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A Mexican Evolution - Gennaro Garcia

Author: Rebecca L. Rhoades
Issue: March, 2016, Page 108
With the skyline of downtown Phoenix in the background, artist Gennaro Garcia is surrounded by a retrospective display of his work.

“I often paint in here,” says Garcia of the Galería at Xico Inc., a nonprofit arts organization in Central Phoenix that promotes Latino and Native American artists.

Garcia is an artist-in-residence at Xico Inc. His studio is filled with his many works, including paintings, ceramics and wood carvings. On the easel is “La Virgen de los Remedios” (55"H by 36"W), a custom project for a church in the Philippines.
In the dining room of his townhouse

in Ahwatukee, Gennaro Garcia is putting the finishing touches on a painting that was commissioned for a restaurant in Mexicali, Mexico. The oversized canvas features a lone female portrait, her hair and eyebrows styled to resemble those of Frida Kahlo. In place of her mouth, the bold orange form of a butterfly is taking shape—another reference to the celebrated Mexican painter.

When asked about his inspiration for the image, he explains, “It is from a letter she wrote that I read in which she expresses her anger and love for Diego Rivera. Despite the darkness of her life, everything she had for him was love. Her words to him, she said, were like butterflies coming out of her mouth.” The piece is titled “Palabras que Vuelen,” or “Words That Fly.”

Garcia’s father, Luciano, carved this wood sculpture, which Garcia decorated with gold leaf and paint. Titled “Corazón Guadalupano,” it measures 22"H by 19"W.
Garcia leans back and crosses his arms. He smiles, gazing lovingly at the face as though it were alive. His worn dark blue cardigan and cuffed jeans are freckled with a rainbow of paint.

Suddenly he laughs. “You must see this,” he says as he runs out of the room, returning a few seconds later with a much smaller canvas. The simple watercolor painting depicts a typical Southwestern scene: A pueblo ladder rests against the deep pink wall of a Santa Fe-style home. Nestled in a nicho is a Madonna statue, while a potted sunflower grows next to a brick archway. A signature in the lower right-hand corner reads “Gennaro ’98.”

“That’s how I got started,” he says, clasping his hands in amusement. “When I first moved to Yuma, I started painting these pieces of canvas, and I would sell them for $25 at the mall. I didn’t sell that many.” A collector of his more-current work found the piece on eBay and sent it to Garcia as a gift three years ago. Its purchase price: $3,600.

Garcia traveled to Puebla, Mexico, to study the tradition of making Talavera pottery. He crafted this large (18"H) vase with lid, titled “Tibor Monjas de Rioja,” during that time.

Like his art, Garcia himself has evolved over the years. Born and raised in Mexico, his first passion was for food. He spent his teens and early 20s working in his parents’ and then his own restaurants; a secondary job painting business signs with his older brother fostered his artistic talents. In the mid 1990s, he came to the U.S. and spent the next few years managing an eatery in Yuma. The love of a beautiful woman—Briseida, now his wife—brought him to Phoenix, but it was a chance encounter with another woman while he was working in an Ahwatukee coffee shop that changed the course of his career.

“I was painting murals in multimillion-dollar Scottsdale homes, and I needed an assistant,” says Mia Pratt, owner of the now-defunct artist guild Old Pratt Studio. She had seen his work hanging on the shop’s walls and offered him a job. As her apprentice, he quickly became a senior muralist and then an associate in the business. “He had that special flair, and the clients loved him,” Pratt recalls. “He really didn’t need me to be his mentor; he was born an artist. He just needed me to open a couple of doors.”

In the workspace at Xico Inc., Garcia examines a monoprint of his painting “Ciento por Ciento Mexicano.”
In 2006, at the behest of Pratt, Garcia decided to strike out on his own as an independent painter. Today, he is one of the most well-respected artists in the Valley, with a portfolio that features a wide range of works, from oil paintings, prints and murals to pottery and wood carvings. The latter is a collaborative project with his father, Luciano, who carves the pieces, which Garcia then paints.

“The whole idea of being an artist is to create art. The technique, the colors, the textures—they don’t matter,” he says of his ever-changing media. “The part I enjoy most is the learning process. That’s why I’m always creating something new.” His latest endeavor is a collection of plates, bowls and serving dishes called “Hecho a Mano.” Translated simply as “Made by Hand,” the white dishes feature black line drawings of outstretched hands, an homage to his father, who would “pick vegetables with his hands,” and his mother, who “cooked with her hands and served with her heart.” His artistic vision is complete once food is placed in the center of the hands.

Another collaboration between Garcia and his father, “Guadalupano” measures 17"H.
Since its introduction, the collection has received widespread praise, with chefs clamoring to use the dishes in their restaurants. “It’s an honor to know that James Beard Award-winning chefs and well-known chefs from TV want to use my plates,” Garcia says. “One of the enjoyable things about being an artist is collaborating with other artists. And chefs are artists. Everything they do is creative.”

Veronica Graffius, managing partner of Calvin Charles Gallery in Scottsdale, has known Garcia since they were teens living in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. She now represents his work at her gallery, where he’s had multiple solo shows. He is the first Latino artist to do so there since Fernando Botero of Colombia in 2003. “The way Gennaro has evolved over the years is amazing,” Graffius says. “He has many different areas that he’s explored, and every single one that he’s launched has been successful. They’re part of him.


GENNARO GARCIA
MASTERS OF THE SOUTHWEST 2016 AWARD WINNER


Friends and colleagues of artist Gennaro Garcia call him “original,” “versatile,” “motivated,” “passionate” and “a powerhouse of creativity.” 

Driven to create, Gennaro has taken the art world by storm. From his early work as one of the original muralists with the Calle 16 Mural Project—his first mural, “Bienvenidos a Arizona,” is now a local landmark—to his multiple gallery showings in Scottsdale, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, he bridges the gap between primitive Mexican folk art and the traditional techniques of the old masters, incorporating layering, dimensions, highlights and shadows, gold leafing and Italian plaster in his masterpieces.

Each year brings new and exciting opportunities for Gennaro. In 2015, he was named the Signature Artist for the Heard Museum’s annual El Mercado de las Artes. And now that he’s conquered Phoenix, he’s set his sights a little farther south. This spring, an exhibit of his art will inaugurate a new museum in his hometown of San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico.

 “I can’t wait to see where he goes next,” says Mia Pratt, who helped Gennaro get established. “He’s definitely going to be famous.”

We agree. That’s why we at Phoenix Home & Garden are proud to name him a Masters of the Southwest award winner. 

Congratulations, Gennaro!
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