Art Vallarta

Well, briefly, I did have a short term job here in Puerto Vallarta. Kathryn, the Color Pod artist, offered me a couple days of work beginning today but when I showed up this afternoon for my shift, the place was closed.

All three storefront studios in the building were closed with signs on the window describing the same sad situation: legal problems with the building. Too bad! I was quite excited about the prospect of working on the art strip – perhaps I will have another opportunity in the future …

This morning I discovered a really great multidisciplinary co-operative Art Studio facility just starting up in the Old town area, not too far from the Paradise Community Centre, just a couple of blocks from the beach. Run by Nathalie Herling a ceramic artist and chef from Brooklyn who has lived here for a couple of years, it is a fantastic initiative of which I hope to be a part. I think she and her husband own the building, and they are putting together an art centre, including visual art studios, a store selling art supplies, a gallery, a theatre, and a roof top clay cooking and dining restaurant and teaching centre.

So far, the clay studio is up and running; today there were two Canadian women working in it, one of whom bought a brand new kiln in Houston and had it shipped down from there. The painting studio, up a short flight of stairs, is also in the process of being put together, with easels, canvases, and other supplies ready to go.

I was very excited about the theatre space. Formerly it housed a comedy club but it has not been used for five years.

Apparently, all its digital projection equipment is still there, intact, and in good working order, all ready to go for videographers and mixed media artists. Upstairs, at the apartment level, is an enormous salt water pool with a huge white wall perfect for more projections and water art. What a fantastic space! Nathalie is an energetic and enthusiastic director and I wish her all the best in getting the space going. The grand opening is scheduled for Feb 14, with art happenings and an exhibition of work on a Valentine’s Day theme. If I can find someplace to get a digital image printed, I will submit a piece to the show.

See more information here.

Puerto Vallarta Markets and Beaches

Old Town Puerto Vallarta is lucky enough to have two Saturday markets, one at the Paradise Community Centre and the other at Lazaro Cardenas Park, just off the Malecon. We decided to hit them both, since the day was cloudy and a bit too cold for the beach (says she whose home town is only 5 degrees …).

The Paradise Community Centre market was packed with throngs of people and lots of vendors sending vintage clothes, jewellery, kids’ items, art, books, and especially, wonderful food and baked goods.

I sampled an apple square and Ty gobbled down a huge cinnamon bun as we pondered the wares for sale. A local artisan was selling some beautifully-made bracelets and necklaces; we bought one of each.

A few blocks north of Paradise is the Lazaro Cardenas Market, also busy, and I bought three little foot decorations – like earrings for feet – which, hopefully, one of these days when my left foot has healed from whatever is ailing it and I can walk in sandles again, I can wear.

After browsing, feeling some drops of rain hitting the top of our heads, we ducked into the nearby book cafe and had the good fortune of meeting Jay, a fellow from Iowa sitting at the next table with a group of ex-pat friends.

After a delightful chat, and telling him that we were looking around for long-stay accommodation, he told us the story of meeting Lily, their house’s owner, and how he and his wife Ardis came to be staying in an apartment in Conchas Chinas, the next colonia south of Amapas. Jay was kind enough to invite us over to see the place, thinking it might be a possibility for us in the future. (Apropos of nothing … below is another majestic Queen Death figure, this one on the steps of the Hotel Catedral downtown. I love these figures, even thought their implications are sobering …)

Back wandering around the old town again, this time looking for a barbecued chicken, we walked past the vegetable stand which had had few fresh veggies before. This day it was full of great looking fruits and vegetables, obviously just having been replenished by its suppliers. The key is to figure out which day the new shipment of goodies comes in and shop for vegetables on that day. We also saw the closed hulk of a former supermarket, which Jay told us had closed down after people stopped buying there when their fresh produce deteriorated.

Sunday saw a return of the sun and a trip to the beach was in order. We plopped ourselves down on the sun loungers at the Swell Beach Bar and whiled away the afternoon sipping and munching.

Puerto Vallarta is full of pelicans roosting on the fishing boats; they are wonderful animals and I love to see them fishing and diving in the waters here. Coming screaming down out of the skies, they easily scoop up fish in their gigantic beaks.

The picture above shows Los Muertos Beach, “our beach” at the foot of the hills where we’re staying.

Although we are, as usual, on a fairly tight budget here, we want to spread a little of our cash around the place so I indulged in a reflexology foot massage by Rosalie, whose hands were incredibly strong and left my old feet feeling very relaxed.


Monday we visited Jay and Ardis, and met Lily, a lovely Mexican woman who rents out the three story hillside house they stay in. She has the ground floor suite, a couple from Edmonton stay on the middle floor, and Jay and Ardis have the top. Their space is incredible, huge, with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and an enormous sunny roof-top deck with a view that lasts forever out over the Bay and the Marietas Islands.

While sitting and visiting on the deck, we could see, and hear, the many small green and yellow parrots flitting around in the treetops. Occasionally, when a gigantic frigate bird cruised by, they screeched and squawked up a storm – funny creatures. Many butterflies also fluttered about; one landed on my hand and stayed for quite a while, a very tiny, gentle presence.

