Artist digs into unique medium
Shovel art a natural form of expression for Mexican-born Marco Antonio Diaz
Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014 06:00 am
The market runs every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
At times words fail Mexican painter Marco Antonio Diaz’s broken English. But when they do, he gracefully arcs his arms inviting patrons to view his entire collection of folk art now on display at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market.
Market visitors stop. They stare and are visibly curious. Most are not quite sure what to make of it.
“I like it all – the repurposing of old shovels and just the drawings and vibrant colourings,” says Deanna Besyk, a market shopper visiting from Ontario.
Although she does not purchase a piece of art, she is definitely astounded at the skill that the art embodies.
Can it be classified as folk art, usually a self-taught expression of folk culture painted on utilitarian surfaces such as cloth, wood, paper, clay, metal, and glass?
“Some people call it shovel art. Some call it up-cycling. It’s a neat idea – making it out of recycled material,” says Kristina Maliska, Diaz’s wife, a gentle physiotherapist with an ever-ready smile who occasionally translates for her husband.
The two met at the Hotel Decameron in Bucerias, a popular resort town 20 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta where Maliska went on holidays.
“I went shopping for a painting, and I liked the painting with the painter,” says Maliska.
Laughingly, she wraps her arm around him while he gives her an enigmatic smile. In August, they share their second anniversary.
Diaz was born and raised in Cuernavaca, the capital and largest city in the state of Morelos. Cuernavaca is located two hours south of Mexico City, a favoured city of tradition, culture and glamour.
The Olmecs broke the ground establishing a civilization there about 3,200 years ago. Because of its stable climate and abundant vegetation, Aztec rulers enjoyed summer residences there. Today, it is a cosmopolitan city with many wealthy citizens owning sprawling mansions and haciendas.
Born in a family of 12, Diaz was taught to paint. At the market booth, he displays a photo of himself as a 15-year-old studiously painting at art school.
Mexico is a global magnet for tourism, and by the time Diaz was 18, he supported himself full-time creating depictions of his country.
“When painting full time, I didn’t need to do anything else,” Diaz notes. “It was such a surprise – every week selling, selling, selling. God is kind.”
Given the heritage city Diaz was raised in, it is not surprising his muse was the early 20th century muralist Salvador Tarazona. While North Americans are familiar with Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo (primarily through Hollywood), Tarazona is an unfamiliar quantity.
It was the self-taught Tarazona who recreated and revitalized the Indian inhabitants and how they constructed their massive stone pyramids and cliffside dwellings.
“I like him so much. He painted the old homes, the Indians, the traditional streets. He was my inspiration,” says Diaz speaking in a reverential tone.
He has painted for 46 years, but it was only in the last five years that shovel art has been in his catalogue.
“One day I have my dog, a German shepherd. I cleaning up around the dog and the shovel broke. I put it in corner. My shovel look at me. I look at shovel. I think I paint picture. It go flying.”
Within 24 hours of taking the painted shovel to his regular booth, it sold and Diaz realized he’d hit on a good idea.
But unlike in Canada, where tools are set at a certain price, in Mexico shovels are sold by weight.
“In Mexico expensive, so I shop in junkyard,” Diaz says.
At this point in the interview, Yvonne Walsh of Edmonton stops by and makes an observation, “They are balanced. They are soft and the colours are wavy. I like the shape of the shovels,” she says.
In fact, a close examination of the shovels reveals that some are circular while others have definite wobbles creating a natural three-dimensional effect that requires a degree of skill adjusting the perspective.
“You can almost walk right into his pictures. When I see that church, it looks like the church I went to. That’s what attracted me – the streets of Puerto Vallarta he paints,” says Lois Curry of Spruce Grove.
She first encountered Diaz’s work in Mexico and has since purchased two pieces.
But before the shovels make it to market, Diaz brushes off dirt and removes chips, scratches and rust. The next step is dipping the metal in light acid that cleans everything off. The acid is then neutralized and rinsed.
Once the surface is smooth, Diaz paints the backing white. A secret, stucco-like mix is slathered across the shovel to provide texture. He paints a scene onto the textured canvas followed by a varnish for protection.
“All my work is watercolour. I paint all techniques – watercolour, oléo (oil), acrylic. The problem painting in oléo is one week to dry. Watercolour is fast.”
Each work of art appears as an impression, a glimpse at a moment in time. He uses light to shape an image and includes movement as a crucial element in many pieces whether it’s a stampede of horses or a woman and child walking down a cobbled street.
And if you look closely, there is lush bougainvillea wrapping itself around graceful archways, and climbing walls towards red-tiled roofs in many of his works.
“Bougainvillea and poinsettia – both come from Cuernavaca,” he notes with pride in his voice.
This is the second year Diaz is selling at the market.
“People are kind here. People come even if rain, cold and snow. And people interested in my work.”