Last week Mexico lost a great artist and art educator. Maestro Juan Alcázar Méndez passed away on Thursday evening, February 7, 2013 due to progressively deteriorating complications of diabetes. Born in 1955 in the state of Oaxaca, Alcázar’s prodigious artistic talent propelled him to an early career in the arts. He entered the School of Fine Arts at the Autonomous “Benito Juárez” University of Oaxaca at the age of 13 to study graphic arts with a specialty in print making. At 17 years of age he was giving classes. Later he studied in Mexico City with various prominent artists. He was, by all accounts, one of the best students of the great Oaxacan painter, Rufino Tamayo. At 27 he founded the Free Graphics Workshop of Oaxaca at the Casa de la Cultura in Oaxaca. Later he was to be the principal founder of the Rufino Tamayo Workshop for the Visual Arts. In the last decade he was the founding director of the Museum of Oaxacan Painters. In the latter 1970’s Alcázar established himself as a premier print maker. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that he turned to painting, whereupon he became a leading exponent of magical realism in Mexico. His work has been exhibited in many countries around the world, both in single person and group shows.
In addition to his legacy as a painter and graphic artist, Juan Alcázar will be remembered for his educational mission to take art to young people across the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Among a number of leading artists from Oaxaca, it is he who has done the most to promulgate the visual arts to the next generation. In this grand educational project Alcázar was able to establish five graphics workshops in different regions of the state. These workshops are in operation today. Over the years, he tirelessly organized and coordinated art related projects and activities across the state of Oaxaca.
It was in his role as art educator that I had the good fortune to work with Maestro Alcázar. I met him on a trip to Oaxaca with a team of artists from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater who were presenting an exhibit at the Benito Juárez University. On seeing the work of the Whitewater artists, Alcázar invited them to give a series of workshops at the Museum of Oaxacan Painters. The Whitewater artists accepted the invitation and over the next year and a half they presented workshops for young adults and professional artists in monotype, artist books, digital imaging, and museum studies at the Museum and in the city of Oaxaca. I accompanied the artists on these trips as translator and coordinator. During this time I came to understand and appreciate Alcázar’s vision of art education.
In September, 2011, even though his illness was at an advanced stage, Maestro Alcázar and his colleagues made the trip from Oaxaca to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to celebrate the opening of a show with an environmental theme. The show was entitled “Surviving” (Sobreviviendo). Coordinated by Alcázar, the show portfolio featured the work of twenty eight graphic artists from Oaxaca. During this visit, Maestro Alcázar and his colleagues generously participated in art classes with lectures and presentations. For the students, and for me, it was an enriching experience.
On his passing, Juan Alcázar was just 58 years old. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.