Provenance the Web MagazineISSN 1203-8954 - Vol.2 No.3 Winter 1997
Bucerias' "Gallery of Sea Spirits" - Bucerias Mexico
Like a typical Northerner, Jeff Blair was awestruck the first time he visited the West Coast of Mexico.
It wasnt just the contrast of coming from the gray overhang of a Manchester winter to the brilliant blue of a Mexican skyline. Or the contrast between the bleak Manchester landscape, and the lush jumble of crimson and purple bougainvillea flowing over the terracotta-colored Zihuatenejo houses and hills.
It was more than that.
Jeff Blair had an extraordinary feeling. "Here I was, in a country I had never been to before and knew almost nothing about, and I felt like I belonged."
Lets face it. Most of us who flee our teched-up, hyper environments for an inexpensive sunny holiday on a Mexican beach, have fleeting thoughts of what would happen if we never returned. The difference is, Jeff Blair did just that.
In 1984, while on a two-week holiday, Blair made his decision. "I went back to Manchester, sold everything I owned, and six weeks later, walked away, and returned to Mexico." Understandably, Blairs parents and some of his friends thought a mid-life crisis or a bout of madness had struck. But Blair was convinced Mexico was home.
Later while walking on the beach, weighing his employment prospects, a portentous event occurred. "A piece of driftwood washed up on the beach at my feet and changed the course of my life," says Blair. Now, 13 years later, Blair is considered one of the worlds finest driftwood artists.
Although Blairs gallery is on a dusty, cobblestone lane flanking Highway 200, already, although its still early morning, a group of German tourists wander about, exclaiming to one another, as they choose their treasures or watch Blair work. In the two hours I am in the gallery, more tourists, art lovers, self-proclaimed critics, and the curious who just happen by, arrive from as far away as Boston, Montreal, and England.
Blair is the first to admit he didnt learn his craft overnight, and that his early work didnt make him an instant success. But commitment, and hard, slogging work, luck and gallery owners in New Yorks Soho district and in Tucson, helped him along the way.
Over the years, Blair says his inspiration has come from two major influences. "The Huichol Indians, and the local landscape, have probably had the greatest impact on my work."
Blair explains that the Huichol live in small settlements in the nearby rugged Sierra Madre mountains. Descendents of the Aztecs, the Huichol follow ancient traditions, and are a deeply spiritual people. According to Blair, who has spent time studying their art, the Huichol celebrate their rich culture through their colorful art, which include beaded masks, and yarn paintings. "Its their use of color that fascinates me," says Blair, whose work, like that of his neighbors is awash with symbolism.
Blair also spends a lot of time observing the local landscape, which is famous for its contrasts, from magnificent towering cacti to sunsets that most evenings bathe the hills in multi-hued, soft shades of pink and orange, giving it a surreal, biblical quality. The landscape no doubt fuels Blairs imagination, which he transforms into his surreal beings.
Does Blair ever have regrets about walking away? "No, not once," says Blair, between carefully describing to a group of Mexico City tourists, how he looks at a piece of driftwood and see its potential, and how he goes about creating what he sees.
Part of Blairs charm is that he doesnt take his art too seriously and refuses to let other people either. "This is not a gallery of fine art," he exclaims. "Its a gallery of fun art." As I leave this unusual place full of the sounds of laughter, I burst out laughing myself, wondering what my life would be like if I had Blairs courage.
Galeria Espiritus Del Mar. Heroe de
© 1997 Teresa Murphy and Provenance:The Web Magazine, December 1997.
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