Later, we hopped the orange bus to Mismaloya, the next settlement south of PV along the coast, made famous by the film Night of the Iguana, starring Liz and Dick, filmed there in the 60s. The beach there is accessed down a path that runs along the outside of a hotel compound and over a small wooden bridge across the creek.

Many small boats are docked here and pelicans roost on them hopefully. The bay is small, with a few beach bars, and was pretty quiet this day. The place felt a bit desperate and we wondered if the tourist trade here is much diminished because of the weakness of the North American economy. Likely, the tourists who visit Puerto Vallarta are not spending as much as in previous years. We hope that the ill effects of the economic downturn will not damage the economy of this city too much; it really is a beautiful place to be.

Today, back on the road again in Old Town, I headed back to Isla Cuale and the printmaking studio. Lo and behold, it was open and I had a chance to speak to the maestra, Ireri Topete.

She explained how the studio works and told me it would be possible to use the space, either by enrolling in classes or as a visiting artist. It’s a nice space with a good sized etching press and a small litho press not currently in use. Good to know for the future. This day there were about five students working on etchings in this space, and quite a few others in the painting and sculpture studios across the way. This will be a great place to work if we are successful in being able to come here for the winter in the future.

See more pictures here, here, and here.

Puerto Vallarta South Side: Zona Romantica, Old Town … art and culture

The Paradise Community Center right near us was started by two expats and is a bustling hive of activity.

We spent some time there this morning while the Artisans Co-op Market was on and sampled some great Thai food as we watched the crowd come and go. Kitten adoptions, chair massage (by our condo neighbour Sunny), jewellery, food, clothes … it’s all there every week.

Sitting under an umbrella in the courtyard was a very pleasant way to pass some time on a warm and sunny day.

Puerto Vallarta’s Old Town isn’t really all that old but it has the atmosphere of old: cobbled streets, three story walkup concrete apartments, lots of multi-coloured bougainvillea winding itself around poles and up walls.

It also has a fair number of abandoned, vacant, and condemned properties, some of which are huge and cavernous.

I’m not sure whether this is a result of the recent harsh economic conditions or local conditions but it’s an interesting juxtaposition with the evident liveliness of the art scene.

Old Town also has lots of restaurants and bars and a Saturday morning market. And it has art. As in the Centro area further north, here, too, are a cluster of galleries and shops selling contemporary and Mexican folk art. This area also has an Art Walk, every second Friday, centred on Basillio Badillo Boulevard, but it ends the first week in April. So, we strolled around the area without the benefit of a map, trying to find the galleries hidden on shady streets, as well as those out in full view in the blaze of sun.

Galeria Contempo is one of the newest, and largest, spaces on the South Side. The work here is eclectic, comprising abstract painting and figurative bronze sculpture.

And the space is wonderful, two storeys with a wraparound balcony on the second floor, perfect for plants and sculpture.

Galeria Dante bills itself as the largest gallery in PV; the first two times we came by, it was closed; we finally we able to see it on Monday.

The space occupies almost an entire block and consists of several rooms and some outdoor areas, every inch of which, it seems, is packed with art. Paintings and sculpture, mostly, and very colourful. The nicest space is the outdoor sculpture garden, with a variety of figurative bronzes and a lovely fish pond sans fish.

The problem with many of the galleries here is the same problem I found with almost every shop I entered in Turkey – horror vacui! Fear of vacant space – seemingly, everything in the place must be on display. It’s hard to concentrate on any one thing because everything else impinges on one’s consciousness – there’s simply too much stuff!

However, even given that problem, this gallery is an enjoyable experience with the grand variety of art on display, some of it excellent.

We spend an interesting bit of time in the Jose Marca Studio and Gallery on Lazaro Cardenas. Jose was kind enough to show us around his studio space and explain the artistic philosophy behind his neo-expressionist primitivism, telling us that early on in his career other artists and galleries had told him that his work was “good for nothing”. I guess he’s proven them wrong, in that he’s been doing his thing in PV for over twenty-five years and looks at least 15 years younger than his 70.

His good for nothing art has been good for him.

Galeria Puerco Azul features folk art; it used to be a family house and the place is huge, with many rooms full of sculpture, jewellery, painting, and other objets d’art.

They also have a few paintings of archangels done by Peruvian artists – I was really tempted by one of a sword-wielding Michael … still thinking about it.

We also visited several shops which sold masks of all sorts, wooden, beaded (a parrot-headed one was especially cool), papier mache, and more coil pottery.

Puerto Vallarta: if you did nothing but go to the beach and walk the malecon, you’d have one kind of experience – just like anywhere in the world, really, sun, sand, sea – but two blocks off the strip and away from the water, there’s a whole much more interesting world out there. This city is moving up our “Place to Stay in the Sun When We’re Old” list fast, for several reasons: it’s beautiful, it’s on the ocean, the climate in winter is fantastic, it’s got a lively cultural scene and lots of artists;

it has a big English-speaking community and most of the locals speak English well enough (this is a plus and minus; I wanted to improve my Spanish but, whenever I speak it, the local respondent speaks back in English, making me think that my accent is execrable! However, I continue to persist); it is drivable from Vancouver (we could bring the dog and cat with us).

See more pics here.

For more information, click on the links below:

Paradise Community Center

Galeria Contempo

Galleria Dante

South Side Shuffle

Jose Marco

Art scene in PV