Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mario Sanchez

In New York they titled the exhibit A Fisherman's Dream but here in Key West it's titled Grits and Grunts which has become the folkloric dish of the (first) Great Depression in Key West. Mario Sanchez has become the folk artist of the Southernmost City and his crude, vibrant wooden tablets are in demand world wide.

Sanchez did indeed paint memories of his home town, his pictures show street scenes and residents going about their daily lives. In part it is a record of how life was lived but it is also a record of the quirks and characters of those who lived in Key West particularly in the Depression Years.

The portraits of the past are fascinating and I watched with some interest as the cleaner dude studied the pictures. He was so intent I wondered if he remembered some of these scenes...

The entrance picture was of Ernest Hemingway, in the striped blouse handing out fish to passerby after an excessively successful fishing trip. The wrought iron balcony of his home is in evidence behind the men in the picture.

The stand out features of the exhibit are not only the quantity of the works on show but also the really extraordinary paper cartoons that he drew before he embarked on the wooden bas-Reliefs themselves. And they took up,to four months to complete - each!

Below we have a cigar maker's cottage, with industrious cigar rolling underway...
...and here is how the artist envisioned the scene:

Below we see in the upper part of the frame the unfinished work while below we see a completed picture with all details present and accounted for.

There is a video to accompany the exhibit and it brings to life the artist who died in 2005 at age 96. We see him working in his "Studio Under The Trees," which is how much of daily life is lived in this benign climate: outdoors.

He talks about how colorful Key West was when he was younger, aft his father a reader in the cigar factories, brought his family home from Tampa. The cigar factories owned by Cuban migrants mostly relocated Up North thanks to the cheaper land, a common theme of life in Key West even then.

A reader was a man who stood at a lectern in front of the cigar rollers and read newspapers and novels to keep the troops entertained. I suppose nowadays they would use television. While Sanchez worked in his studio his mother would frequently sit behind him and monitor his progress.


The art is these for all to see, full of color lively and detailed. Its the Key West we all want to remember, the intimate small village described in Hemingway's To Have and To Have Not, but it's the Key West we never saw and that has disappeared forever.
One of the things that bugs me about historic art is that if things appear which do not seem consonant with prevceived reality modern viewers tend to ascribe things seen in old,pictures as "artistic license." my wife noticed no wild chickens in any of these pictures. So, how old and established are these irritating modern wild chickens of Key West?

Dogs? Sure. Cats? Lots of them. But chickens? Not one. Is that artistic license or reality as it really was?

This young dude shown below was selling Spanish Limes, which are small round fruit with a tough skin and soft juicy pulp around a very large pit. In the Caribbean they call them christophenes.

The kite flyers are flying kits on the ends f real pieces of string embedded in the picture. Do you like the depth of detail?

Key West has a long tradition of being home to a strong Jewish community. Indeed the state's oldest synagogue still operates in Key West.

Mario Sanchez knew all about it and recorded it for posterity, this community in Key West.


Check out the detail on tis snapper:

The back of the fish shows the wood was recycled according to the note in front of the piece and here it is:

All this managed with these modest tools and a chisel:




Here is Killi Gray being pursued by the Old Bill:

And here is the crawfish man:

Sanchez liked to use clouds to carry messages over his paintings. Here is the Hemingway house and here are the clouds: for whom the bell tolls, the sun also rises and in the distance the old man and the sea. Neat huh?

And here is the original Hemingway giving away his surplus catch: