Face to Face with the past
It was once written that the late Del Rio artist, Consuelo “Chelo” González Amézcua, was a naive visionary, seemingly implying that she knows not what she did. However, one glance at her work and one pass through her history clearly indicate that the use of a word defined “as lack of experience, wisdom or judgment” is a gross misnomer; erroneous.
So, it is the present’s duty to correct the past’s errors. But let’s start a few months back; give this narrative some context. While digging for research in a file cabinet at the Whitehead Memorial Museum (for a piece on the Border Radio) I came across a manila folder labeled “Gonzalez, Chelo.” I would have skipped over it but a slightly yellowing page from the San Antonio Express-News was protruding and I was able to see “Del Rio artist...Smithsonian exhibit.” The words “artist” and “Smithsonian” aren’t commonly found in the same sentence. Naturally, this piqued my interest. After anxiously consuming the contents of the folder, I soon realized that Del Rio had been home to an artistic icon who, unfortunately, experienced the proverbial 15 minutes of Andy Warhol-defined fame. Actually, you could argue that she should have been as revered and renown as Mr. Pop Art. Anyhow, I quickly decided Del Rio needed a reunion with the artist known as “Chelo.” Anything but would be an injustice. And voila, an article was born. A completely self-taught artist, González’ works were amazingly created in the 1960s with a pedestrian ballpoint pen and cardboard. Amazingly, she was already rolling through her sixties by then.
According to the Express-News article, each drawing required nearly 90 hours of labor spanning a period of 18 days. Hers had to be a cathartic labor of love. The specific work that compelled people to take note was “ABen-amar the Christian,” a drawing steeped in medieval Spanish culture, Moorish structural sensibilities and Arabic designs. It is now housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum along with “Untitled” and “Prince Abu Zabi y Su Jardin.,” the latter two created in a style similar to “ABen-amar the Christian.” González referred to her artistic creations as “filigree drawings” in reference to a jewelry making style used in Mexico. Born in Piedras Negras, González received only six years of formal education and was working at a dime store when her art was discovered by Dr. Amy Freeman Lee. Lee had given an art lecture at the Val Verde County Library in 1967, and after the talk, she was honored at the home of a local resident. While at the home she noticed one of González’ paintings and was mesmerized. In 1968, the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio hosted Chelo’s first exhibition where every item was sold.
Her art was subsequently featured in a multitude of exhibitions at prominent galleries from Austin to New York as well as Mexico. Four of her drawings were included in a one-year national tour sponsored by Illinois Bell Telephone. Chelo’s subject matter was a reflection of her varied interests. In particular, Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology and Christian themes. What was unusually satisfying about her artwork was the accompaniment of poetry. “ABen-amar the Christian” was complemented with a poem that told the story of a captured Christian woman and the son of a Moor who converted to Christianity. A bio written for a González exhibition at the Galerias Paco in New York stated that Chelo had painted a work on the Texcoco poet and king, Nezahualcoyotl.
Poetry with art is normally associated with Asian artistic practices but Chelo displayed an uncanny and high degree of art intelligence. “She intuitively knew of that tradition and, like the Chinese, wasn’t afraid to include a poem as part of her work,” said Lee in the San Antonio Express-News article. Chelo passed away in 1975 but the impact of her art carried on until the Smithsonian’s acceptance of her work in the early 1990s. After that, her legacy and magnetic oeuvres seemed to have been purloined by time and artistic apathy. This article aims to steal them back.