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An Existence Transformed by Art: Former Gardener Juan Eduardo Rios Mancilla Now an Artist in Demand

By Jan Pogue

Juan Eduardo Rios Mancilla, 37, has had what he calls a “complicated” life.

As a child, he sometimes didn’t have enough to eat and wore shoes from the local landfill. He started working when he was 12, dropping out of his San Miguel de Allende primary school. He’s done pretty much everything to earn a living, including working as a gardener until the last year or so. And now, to his shock, he finds himself hailed as an artist in demand for his intricate and beautiful tile mosaics.

This is not possible. To be called an artist—it is hard for me to believe, he admits.

His mosaics begin with a single idea, often with a Mayan theme, and grow into fantastic and unusual murals. In colonia Guadalupe, San Miguel’s dedicated arts district, one of Mancilla’s works has become a showpiece:

Colleen Sorensen, who started the Muros en Blaco street art festival in 2013 and who leads tours of the neighborhood’s murals, says, “After viewing the murals at the arroyo, I ask if anyone likes mosaic tile. Always an enthusiastic yes! So I tell them they have a treat around the corner.”

The “treat” is a wall at the home of Victoria Pierce on calles Tata Nacho and Cri-Cri. Pierce is a local artist and a co-owner of CSEIS Gallery in La Fabrica de la Aurora. Mancilla was her gardener. About two years ago, she asked him to make a rough tile top for a table. Then she had him do a few other tile projects.

“One day I took him for a tour to see [artist] Anado McLauchlin’s amazing home. After that, Juan just blossomed. He came up with the idea for my front wall, and now it appears he cannot stop!”

Mancilla lives in colonia Pedro Moreno, on the edge of San Miguel, with his wife, “who is always by my side” and his three children. He calls Pierce his angel, the person who gave him the opportunity to create both his art and his new life.

Today, his work involves snapping talavera tiles, marble, and mirrors into small pieces used to create whole worlds. Pierce’s wall is a huge tableau showing Mayan history—the serpent Kukulkán, a jaguar, a priest making a sacrifice, and the path to the underworld. A wall at another home shows a goddess of flowing water with all the earth’s elements.

Mancilla is a modest man who finds it hard to accept the title artist. Yet, he recognizes he has been given a new opportunity in life.

“I don’t have the words to express my feelings because my life has taken such a huge turn. To be a complete human being, to feel the confidence and honor that people have given me, this fills my heart.”

Check Mancilla’s work at his Facebook page, Juan Eduardo Rios Mancilla, or call him at 415 115 6096.


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