Maya Art Capital of Guatemala:
San Pedro la Laguna
Life at Lake Atitlan is art, and this is reflected in the "Atitlan-style" oil paintings of Maya artists in Santiago, San Marcos and San Pedro.
But the capital of Maya art in Guatemala is San Pedro, home to a dozen art galleries and schools. San Pedro is also the home of the country’s most highly recognized Maya artists, such as Mario Gonzales Chavayajay and Emilio Gonzalez Morales.
As early as the Thirties, according to The Lake Atitlan Reference Guide by Richard Morgan, the phenomenon began to pick up public recognition when a handful of artists in San Juan and San Pedro painted the first depictions of daily life in rural Maya communities in the vicinity. Now Maya oil paintings have attracted the attention of connoisseurs around the world.
Paintings of the lake and volcanoes, coffee harvests and fiestas illustrate landscapes, still life, traditions, and people at work and play. Bold brush strokes, rich textures and intense colors reflect the daily life of the contemporary Maya, as well as of ancient legends and myths.
According to Morgan, the Atitlan school of painting "...most closely approximates the genre traditionally known as Primitivism." Simplistic faces and anatomically stiff bodies are hallmarks of the Atitlan school. Another aspect distinguishing Maya paintings is their focus on all-Maya subject matter, with the exception of recent artists who borrow from other schools of art, such as Impressionism.
The distinctive bird's-eye and ant's-eye perspective of paintings that depict people harvesting fruit and community events was developed by Emilio Gonzalez Morales and his brother, Juan Fermin.
More San Pedro Artists
Other talented artists include Samuel Cumes P’op (whose style is more impressionistic) Ezequias Manuel and Gaspar Aju Chavajay. Though few women have delved into painting, Domingo Chavajay poses a refreshing new direction for Maya art. The Chavajay family runs an art gallery and school beside the shore in San Pedro.
Walls of Art in San Pedro
Art in San Pedro is not limited to canvas. Murals decorate the walls of several buildings on the trail from the zona viva to Seventh Avenue. Artists from the Galeria Xetawal are currently painting murals along other streets to improve the town’s image while expressing their love for Maya culture. (See photos here and above.) Previously some of the walls were covered with graffiti.
Led by local artist Jose Mendez, seven artists are working with a number of local kids on this project. Galeria Xetawal (see map) runs an art school at the gallery, and half the proceeds go to feed local children. (For more information, send email to: email@example.com.)
The San Pedro map of our print edition has been updated with the location of art galleries and schools mentioned in this article, as well as several others, so look for it when you visit the lake or Antigua.