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Mexican artist Alfredo Castañeda died in Madrid on Wednesday, December 15. Born in Mexico City on February 18, 1938, the young Alfredo lived for long periods with his father's family in Spain, where the quiet silence of medieval art and architecture shaped his contemplative nature. Recollections from these times imbued more and more his work as an architect, painter and poet.
Although always interested in drawing, he began painting seriously in the late 1950's. In July, 1969, while practicing architecture, Castañeda held his first one-person exhibition at the Galería de Arte Mexicano, where he exhibited regularly for the next forty years. After its Director, Inés Amor, saw his painting El Hacedor de palomas, 1963, of a medieval peasant standing in a cloudless sky, doves flying out of a hole in his cape, she gave him his first exhibition. These first works broke ground for the appearance of an intimate iconography referring to his wonderment with recollections, most evidently in his collage The House of My Early Childhood, 1968, or more subtly in how the treasured photograph of an aunt taken when she was five, dressed as a butterfly for a school play, served as source for several works.
When asked why many of his personages appeared to be blind, he explained that it was because "their vision came from within." Castañeda might have been describing his unique ability to see a universe in a grain of sand. Clarity that comes from understanding without passing judgment imbued Castañeda's fascination with how time affects life, which may be the red thread that binds his work. It appeared as early as 1968 in Rostro Olvidado, and in works that followed where abandoned personages have not also been forgotten but also now are crumbling, falling apart at the seams; or in his atemporal self-portraits, where he is either carrying himself, giving birth to himself, or showing scars on his body caused equally by losses as by gains he has experienced, such as the loss of innocence or the gaining of awareness, respectively.
Those who are acquainted with Christian iconography can readily link, sometimes even confuse, his self-portraits with the popular ex-voto portraits of San Cayetano, with whom he shared more than a passing physical resemblance. Coincidentally, Cayetano, as patron saint of gamblers, lived permanently in the minds of those obsessed with losses and gains. Often labeled a surrealist because he painted unexpected contexts, Castañeda neither embraced nor rejected the label.
Profoundly religious, Castañeda sought in his endless spiritual self-portraits "the true self that I will take with me to the next life." Fully aware of his impending death from a chronic pulmonary ailment, he informed his wife, Hortensia, and children, Alfredo, Ibiza and Adrian, that he was leaving in peace; he will be sorely missed by them, as well as by his many friends, and his faithful collectors. He was 72 years old.
Courtesy of Salomón Grimberg