Originally from the Jalatlaco neighborhood in Oaxaca, Mexican artist Calixto Robles has found a second home in the Mission, where for more than 35 years he has been able to express his art and discover just a little more about himself.

Surrounded by nature and culture, Robles grew up in a family with Mixtec and Zapotec roots. As a child, he witnessed moments and experiences that led to his inclination for art. 

“I lived in a large house that belonged to my grandfather. He was a farmer and I had the opportunity to live alongside nature and the animals he tended to,” said Robles. “In that house my grandfather rented rooms and I remember seeing a man who made ceramics. He had a clay oven where he made dishes. There was also a lady who wove with large looms.” 

As a teenager, Robles realized that he wanted to dedicate himself to the arts, expressing interest in studying at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. But that would not be a possibility. His parents told him that his best collegiate option would be to pursue a career as a Chemical Technician, from which he successfully graduated. But he never lost the illusion of dedicating himself to what he liked most.

“The truth is that I was always drawing. All of my notebooks at the university were full of drawings,” he said.

Throughout his studies he never abandoned art, dedicating any free moment to drawing, painting and meeting with artist friends with whom he shared his talent.

At 25, Robles decided to immigrate to the United States, fulfilling his goal of traveling and learning English. “I always had the illusion of traveling. I was studying English in Mexico and reading books, all with the illusion of traveling,” Robles, 62, said.

He was rewarded for his traveling when in 1986 he discovered the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, which proved to be a vital step in his career as an artist. 

“Walking the streets of the Mission, I saw an advertisement for drawing classes,” Robles said. “From that moment, I was taking classes within a year with the Chilean teacher René Castro, the same person who introduced me to screen printing, which is now one of my favorite techniques.”

Thanks to MCCLA’s studio Mission Gráfica, Robles learnt the screen printing technique, becoming so good at it that he began to teach classes. So, little by little, Robles made his way, exhibiting his art in restaurants and cafes in the Mission. Later, he was invited to exhibit in different galleries and was able to sell some of his work, making himself known within the community. 

“I feel very grateful for my life, to the people who have given me the opportunity,” Robles said. “Thanks to my work and art, I have met very good people.”

Currently, he works out of his studio at the Redstone Labor Temple, where he dedicates himself to engraving, ceramics, painting and screen printing, the latter being his favorite. His most recent works pay homage to the land, nature, animals, Native Americans, among others.

Raising awareness through art

With support from a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission that he received last year, Robles will be able to present his exhibition “Agua es Vida” (Water is Life) on April 4, with which he seeks to raise awareness about the care of this natural resource.

“The purpose of my project is for people to appreciate and thank Mother Nature for this sacred gift that it offers us,” Robles said. “It is also to raise awareness, to protect our rivers, springs and oceans of the pollution generated by large oil corporations.”

The artist has around 25 pieces, of which 15 will be selected, for his exhibition. “The technique I used for this project is mixed because I mixed paint and screen printing,” said Robles. “I used symbols of pre-Columbian gods that represent rain and water such as Tláloc, Chaac, Pitao Cocijo, Chalchiuhtlicue, among others. I also used some symbols from Native American cultures like bear claws, eagles, and feathers.”

The exhibition will take place at the Juan R. Fuentes Gallery of Acción Latina on April 4 from 6pm to 9pm and will run until May 8. As special guests, the Red Lightning Woman Power Group will open the event with a musical presentation.

So that this awareness is not only limited to an exhibition, Robles has taken his project beyond a painting. He is currently teaching art workshops at different schools during which he carries out activities through drawings, with the simple objective that the new generations appreciate nature, water and the environment. Some schools he has collaborated with are Drew School, Buena Vista Horace Mann and Synergy School.