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First Friday: With Marmot show, legendary painter Alfredo Arreguin makes a return to Spokane

By Audrey Overstreet For The Spokesman-Review

Perhaps famed “pattern painter” Alfredo Arreguin has the ability to see more than most people. At 83 years old, he has plenty to teach about focus.

“When I take my walks I always discover on the ground little marvelous things, and I take pictures of all of it,” said Arreguin, who still speaks with a Mexican accent after living more than 60 years in Seattle. “But people will just step on it and never realize all these wonderful things that are always present with us.”

“The Buddhists call it the monkey … he’s always bothering us with worries so that we never focus, and we never really see things anymore,” he said. “This morning I was under this huge tree and I was so elated to see that these giants were so beautiful … So in the morning I go on my walks and bring it all home and start painting. And it all comes, right through my brush.”

Arreguin’s brush has been his constant companion even before he graduated from the University of Washington with a Master of Fine Arts in 1969. In the 1970s, he became one of the most important representatives of the American Pattern Painting movement. He has had solo exhibitions throughout the United States, Mexico and Spain. Perhaps the climactic moment of his success came in 1994, when the Smithsonian Institution acquired his triptych, “Sueno” (“Dream: Eve Before Adam”), for inclusion in the collection of the National Museum of American Art. The last time Arreguin held an exhibition in Spokane was in 2003 at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. Arreguin will open a new show at Marmot Art Space in Kendall Yards on Friday.

Arreguin immigrated to the U.S. when he was 21. Morelia, the Mexican town where he was born, recently handed him the keys to the city.

“They gave the first key to the city to Pope Francis, and they gave the second key to me,” Arreguin chuckled. “I mean I thought I was a rock and roll star because I was treated like a king with all these cameras and a chauffeur and everything else. … It was such a nice thing to be recognized. When I left my hometown I was just 13 years old.”

Although he claims the Pacific Northwest as his true home, and strives to boost arts and culture in his community and throughout Washington, Arreguin appreciates his position as a son of Mexico. In 1995 Arreguin received an OHTLI Award, the highest recognition given by the Mexican government to the commitment of distinguished individuals who contribute to promoting Mexican culture abroad.

“A lot of people over here were always hiding their identities because they were afraid to say they were Mexican, and I made them feel real proud because I’d go to universities and give these talks about my art,” Arreguin said.

Arreguin’s inspiration stems from his childhood growing up in Mexico. When he did poorly in school, his father used to punish him by sending him out into the jungle to think. Those meditations – on foliage, snakes, spiders, animals, bits of history and the past – infuse every inch of Arreguin’s canvases. In the forests and jungles, he spent hours pretending that he was Tarzan.

“I was just like (Latin American poet Pablo) Neruda, who discovered the jungle and the miracles of nature, the spiders and the snakes and the fish and the cats,” Arreguin said. “Because I was watching those Tarzan movies in black and white, I wanted to use my color to paint big canvases of color, of the exuberance of the jungle and the beauty of it.”

The pieces that Arreguin will show at the Marmot gallery include the iconic, patterned images of landscapes, historical figures and Mayan ruins for which the artist is famous. “My father said, ‘I’m sorry, son, that fame came to you when you are so old,’ but I’m enjoying every moment,” Arreguin said. “And my father lived to be 103.”

The artist is currently mounting two other shows, one at Cannon Beach, Oregon, and the other in Phoenix. Arreguin has no plans to slow down. “When I’m home I paint every single day,” Arerguin said. “And when I travel, sometimes I just drop the suitcase when I get home and run downstairs and start painting again.”

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