TIJUANA — The dark and muted tones almost obscure the figures in Tijuana artist Jose Gonzalez Navarro's painting on view at the "Tradicion de Ruptura" exhibit at the Centro Cultural Tijuana.
But near the bottom of the painting one sees the shapes of dozens of sturdy, bare feet and realization dawns: a horde of peasants moving relentlessly through the night.
In this painting, Gonzalez has caught not only the vast extent but also the lemming-like urgency underlying the exodus of campesinos (peasant workers) crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.
A humble man, Gonzalez, 53, is one of a handful of Tijuana fine artists who are earning their livings practicing their craft.
"It's a thing I feel inside of me," he said of his paintings. "I like to show the human conflict between the nations and the relationship between people, the poverty of many people and the wealth of just a few."
Although formally trained at the National School of Plastic Arts in Mexico City, Gonzalez began his career making sketches on Avenida Revolucion. For years he had to paint windows and signs for politicians and clerk in shops to make a living.
"Sometimes I went as a pollo (illegal) to Los Angeles to work, sometimes I worked in Mexico," he said.
Gonzalez's art, like that of many Latin American artists, speaks with a nationalistic tone. He identifies strongly with the Mexican peasant. At the same time, his works are executed in a surrealistic style. In his series "Mexican Flesh of Cactus," fans of green, pulpy leaves flare out from the flesh of people. It refers to the significance of cactus, which is portrayed on the Mexican flag. "We have almost a blood relationship with the cactus," he said.
Such series are typical of Gonzalez's works. He has also painted series inspired by the poetry of Pablo Neruda, the migration to the United States and the idea of peasant madonnas.
Gonzalez has been working as a painter for 26 years. He was inspired as a teen-ager by a magazine reproduction of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes. The vigorous style caught his youthful interest.
"I was impressed by the force of the human figures," he said. Today a viewer can't help but notice the dignity and innate strength of the subjects in Gonzalez's own pieces.