La rubia negra: The erotic art of Gerardo Navarro Gómez
Artist Gerardo Navarro Gómez lives in lush, tranquil
and delightfully simple surroundings with his mother and three
sisters. One would not expect to encounter art ranging from
the mildly erotic to pieces that test the sensibilities of
the most liberal among us. But yes, accompanying paintings
which express religious imagery and childlike carefree scenes,
are those of quite another theme, carefully tucked away from
The women in the Navarro Gómez family weave cotton
textiles on their back strap looms, while Gerardo is busy
painting all manner of contorted body parts spewing the lifeblood
of humankind. On this day they all, matriarch included, lightly
laugh and joke in response to this writers pointed and
arguably embarrassing questions, sloughing it all off. No
subject is deemed taboo, nor provokes shame. Perhaps the Eden-like
environment is the key to the harmony between such seemingly
different forms of creativity in one family. Gerardo, a bachelor,
lives in the very Catholic and rural world of Santo Tomás
Jalieza, sharing daily chores as well as workspace with three
spinster sisters and their mother.
Santo Tomás Jalieza is a small town about a 35 minute
drive from the South Central Mexican city of Oaxaca. Oaxaca
is tucked away in a series of central valleys in the state
of the same name, surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain
range. The region is a popular destination for travelers seeking
a cultural vacation rich in pre-Hispanic ruins, impressive
Dominican churches dating to the 1500s, and museums and galleries.
The area is also known for its gastronomic greatness, with
arguably the best cuisine in all of Mexico and of course
its broad diversity of quaint craft villages, including Santa
Residents of Santo Tomás have been weaving cotton textiles
for generations, more recently for primarily the tourist trade
tablecloths and bedspreads, table runners and placemats,
napkins, purses, leather-trimmed belts, change purses, eyeglass
cases, embroidered blouses, and more. In the case of the Navarro
Gómez family, proficiency in this cottage industry
dates back only a couple of generations, since Gerardos
parents didnt move to the town until they married. They
then made it a priority to learn to weave, and with the assistance
of relatives in the village, teach their children.
Through ranching and agriculture the inhabitants of Santo
Tomás remain to a large extent self-sufficient, relying
if not on sheep, goats or cows, then certainly upon chickens
and of course subsistence crops such as corn and beans,
supplemented by squash. The vagaries of tourism in Oaxaca
Navarro grew up rejecting formal education, whether by design
or circumstance: I never did finish public school. I
didnt think I was learning anything, and in fact spent
about four years languishing in first grade. Finally, when
I was 14 I packed it in for good.
But there was one teacher, Maestra Lupita, who did impact
his future: She was the only one, I now realize, who
saw something in me that was different from the rest. She
gave me crayons and a drawing book, and left me to work. I
never asked her why she centered me out, and she never offered
an explanation. She just left me alone most of the time, to
After school Navarro would tend his fathers goats, while
sometimes doing a bit of leatherwork, and regularly jotting
down his thoughts, even making little verses. Twice the government
sent instructors to the village, initially to teach about
working with animal skins, and then to show the townspeople
how to combine textiles and leather to make purses and belts.
Gerardo became proficient at making leather belts decorated
with narrow strips of cotton textile produced by his sisters
and mother on their looms.
But once again, he rejected convention: I didnt
like doing that kind of work. I always felt under pressure
and like I wasnt really creating anything. I
had no freedom. For someone to say, I need 20 belts
just like this in two weeks, just reinforced that I
had to do something else and remove myself from the lifestyle
of those around me.
While Navarro enjoyed the freedom of tending the herd
his father even bought him two cows when he was 21
he became very ill, and was hospitalized. When he eventually
recovered he found that he could no longer tend the livestock.
His bodys defenses never returned to their former level
of functioning, and thus he lacked the energy and fortitude
required for herding.
In January, 1994, he left for California, intent upon beginning
a new life: I wanted to leave behind everything from
my past, so I even burned all of my little writings from those
afternoons out in the fields. He returned in May, having
found the Los Angeles lifestyle even worse; people were always
rushing around and seemed to be under an undue amount of pressure.
Within three months of Navarros return, his life had
indeed changed, dramatically.
