The mystery mural man of San Miguel
By Bruce Janklow
He has painted more than fifteen murals on walls inside and outside buildings in San Miguel. Actually he’s lost count, but that’s his best estimate. People constantly see his work and want to hire him, but he can’t be found, at least not easily. Even his past customers know only that his name is Felipe. Many aren’t sure how they got hold of him, and those who contact people who knew people who could leave him a message, and then one day he finally showed up at their door.
Don’t get the wrong impression. Felipe is no slacker. Once he accepts a job, he works long hard hours and takes great pride in how his finished product looks. And Felipe has been known to come back and do touch ups or enhancements uninvited and without charge. He’s also not afraid of big pieces: his largest is over 40 meters long.
So who is this man who is literally leaving his mark on San Miguel, what’s his artistic point of view and how does one find him anyway? Having seen his work in multiple places and knowing a couple of his patrons, I decided to take up the challenge, find him, learn his story and solve the mystery. After leaving several supposedly well placed messages, being promised that “I got to him and we’ll hear back shortly and get a meeting,” I’m pleased to report that after three months of pursuit, I sat down for coffee with Felipe. A mutual friend served as our interpreter.
There is much more to Felipe Azcasibar than meets the eye. Born in 1958 in the small village of Coacalco in the state of Mexico, he attended the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (ENAP) after high school. He spent five long years studying, painting, engraving and sculpting.
After art school, most of his contemporaries began producing heroic paintings of Mexican national figures for sale to private patrons, institutions or museums. Being a rebel since an early age, Filipe went his own way and got a job creating textile designs.
It didn’t take too long for the non-conformist in him to appear. Felipe then decided he wanted to bring art to the people in the street, so he started painting murals on walls, and that’s what he’s been doing ever since. In 2000 Felipe decided that local people outside the capitol deserved to have their environments enriched by exposure to art. So he became a one-man art-in-public-places commission in Mexico. After traveling and painting for several years pretty much as a free spirit, Felipe turned up in San Miguel de Allende in 2004.
He got his first SMA job painting a mural of Saint Isidro, the patron saint of farmers and laborers, in a restaurant named Donavan. In order to get the owner to agree to allow him to do the job, Felipe offered to paint over the mural if it wasn’t satisfactory. It is still there. Next, the owner of the parking lot on Hildago between Insurgentes and Calzada de la Luz was looking for something to put on the many meters of blank wall she has. Felipe has been painting large-scale murals there ever since. Before too long, word started to get out about this mystery man who is hard to find but can paint just about any subject matter very well. Parking lots gave way to walls inside and outside private homes, but the work he
enjoys best continues to be murals that are seen by and contribute to a whole neighborhood.
That’s just what happened on Tecolote, a small unassuming street high on the hill in Centro. A couple of ex-pat homeowners whose house backs onto Tecolote became increasingly aware of late night noise and disturbances and wanted to do something about it. After some thought they decided that having a Virgin of Guadalupe looking down onto the street would likely change the mood and tenor of the neighborhood. So after successfully going through the “how do I find Felipe” process, they got him to paint a ten foot high mural of the Virgin.
Before long a neighbor rang their doorbell and asked for permission to place a metal shelf just below the painting as a place for candles, flowers and offerings. Next, a spotlight was installed and then a permanent wreath and twinkling lights. Over the last several years during the two weeks leading up to the Virgin’s birthday in December, the street is closed off, folding chairs come out and services for over 50 are held every night.
So, if you’d like to have Felipe impact the culture of your neighborhood or just add art to your home, he’s available. You just have to find him. He hangs out at Juan’s Café and if you don’t find him there, you can stop by the parking lot on Hildago. Lauda knows how to find him and will even give him a note. Felipe is also talking about getting a telephone but doesn’t seem to be in a rush.