Sunday, July 21, 2019

Art, Arreguin, and What Lies in the Bardo

Lisa Alvarado, Returning Guest Columnist

Photo by Eva Blanchard Arce

Seattle artist Alfredo Arreguin has exhibited his work internationally, most recently at the Museo de Cadiz in Spain (2015). He has exhibited solo shows at Linda Hodges Gallery since 2001. Arreguin has a long and distinguished list of accomplishments. In 1979 he was selected to represent the U.S. at the 11th International Festival of Painting at Cagnes-sur Mer, France, where he won the Palm of People Award. 

In 1980 he received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the arts. In 1988 in a competition that involved over 200 portfolios, Arreguin won the commission to design the poster for the Centennial Celebration of the State of Washington (the image was his painting Washingtonia); that same year he was invited to design the White House Easter Egg. Perhaps the climatic moment of his success came in 1994, when the Smithsonian Institution acquired his triptych, Sueno (Dream: Eve Before Adam), for inclusion in the collection of the national Museum of American Art. 

A year later, in 1995, Arreguin received an OHTLI Award, the highest recognition given by the Mexican government to the commitment of distinguished individuals who perform activities that contribute to promote Mexican culture abroad. More recently, success has been cemented by an invitation to show his work in the Framing Memory: Portraiture Now exhibition, at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. One of his paintings included in this show, The Return to Aztlan, will remain in the permanent collection of the gallery. 

Arreguin's work is now in the permanent collections of two Smithsonian Museums: The National Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. In 2017 he was awarded to the keys to the city of Morelia, an honor only shared with Pope Francis.  In 2018 he collaborated with Doug Johnson for "In the Shadow of the Master" in Tacoma, and had a solo retrospective at the Bainbridge Island Museum of art.  It was so popular, the show was extended.

Alfredo Arreguin's work is represented by Linda Hodges Gallery in Seattle, Washington
Inverarte in San Antonio, Texas
La Llorona Gallery, Chicago, Illinois

For an in-depth online interview, click here

Here is a piece I wrote about Alfred and Frida.

Alfredo In the Bardo and Frida in the Cut

In the Bardo

In some schools of Buddhism, bardo (Tibetan བར་དོ་ Wylie: bar do) or antarabhāva (Sanskrit) is an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth.

Milam bardo (mi lam bar do): is the second bardo of the dream state.

I chose this as part of the title of this essay. Essay, rumination, love letter to Alfredo Arreguin.

I will talk about Frida in the cut a bit later. I first found Alfredo’s work several years ago, chatting with people of Facebook, of all places. Whether it’s portraiture, landscape, or still life, Alfredo’s work is all at once representational and symbolic.

 In his paintings, the key subject is at first “hidden” against a patterned background, just like the emerging images in a dream. And like a dream, the background stays suggested, while the central image gradually comes into focus, capturing your attention. Liminal, you see, in the bardo, Alfredo takes you to the borderland of what exists in the “real” world and what we see in our mind’s eye, in our dreams.

Speaking of dreams, Alfredo’s intricate patterns, his ingots of color, precise in placement and repetition, remind me of Huichol beaded worship – animals, icons – all painstakingly built and layered bead by bead. Alfredo shapes his work, I think, in much the same way. Huichol beaded work, their yarn work, is an expression of the bardo; a present-time bridge from this world to the real world of the spirit, of what exists in a shared vision quest.

Alfredo invites you to see, and see past this world, into the tangible realm of the deeply felt, the perfect spirit. It is specific, in that the imagery springs from the roots of Mejicanismo, and by implication Chicanismo. It is universal, in that it assumes the viewer, from whatever background, understands the longing, and the revelations of the borderland.

And like the art and living message of our indigena brothers and sisters, Alfredo’s work calls us to reconnect, the re-construct from a borderland/bardo place of a Pan-American experience, something I truly understand. Alfredo was born in Mexico, and I am the child of immigrants, and the idea of border/ bardo is one that constantly shapes my self-definition, and I suspect shapes his as well. I want to share this poem about the power of the bardo, specific and universal. I hope it also serves as the introduction to my reaction to Alfredo’s re-creation of Frida.


En este sueño
estoy completa.
No tengo que guardar
las historias de otra gente.
No tengo que buscar y escudriñar
a través de los restos de sus palabras.

En este sueño
paso mis dedos
através de la cabellera de Frida
Con esa cabellera,
tejo flores obscuras
del color de la sangre.
Y me dice
que el jaguar viene a traerme
su poder.

La medicina que calma este dolor
es como comida para
calmar esta hambre.

En este sueño
hago magia
con el lodo del Rio Grande.
Arropado en corridas y música ranchera,
que son el hechizo y el encanto
que anula la edad
del olvido y el adoctrinamiento.

En este sueño
tengo un amante
cuya cara es de piedra,
como el antiguo marcador del templo.

Su boca es carnosa,
sus ojos están entrecerrados y

“Ven conmigo mi India,
mi pequeña perdida.
Recuerda quien eres.
Recuerda quien eres.”


In this dream,
I am whole.
I am no longer
saving other people’s stories,
scavenging their words;
sifting thru their remains.
In this dream,
my fingers run
thru Frida’s hair.
In this hair, I plait
dark flowers
the color of blood.
She tells me
the jaguar comes
to bring me power.
The medicine
to end this pain,
the food for this hunger.
In this dream,
I have made magic
from the mud of the Rio Grande.
Wrapped in corridas and ranchero music;
are spells and incantations
to undo
the age of forgetfulness
and indoctrination.
In this dream,
I have a lover
whose face is stone;
ancient as a temple marker.
His mouth is full,
his eyes half closed.
He whispers:
“Come to me, mi India,
mi pequeña perdida.
Remember who you are
Remember who you are.”

In the Cut

Agency is the ability to express your true self on your own terms. It is the power to think for yourself and act in ways that shape your experiences and life trajectories. Alfredo’s portraits of Frida reveal his root understanding this essential truth. It utterly rejects the common trope in the most recent cult of Frida expropriation - Frida as victim; with the artist and the viewer indulging in the voyeurism of pain. Alfredo never stoops to that. In every painting depicting her, she is vibrant, aware, her gaze resolute and self-aware. This is the greatest homage and the deepest understanding of one of the twentieth century’s most important artists.

I tried to capture that agency in writing about her and strengthening the agency in myself.


I am the catch
in your throat;
the wordless cry,
I am the cloud
that follows you;
at the slightest provocation.
I am the scar
that has
become a flower.
I am the pilgrim
you brought home;
the Jew you hid
from the fire.
I am your dark sleep.
I am your dream
of finding someone
whose arms
will hold you
when daylight comes.

Frida was never her wound, her physical limits, her crushing disappointments in private life.

She takes her life and as alchemist, transforms it into art, into awareness, into a psychic rebar stronger than any back brace. She gives all comers as good as she gets. I chose the phrase “in the cut” – a hip hop term meaning hidden in the ‘hood, but also someone at the top of their game, their quintessential self.

Frida will always be the foundation for Latinx artists of all persuasions, as we emerge from the ‘hood., as we gather onto ourselves our own rebar, forge our own identities.

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