Over the years the women mother Mariana and daughters
Margarita, Inés and Crispina developed a reputation
for fashioning cotton textiles of extremely high quality,
by and large setting them apart from most others in town.
Crispina in particular found a niche for herself, weaving
fine thread into the most intricate of designs. Her notoriety
spread to such an extent that she began to receive praise
from craft aficionados even outside of Mexico. Shes
been in the company of four Mexican presidents, most recently
visiting former President Vicente Fox at his ranch.
The family had become accustomed to hosting dignitaries at
their modest, yet spacious and immaculately kept homestead.
Frequently artists would attend at their home to buy handicrafts,
and to just chat and spend a couple of hours with the family.
And who wouldnt be so drawn to the family, residing
within one of the most welcoming environments imaginable.
Acclaimed Oaxacan artist Juan Alcázar and his wife
Justina Fuentes, a talented painter in her own right, was
one such couple. Of course Navarro knew nothing of Maestro
Alcázar at the time, other than that he was a man from
the city who appreciated quality textiles. One day in early
August, 1994, a visitor of German extraction, Helmut Kohl,
came by to mire Crispinas artistry. He noted Navarros
fine leatherwork, and suggested that he might want to consider
taking art classes with a friend, Juan Alcázar. Of
course it was the same Juan Alcázar with whom Navarro
had been acquainted for some 15 years, never knowing that
Alcázar was an up-and-coming master of contemporary
Mexican art. Within days Navarro was in Oaxaca to meet with
Alcázar; on the 15th of the month he began being mentored
by Alcázar and Fuentes
Over the next four-and-a-half years, day in and day out, from
nine to six, Navarro would visit the Alcázar / Fuentes
workshop, Taller Libre de Gráfica Oaxaqueña,
working initially with pencil, then ink, and eventually watercolors.
While others were in groups taking courses and otherwise learning
to be artists, Gerardo would be off in a corner, his back
to them, working away independently.
Dont even look at art books until youve
been painting for ten years, Alcázar counseled;
no matter, since Navarro had not previously cracked a book,
and never had any intention of doing so. In fact to this day,
Navarro maintains, he has never looked in an art book, nor
read about theory or technique, and is oblivious to the art
of Chagall and Picasso aside from the fact that some
of his patrons have likened his work to that of such Grand
Navarro has never taken an art class, and even though he credits
Alcázar and Fuentes with the development of his work
and his success, they did not really teach, in
the everyday sense of the term: Ive never been
able to tolerate a classroom environment, and in fact have
never studied or worked in a group. I think it probably dates
back to my years in the fields. My father always warned me
against socializing with others who were tending their own
herds, for fear that I would become distracted. Of course
I received guidance from Juan and Justina, but no, there were
Navarro had his first exhibition in 1995, after Kohl had advised
him that he wanted to display his work in a gallery in Ajijic.
Gerardo had no idea what to expect. When he accompanied Kohl
to the framer the day before the inauguration of the exhibition,
he was taken aback at how different his work then looked.
But Kohl kept him grounded: If you sell one piece youll
be lucky; with two sales consider yourself a master; and never
expect to sell three. He learned that a gold star beside
a piece meant it was sold. By 6 pm that first evening of the
show, 15 of 16 pieces had gold stars.
None of those initial works offered for sale was erotica,
though from the outset Navarro had been creating art with
sexual content. Hes always feared exhibiting such pieces,
even in his own workshop: I still keep the erotica apart
from the rest of my work, in a separate plastic sleeve, face
down. I wont show them unless people ask to see them;
and besides, sometimes children come to our home, so I have
to be careful. Even my larger works are on the floor facing
inward. He points to a large framed piece hidden behind
Narvarro has been painting more erotic art in recent years.
But he has never simply decided Im going to do
erotica starting today. In fact he doesnt start
out with a particular idea when he begins working, erotica
or mainstream. The brush just takes him where it wants to
go: My mind seems to flow like a river; and so I just
follow it, and if it keeps flowing after Im finished
a piece, then a sequence of pieces will emerge.
Many of Navarros pieces include prose or poetry relating
to the image represented. Sometimes words come to him when
he begins a piece, thereby inspiring content, and other times
what he writes comes about once a work has been completed.
