Monthly Archives: June 1997

Alfredo García Gil

Alfredo García Gil: Paintings from the Series Consumidores

Alfredo García Gil is well known for his beautiful landscapes of La Antigua. However, for some time, he has also painted borrachos (drunks) and consumidores (consumers). He merges these two types in his most recent series of paintings, and he records the daily activities of their world. The scenes are all too common in a Latin American setting: friends listening to a mariachi band in the park, a family watching television in their living room, a woman taking in laundry, men drinking at the local bar, a prostitute waiting for her next customer, people lining up to pay a utility bill. There is a general sense of gloom in many of these activities, and García Gil addresses his subject matter head-on.

Bailando al son que nos tocan is perhaps the central painting in the series. It focuses on a familiar enough saying in Guatemala — dancing to the beat played for us. garciagil1.jpgThe phrase carries meaning for the general population, and it is no accident that García Gil chooses as its representative an indigenous woman in costume. She dances around a table where there are empty bottles of liquor and a pack of cigarettes. In the background, two men on the marimba, the traditional musical instrument, and a third on bass play music for her. The musicians are recognizable types in the society: one has a sash across his chest in a somewhat presidential or executive fashion, and another wears a military uniform.

García Gil often highlights the extreme futility in the life of the poor. In Lavando ropa ajena, for instance, there are few options for the woman trying to make a living by washing other people’s clothes. Her destiny is to remain pregnant at the pila with one child on the back and another on her side. She may wash expensive brand-name jeans, but she cannot even afford clothes or toys for her own children. The naked little boy plays with a two-litter bottle of soda on a string. Similarly, in Adanes y Eva, another woman has limited choices. She stands forever at the doorway. To the men on the street, she is Eve herself, and to those already in the cantina, she has a price like the beer on the table. She is there simply for their entertainment and consumption. Yet, faceless, she waits and hopes for a possible change in her circumstances. On the beach in Veranomanía, a young fellow shares in much the same lot. He sells coconut water to a man already drinking an assortment of products and eating chicken from a fast-food restaurant. The man is on summer holiday, and he is at the shore to enjoy himself and his good fortune. Unless he is called to come forward, the young vendor belongs in the background, and there he stays unnoticed with the leftovers of someone’s visit. In time, he may join the men in Pescadores.

The very poor, however, are not the only people who dance to a certain beat in García Gil’s world. The music affects everyone in Guatemala, and the artist makes this point quite clearly in Servicio público. garciagil3.jpgThere is a fair cross section of society in line, and the same frustration faces all: campesino, factory worker, housewife, retiree, businessman, student. There is no movement or advancement. Indigenous, ladino, and Spanish alike accept and learn to pass the time before the single teller on duty. A similar situation is mirrored in Víasacra at a major intersection during rush hour. In Teleconsumidores, a middle class family forms their own line on the couch. They sit before their television, and in its glow, they share the same space. Yet, each is apart and separate from the other. There is really no physical or verbal communication among themselves. When the little boy falls asleep, the mother simply tolerates the weight of his head against her arm. In Volver a empezar, the music plays endlessly, and a happy moment becomes an embarrassment for the three upper class women at the park. A total stranger spoils the scene for them by singing with the mariachi, but the women tolerate his intrusion. They cover their ears and look the other way.

García Gil is an observer of human nature. His work generally reflects real people in life situations. In particular, he prefers to paint men at the local bar. He enters this world, and he watches their struggle. Cuentapenas, for example, illustrates such a battle. The man holds a note from his wife, and he faces a choice: staying at the bar or going home. With hand gestures, the cantinero gives him a double message. In Del campo al consumo, a man questions the final tally when he cannot pay the bill. He has wasted his entire wages on a few drinks on the way home, and the machete and sombrero are bold reminders of the loss. Alcohol blurs the boundaries between diversion and consumption, and many patrons find themselves in the position of the man in Consumidores buscapleitos.

These paintings represent people in places all around García Gil. He sees them, and he paints them in their particular setting or situation. He captures them at the precise moment of a familiar task or chore, and he manages both to celebrate and mourn their social realities.