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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rodolfo Escalera

The All American Game, Rodolfo Escalera
Most painters today, and for hundreds of years in the past, have painted on stretched canvas or paper (in the case of watercolorists). Even today though, in rare cases, some artists paint on wooden panels (often Masonite). When I was growing up in the 1950s, Morgan County, (southeastern) Ohio, was not exactly a hotbed of artistic activity. I can think of only one "professional" landscape painter who even lived in the area. His last name was Kelly. I never met him nor knew his first name. And in recalling his art, I'd have to say he was pretty much of the self-taught variety though not what you'd term "folk art." He probably painted some traditional framed paintings, but he was best known for painting in oils on dinner plates, having a spring fastened hanging mechanism on the back. He sold them for five (1950s) dollars each. They weren't particularly "collectible" at the time, but in looking back, I'd probably pay several times five dollars to get my hands on one now, if only for sentimental reasons.
Aztec Gods, Rodolfo Escalera
One of nine different plates with
an edition of 250.
I was reminded of this as I encountered a much more successful Mexican artist named Rodolfo Escalera, who also produced art on ceramic plates, though each one was not painted by hand. Escalera was, however, considerably more adept and his work definitely quite collectible. In 1983, Rodolfo Escalera was awarded a license by the 1984 Olympic Organizing Commit-tee to design and create nine oil paintings depicting the various events of the Summer Olympic Games to be held in Los Angeles California. Using his beloved oil paints and his trademark “00” paintbrushes, Escalera sought to capture the true spirit of competition in his realistic renderings. An interesting fact is that many of the athletes portrayed were actually members of the Escalera family and close family friends who posed for him. The paintings were in turn reproduced onto collectible porcelain plates and sold as limited edition sets. They went on to be designated the “Official Gift of the 1984 Olympic Games” and were presented to all of the visiting dignitaries from around the world.

The self-portrait (above, upper-right) was painted in 1999, just a year before the artist's death from cancer.
Rodolfo Escalera was born in 1929, the only son of a family of five living in Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico (about halfway between Mexico City and the Rio Grande). His love for drawing was noticeable from an early age; a talent that was “inherited” from his father and grandfather who were both talented artists. His father, however, tried to discourage his son's artistic pursuits, telling him that artists in Mexico were “under every stone you turn.” He actually forbid him from pursuing art as a career. Consequently Escalera decided to become an architect in order to appease his father and somewhat satisfying his creative craving. Unbeknownst to his father he secretly continued to develop his painting skills. Later, Escalera’s father was paralyzed by a stroke after having been commissioned by a local school to design diplomas for their graduating class. Escalera, offered to take on the project. Upon presenting a sample to the school director his work was approved and he was able to complete the project on behalf of his father.

Escalera was at his best when painting animals of any kind.
Two years later, in 1948, Rodolfo Escalera's father died of a heart attack. The family subsequently decided to relocate to California. Escalera attended a semester of school to help him learn to speak English but then was compelled to throw himself in to the work force to help support his mother and two sisters. Eventually he landed a job in an architectural firm while continuing to develop his painting technique after hours and on weekends.

Escalera studied architecture in his college days. Los Arcos, (The Arches) is a study in perspective, a real challenge to accurately achieve such a level of depth on a two-dimensional plane.
By 1950 Escalera was working at an advertising firm that held a contract with a film company which distributed movies in the United States that were produced in Mexico. He was given the account as his to manage along with a degree of creative freedom. With all going well and beginning to feel financially secure, he returned to Mexico and married his childhood sweetheart, Susana. By 1961 the Escalera’s had grown to a family of six and Escalera had by then opened his own advertising agency. This, for him, was the absolute perfect scenario as he could make a living doing what he loved as well as set his own hours thus enabling him to devote time to the creation of five incredible masterpieces that took 20 years to complete! His The All American Game (top) was one of these five, painted when a critic stereotyped his work as exclusively Mexican genre. Escalera set out to prove otherwise.

El Chisme (Gossip), 1980, Rodolfo Escalera
Following their father's death in 2000, the Escalera family has held on to the works of their family’s patriarch. Though the originals could have been offered for sale, the artist’s family decided to instead have created high end Giclée reproductions. Rodolfo Escalera created more than 70 works of art over the course of his lifetime including landscapes, wild life, still-lifes, and several genre paintings of people in various real life settings.

Special Delivery, 1980s, Rodolfo Escalera,
his granddaughter, Regina.


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