He embarrassingly acknowledges: I know that because
Im not educated, there are always errors in spelling
and grammar. Such works remind of the Mexican votive
painting style, or ex voto tradition.
In Navarrós lighthearted La rubia negra (2006), the
message is clearly conveyed without the use of prose: a lovers
teary upset and her boyfriends rejecting dismay upon
his realization that shes not a natural blonde. The
titles double entendre alone is sufficient poetic rhyme;
the works familiar imagery serves to dispense with the
need for more explicit eroticism.
In 1996, Fuentes told Navarro it was time to try working with
oils. She gave him a canvas and frame, and told him to buy
a couple of tubes of paint. After he sold his first oil, he
went out and spent 1,000 pesos on as many tubes of paint as
the money would buy. Everyone laughed, never having heard
of anyone spending all their money on so much paint. But he
was filled with excitement and ambition, so much so that within
the next four months he had created 18 oils, exhibiting them
for the first time in 1997. Oils are amongst the erotica in
his workshop, on the floor, facing the wall.
You just never know what peoples reactions will
be, or how receptive theyll be to that kind of art.
A while ago a woman from the city bought one of my eroticas,
a mermaid having oral sex with a mortal. She took it home
and her husband wouldnt let her hang it in their house.
So they came back together, and exchanged it for a painting
of a couple making love, with a crucifix on the wall above
them, and an angel passing over, covering Jesus eyes.
Navarro doesnt perceive inconsistency between being
Catholic and producing erotica, but then again he attends
church infrequently: I have my faith, and I believe
in Jesus. He continues: What initially turned
me off going to galleries to see other art or even my own,
was when there was an exhibit of my work in one room, and
religious art in another. The crowds were looking at my display,
and hardly anyone was staying to look at the religious art.
Someone came up to me and said youre the devil.
My response was simple; at night we all lie down and spread
our legs, so whats wrong with that kind of portrayal
in my art.
For his oils and watercolors Navarro works in the most brilliant
of colors. And with his ink drawings he uses sepia tones.
Curiously, its more in his pieces done in shades of
blacks and browns where he appears to let loose and enable
bizarre sexual metaphors to predominate.
Im not interested in exhibiting my work in other
countries, Navarro readily indicates, then explaining
his reasoning: People come from far away to see me,
not just my art. So what happens if Im not here? Its
not fair to those who admire what I do, if they come by or
contact me to make sure Ill be around, and Im
The sisters echo the identical sentiment. Theyve only
traveled out of the country to exhibit on two occasions. And
when it comes to fiestas and other family obligations in Santo
Tomás or Oaxaca, generally one family member will remain
at home at all times. Being available for those who appreciate
their artistry is a priority.
The division of labor in the Navarro Gómez household
is wholly consistent with Gerardos personal worldview
as represented in his art. Each family member has morning
household tasks; sweeping the exterior hardened earth or the
interior concrete floors, making tortillas, cooking meals,
tending to the animals. And most are subject to weekly rotation.
Gerardo does not begin his artistic day until all the rest
of the work has been completed. And so equality between the
sexes in the household spills over to his erotica one
sex does not dominate the other, and women appear to be just
as active participants as men in the eroticism portrayed.
Much of Gerardo Navarros erotica speaks to his personal
philosophy regarding monogamy and marriage. He has not been
in a long-term relationship since beginning his career as
an artist some fifteen years ago. He sees marriage as a compromise
hes not prepared to make. Marriage is like a grave,
he maintains, then continues: It kills love. In the
world I know, the men arent around all that much. Theyre
off in the US under the guise of earning for their families,
with the women and children left at home to fend for themselves.
What do the women do? Silence ensues, leading one to
imagine what actually transpires behind closed doors in Santo
Tomás Jalieza. Gerardo Navarro Gómez then returns
to painting one of his favorite themes the apple tree
in the Book of Genesis, with Eve firmly in control.
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
Starkman received his Masters in Social Anthropology in 1978.
After teaching for a few years he attended Osgoode Hall Law
School, thereafter embarking upon a career as a litigator.
Alvin now resides in Oaxaca where he writes, leads personalized
tours to the villages, markets, ruins and other sights, is
a film consultant, and operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed &
Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
), combining the comfort and service of a Oaxaca hotel with
the lodging style of a quaint country inn
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