Jesús Canseco Zárate (Chucho to his friends) is a papier mâché artist who first came to FOFA’s attention in 2008 when he was only 19-years-old. He has participated in all three contests for young folk artists created by FOFA, in collaboration with Museo Estatal de Arte Popular Oaxaca (Oaxaca State Museum of Popular Art, MEAPO). In our 2008 competition, he won first prize in the category “other modalities” or “varios” for his Catrina, an elegantly dressed skeleton figure that is significant in Mexican popular art. In 2011 and 2013 Jesús received honorable mention for two additional outstanding papier mâché works.
For Jesús, “Winning the 2008 FOFA contest was not only a career triumph, but also an impetus to move forward with my art.” Unlike many of the artists to whom FOFA offers enrichment and marketing opportunities, he did not grow up in a family of folk artists. Nevertheless, Jesús recalls, “I was always interested in art. When I was a child I looked for beautiful stones in my aunt’s garden, noticing their forms and color. I also made pictures of animals and put them around the garden. In primary and secondary school I loved art class. I painted, drew and modeled. After high school I was able to attend El Instituto de Bellas Artes for a few semesters.”
An important artistic door opened when Jesús met Alejandro Ramírez and Irma Ortíz — owners of Casa Panchita, a B&B in Oaxaca — at a crafts show in which he exhibited his work. Intrigued by his lively calacas (skeletons), they invited him to sell his figures to tourists they hosted, and also displayed several of his pieces in their library for the pleasure of future guests. Since this is where FOFA board members typically stay when visiting Oaxaca, Alejandro and Irma learned about the first contest, and encouraged Jesús to submit his work. This culminated in his being awarded first prize in his category, “other modalities.” He was given a six-month scholarship to the Taller de Artes Plasticas Rufino Tamayo, a renowned art school in Oaxaca City, where he enhanced his technique not only in sculpture, but also painting and life drawing.
Although he has branched out to other art forms, Jesús Canseco’s first love remains creating calacas that best enable him to realize his artistic vision. They embody a paradox in Mexican popular art: the joy of life in the face of the inevitability of death. Through his classes at the Taller, Jesús learned how to give his beloved figures a sense of animation and movement (note the contrasts between his 2008 and later pieces). He learned how to create an underlying structure and to make his work far more “life like.” Marketing classes offered by FOFA also catalyzed Jesús’s documentation of his work before it is sold and maintenance of an organized database of client contacts.
Many other doors have opened for Jesús, some afforded by FOFA and other by his own initiatives. After meeting him in the 2008 contest, members of the FOFA board continued to nurture his talents and offered new venues for exhibiting his art. Each of his three contest pieces has been on view in a three-month exhibition at MEAPO that followed the concurso, and he has been featured in an exhibition catalogue that invited collectors to meet and contact the artists. Jesús’s figures have been included in FOFA’s annual holiday folk art sales, and board members have purchased and displayed his pieces in their homes where friends and family members become excited by their whimsical qualities and artistry. In 2009 Vice President, Joyce Grossbard, helped arrange for Jesús to be “artist of the month” at Galería Quetzalli, a prestigious gallery in Oaxaca that represents notable artists such as Francisco Toledo. Interestingly, 80% of the collectors who purchased Jesús’s work were from New York!
As a result of such exposure, Jesús receives a steady stream of commissions by private collectors, some of whom have sent photographs of selected individuals for him to interpret as calaca figures. Since he is easily accessible by computer (Jesus.email@example.com) and telephone (from the US cellular 011-52-1-951-153-0361 and landline 011-52-951-516-1327) and has a considerable command of English, commissions can be easily and directly negotiated with him.
In 2010 he took part in a group exhibition entitled “El Festival Mórbido.” He elected to study photography – including use of the camera, lighting, composition, and film production — in Mexico City in 2011. Since then, Jesús has created a body of photographic work, while still spending the majority of his time creating calacas. His images have been included in a group exhibition at the “Taller Espacio Alternativo” in Oaxaca, and works that relate to death and the body will appear in another exhibition in Mexico City, beginning November, 2013 at the Fundación Hector García.
Most recently Cynthia Weill — a FOFA board member and children’s book writer who uses Mexican crafts to illustrate children’s concept books that teach basic bilingual vocabulary — was fascinated by Canseco’s new pieces that were just right for teaching family vocabulary, while simultaneously introducing another Oaxacan art form, papier mâché, to children.” My Skeleton Family/Mi Familia Calaca is available for sale in fall, 2013. Click to read more about this book
Jesús is deeply grateful to FOFA for his award, his scholarship and exposure to people who can help him promote his work. He has been given the opportunity to take part in Young Folk Artists’ group exhibitions, be featured in three accompanying catalogues, and attend English and internet marketing classes. Most recently he is thrilled to create the artwork to illustrate My Skeleton Family/Mi Familia Calaca that provides a different group of viewers, children, to see his figures. These opportunities have continued to nurture Jesús’s talent and abilities at a time when sensationalistic press about Mexico has severely compromised international tourism – a crucial market for folk art. In Jesús’s own words: “I’ve developed wonderful friendships and a great network through the organization; and I do not know in this day and age what would become of popular art in Oaxaca without FOFA.”