends Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher, other times more subtly as in his homage to Pablo Neruda. Also look for his portraits of indigenous environmentalists, well known activists, and revolutionaries.


In addition to this featured exhibition, the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is also showing a traveling exhibition of 53 artists’ books titled “Borderland-Arkir Book Arts Group/Iceland which addresses the concept of land. It is supplemented by a selection of the Artists’ Books from the Collection of Cynthia Sears, the visionary founder of the Museum. Artists’ Books are a particular passion of Sears. She has also promised two paintings by Arreguín to the Museum from the Sears-Buxton collection, and already donated the signature Arreguín painting “Salish Sea” of 2017.


In addition, don’t miss Kait Rhodes multimedia glass sculpture of a red polyp titled “Bloom,” and the exhibition “Heikki Seppa: Master Metalsmith,” thirty metal works, both jewelry and sculpture by a giant in the field. Finally, to celebrate the Museum’s 5th anniversary, there are selections from the intriguingly diverse works donated to the Museum’s permanent collection (which includes another painting by Arreguín.)


So within this fairly small space, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art offers an experience for everyone, world class artists and an embrace of many media, both experimental and classical. Even in the bistro there is an exhibition—Pamela Wachtler’s paintings and monotypes “Impressions of Place.”


It is hard to believe that the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is only five years old. What a success it has become and what a gift to our art community. Only a short walk from the ferry, it is free of charge and open seven days a week.


Susan Noyes Platt

Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com and for local, national, and international publications.


“Alfredo Arreguín: Life Patterns” is on view through February 3 at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art located at 550 Winslow Way on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Open daily 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. For more information, visit www.biartmuseum.org.

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