September 2018

Gallery Talk

by Myrna Zanetell

Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns

Escamilla retrospective celebrates 40 years of art

A retrospective exhibition often represents the highlight of an artist’s career. Looking over an extensive oeuvre of their paintings not only provides first-hand evidence as to how their artistic abilities have matured, but it often allows the artists to once again touch base with the collectors who have been so supportive in building their careers.
After forty years as a professional artist, local favorite Alberto Escamilla will enjoy the fruits of his labors with a retrospective exhibition entitled “Then and Now,” which will grace the West Wing of the International Museum of Art, 1211 Montana, Oct. 7-31.
Comprised of some 80 works, the exhibition will showcase paintings created from the early 1970s to the present, including paintings on loan from private collectors as well as a selection of new works.
Escamilla relates, “I am hoping to have a couple of paintings of mine from the collection of famed author Cormac McCarthy, especially “A Tribute to My Grandmother,” as this painting has been the most reproduced for sale in my gallery. I will also include a few paintings from our private family collection. Loving and supportive in what I do, over the years my wife, Rachel, has amassed an enviable collection of her own. We are carefully deciding which ones we will let go as they are all very special to us.”
The exhibition’s title, “Then and Now,” is especially appropriate because the works he will be displaying provide viewers with personal insights into the laborious yet fascinating path that Escamilla traveled to reach his current destiny.
“In 1978, I began to describe my career as professional artist. However, I really need to go back ten years earlier to a period of learning and building up sufficient courage to quit my 8 to 5 job and plunge into the unknown career of an artist. Taking that chance might have meant disappointment and failure, but my love of art was very strong, or maybe I was a romantic. Whatever it was that pushed the button to change my life, I am very grateful that I made that choice, and I give all the glory to God. The events that happened between 1962 –1977 are a dramatic story. These were the years that made me who I am.”
Previous to becoming a full-time artist, Escamilla had worked at in the sales department of the El Paso Newspaper Printing Corporation.
“When I turned in my resignation, I gave myself five years, no matter what, to continue painting. However, after only four months, reality set in — the rent was due and no money! I felt panic like never before. Remembering that one of my accounts had been Gonzalo’s G & R Mexican Restaurant, I decided to contact the owner, Nick Rangel, and happily, he turned out to be the first buyer of my work. He purchased three paintings, and I was on my way. Surprisingly, these still hang in the restaurant. One of these paintings “The Yaqui Indian” will be in my exhibit.
“G & R gave me my start, but I quickly realized what needed to be done right away was to acquire a sense of ‘discipline’ – this meant I needed to paint day and night. It would be the hardest, but the most rewarding thing I have ever accomplished. To this day ‘discipline’ has been the most important ingredient in my career, except for my wife, Rachel, who is the reason I am still painting after 40 years.
“My earliest subject matter included images of Southwest landscapes, the Mexican Revolution and other Western themed art. By the end of my first year, I had enough work to begin offering it to the public so I started displaying my work in hotel lobbies, Lincoln Center and from home. During this time, I was introduced to Arq. Jose Lizarraga, who was director of the Museo de Arte y Historia in Juarez. He offered me a one-man exhibit at the museum which was unbelievable to me. My next show, which was in 1988, took place at the Corbett Art Center at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
“At this juncture, I had changed my style to more impressionistic, which gave me the freedom to create with beautiful, bright colors — color would dictate the composition and the composition dictating color. The next step was having three of my paintings included at an exhibition at the International Museum of Art. Cormac McCarthy saw these paintings and asked if he could meet the artist who painted them. Thus, began a lifelong relationship as friend and collector.
“By 1993 due to selling regularly, I became more confident of my work. During this period, we rented the patio area of the Embassy Suites hotel for the weekend to exhibit my artwork. The show consisted of 70 paintings with some of them on easels borrowed from the El Paso Community College. As I stood looking at all the work, I asked my Lord Jesus Christ for a sign on whether to continue with my painting or go back to an 8 to 5 job. Because I felt ready for the next step in my career on the way home Saturday night, I shared with Rachel the request I made to our Lord to give me a sign of what to do. Well, Sunday night at the end of the exhibit, Rachel and I sat there looking at each other when Rachel said ‘Well, God just gave you your answer.’ I was stunned to realize the easels were empty because all but six out of the 70 paintings had sold.
“Now represented by the Agora Gallery in New York City, six months later Rachel and I were in the ‘Big Apple’ attending the opening night of a group show featuring four artists, me being one of them. I was especially pleased to be there because several friends from El Paso had traveled with us to New York for this opening.
“By the year 2000, I had a long list of collectors for my work. On the negative side, it was also the year I had a heart attack and eventually three angioplasties. By 2004, the scene was brighter as I was inducted into the El Paso Artist Hall of Fame and a bronze plaque went on display at the International Museum of Art.
“Health issues struck again when I had to have surgery to my right elbow for a damaged ulnar nerve, not once but twice. This affects my work even now. Previously I could complete a painting in one day, now it takes weeks or months. Another health issue which hampered my work in 2017 was surgery needed to have discs 2 and 3 in my cervical spine replaced due to severe spinal stenosis. I am still recovering from this. All these injuries were caused by my many years of painting.
“Despite these problems, I know I made the right decision in choosing to become a professional artist. I love what I do, and I treasure the friends I have made and the plethora of interesting memories such as my discussions with Cormac McCarthy. He helped me define my goals by asking me to really search what I wanted to achieve all the while taking notes of what I said. From these talks, he composed my artist statement which includes my desire to bring the fine arts to all people, not to be controversial and not to make a statement through my art, but rather to bring the beauty of God’s world through my paintings. Cormac would always end our day at a restaurant when people started coming in for dinner with the comment, ‘Alberto, look at the people coming in just passing by us not knowing they just walked by the world’s greatest artist and the world’s greatest writer. Let’s go home.’”
The opening reception of “Then and Now” will be 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, October 7, and Escamilla will present and artist’s statement at 3 p.m. Escamilla noted that the reception will be an event by itself.
“Items of interest, to be on display during the opening reception only, will be some of the palates used through my career, which are dated on the back. I take the palates and create a painting from the colors on the palate. A few of these will be available for sale, as many people through the years have asked to purchase one. I have also kept newspaper and magazine articles, and various awards I have received. These will also be on display on opening afternoon.”
Escamilla, who exhibited his work for several years at the Hal Marcus gallery and later for two years at the Willow USA Gallery in Scottsdale, Ariz., opened his own gallery in January 2010 in historic San Elizario, which has become home to a growing arts district. Escamilla’s Fine Art Gallery is at 1445 Main Street Suite B 1-2. For information, see his website at

Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts.

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