SAN DIEGO — Guillermo Acevedo sat in Acevedo Gallery, surrounded by his art--delicate yet intense drawings, finely rendered and detailed paintings. Whether they are of a Navajo woman or a tile rooftop, they reflect Acevedo's interpretation of the human spirit.
The gallery bearing his name is owned by his son--who uses the name Mario Torero--and Mario's wife, Rita, a former associate professor of literature at San Diego State University.
It was a hot day and Acevedo's collar was tucked inside his shirt. His gray hair was tied back--only one wispy strand flew free on one side.
The Peruvian artist first caused a stir in San Diego's art world in the '60s with his drawings of the dignified, noble faces and of the expressive hands of the Peruvian Indians. Even his drawings of San Diego's old houses, the waterfront, telephone poles and garbage cans, were executed with the same care and feeling.
The lines of the objects, as well as the people he drew, recorded human feeling, because they are, after all, as Acevedo has said, "artifacts of man," and it is humanity which the now 66-year-old Acevedo has always been interested in capturing.
"I am an observer," he said, "and have been since I was a small child in kindergarten and observed the other children hitting, playing." He would stand back from the others he said, and "look and look and look. My life is pure observation."
This sense of aloneness and separation had deep roots in Acevedo's childhood. "In 1879," he said, "there was a war between Chile and Peru. My family had been from Chile, and later they lived in Peru (Acevedo was the youngest of 10 children. He and a sister were the only children from his family born in Peru). There were always signs--'Chileans, go home.' This put a mark on me.
"(As a child) I was always thinking, reflecting, not taking it so hard--knowing it was a condition of being human.
"I am a natural observer. If you look naturally, you look with both eyes. You look with care, not with love. It is impersonal. I never learned this. I just knew it.
"And when I read Carlos Castaneda, I understood Don Juan, and I also knew the six keys (to knowledge, expressed in the book 'Journey to Ixtlan')."
Acevedo was born in Arequipa, 8,000 feet above sea level in the south of Peru. "Two (Peruvian) presidents came from Arequipa--also poets--and it looks like everyone is an artist there. And the food," he kisses his fingers, "is the best."
The son of an architect and a mother who was "inclined to the theater, very sensitive," Acevedo ran a successful commercial art business and studio for 25 years in Lima, before coming to San Diego in 1959 on a tuna boat with a friend. Though he had hoped to go to the East Coast, the trip to San Diego was financially easier.
"On the second day, I discovered it is like my native place--eternal spring.
"I was born sad, melancholic. I came to the U.S. in love with the Depression. I'd read so much about the jazz music and the gangsters. I was in love with the idea of New York, Chicago, Detroit. I didn't know then that San Diego existed."
Once in San Diego, he worked for various companies as a commercial artist and started exhibiting his work on weekends. It is only natural that some of his first San Diego studies were of tuna fishermen (Acevedo works in ink, acrylic and grease pencil and does lithographs).
"I met a Bolivian artist who told me about a 'starving artists' show. No work could be priced over $10. I took my drawings to the show, and in two days I made as much as I could in a week at my job. This was the beginning. I quit work and started exhibiting in galleries and with other artists."
Noted San Diego artist Frederic Whitaker was impressed with Acevedo and wrote a cover story about him in the September, 1969, issue of "American Artist." This brought Acevedo national attention.
Today, Acevedo divides his time between his San Francisco studio and San Diego, but since 1980 he has lived primarily in San Francisco. He is planning to spend more time in San Diego and open a studio with his son here.
In the late '60s Acevedo took a trip to New Mexico to exhibit and became enthralled with Indians.
"I discovered the beautiful Navajo people, and the atmosphere."
After this trip, he did his now well-known print of "Solitario," a lone, slim Indian man with a broad hat, gazing out toward distant mesas, surrounded by white space. "He is the aloof, lonely one--a man of vast land, alone, a gypsy."
Acevedo, who said he has been influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec and by Ben Shahn, who also spent time intensely observing life, spent more time in Taos, visiting, photographing and sketching the Indians. From his observation and drawings, he has continued to represent the downtrodden.
This sensitivity to the Indians has led Acevedo to become involved with the forced relocation of the Navajo people at Big Mountain, Ariz. His recent retrospective at the gallery was titled "In the Spirit of Peace" and dedicated to the Big Mountain relocation resistance effort.