Our Tales From The Road
Alfredo Vilchis - Retablo Artist
Posted on Sep 6th, 2007
Rincon de los Milagros
Alfredo Vilchis in his studio, Mexico City, 2007
Rincon de los milagros -- corner of miracles, the street & neighborhood that Alfredo lives, where he paints retablos depicting the history of Mexico, people's dreams, wishes, troubles, pain, miracles and stories of great heart.
We entered Alfredo's home through the living room and kitchen downstairs and were brought right in to meet the whole family. We walked up the tiny winding staircase, covered in retablos and ex-votos to the second floor to his bedroom
Upon reacing the top of the stairway, we entered a rich blue room, his bedroom, where he sat us down next to him on the bed and told us the stories of his family, his faith, the saints who keep his work alive. Alfredo is a lively man, full of himself, and proud of the work he has been doing for the last 23 years, bringing history and people's stories to painted form while keeping the tradition of retablo and ex-Voto making alive.
The bedroom opens into his studio, rich in iconography, walls to
ceiling covered with masks, milagros, parts of doll's bodies, pictures, little statues and books - all for inspiration and meaning.
Brushes, old boxes with paint peeling, drawers full of supplies, drawings everywhere you turn, his image painted, looking out at you, the signature of this mustached man, a saint, an angel, a devil.
It is a dream studio full of light, white curtains blowing, simple, yet full of that which occupies his mind.
I asked Alfredo how he worked and he brought out a pencil drawing
of a retablo he had painted to show the basic layout - simple and not very detailed. From this he paints the final piece in oil on sheet metal called lamina.
Alfredo, his son Hugo and myself
Around every corner, behind every shelf are the images that hold his life and his work.
The shelf on the left is a wooden niche full of old rolled up tubes of paint, mixed with milagros and & saints in front of the niche to protect
and bless that which has brought him his livelihood and his fame.
Altars, shrines, mementos
Hugo, Alfredo's eldest son, laying out retablos that they call 'inventos' and are sold in the market, based on stories that they have read about in newspapers and magazines.
Alfredo, self portrait, angle with flowers, below, Alfredo
with death on a bicycle.
Love of Mexico, it's foils and follies and luchadors. This is
one of a series of retablos, commemorating the lucha phenomenom, his family painted in to the bleachers.
Alfredo explaining a shadow box niche that was hung in his show in
While in France at a show of his work, he became enamored with
the work of Velazquez, and has painted a series of the royal family
each one with him as the artist painting
Alfredo in jeans & green shirt & as a saint surrounded by his
paintbrushes, the working altar
Retablo of a bus full of people, the Virgin watching over and
Mexico city & the Volcanos to the south in the distance.
Through his love of bull fights, he has begun a series of retablos depicting bullfighting - the inspiration for another possible book of his work.
Hugo Vilchis - with two of his retablos
Luis Vilchis with recent retablos of gay lovers
Daniele, so serious throughout our visit
The artist desk
Shadow box of milagros and small linear retablo
Wall of milagros in tin, clay, doll parts, wood
Alfredo describing a simple retablo drawn by his grandson Miguel -- the story of the death of his little brother at one month
Alfredo with Manuel holding drawings of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Manuel's drawing is based on the drawing of Alfredo
Alfredo's Virgin on the left, Manuel's, right
Manuel, Alfredo & his grandaughter
Daniel, Alfredo, Hugo & Luis Vilchis
The blue bedroom. On the left is a retablo of all of Alfredo's saints, a
small shelf with miniature figures, paintings & retablos & a cross filled with
drawings and milagros, a photo of his mother beneath it.
Views of retablos on the narrow stairway, filled with retablos that Alfredohas painted over the years, retablos & Ex-votos that are
in his two books.
Rincon de los milagros