Alfredo Vilchis – Retablo Artist

Rincon de los Milagros

Alfredo Vilchis in his studio, Mexico City, 2007

Rincon de los milagros — corner of miracles, the street & neighborhood that Alfredo lives, where he paints retablos depicting the history of Mexico, people’s dreams, wishes, troubles, pain, miracles and stories of great heart.

We entered Alfredo’s home through the living room and kitchen downstairs and were brought right in to meet the whole family. We walked up the tiny winding staircase, covered in retablos and ex-votos to the second floor to his bedroom

and studio.

Upon reacing the top of the stairway, we entered a rich blue room, his bedroom, where he sat us down next to him on the bed and told us the stories of his family, his faith, the saints who keep his work alive. Alfredo is a lively man, full of himself, and proud of the work he has been doing for the last 23 years, bringing history and people’s stories to painted form while keeping the tradition of retablo and ex-Voto making alive.

The bedroom opens into his studio, rich in iconography, walls to

ceiling covered with masks, milagros, parts of doll’s bodies, pictures, little statues and books – all for inspiration and meaning.

Brushes, old boxes with paint peeling, drawers full of supplies, drawings everywhere you turn, his image painted, looking out at you, the signature of this mustached man, a saint, an angel, a devil.

It is a dream studio full of light, white curtains blowing, simple, yet full of that which occupies his mind.

I asked Alfredo how he worked and he brought out a pencil drawing

of a retablo he had painted to show the basic layout – simple and not very detailed. From this he paints the final piece in oil on sheet metal called lamina.

Alfredo, his son Hugo and myself

Around every corner, behind every shelf are the images that hold his life and his work.

The shelf on the left is a wooden niche full of old rolled up tubes of paint, mixed with milagros and & saints in front of the niche to protect

and bless that which has brought him his livelihood and his fame.

Altars, shrines, mementos

Hugo, Alfredo’s eldest son, laying out retablos that they call ‘inventos’ and are sold in the market, based on stories that they have read about in newspapers and magazines.

Alfredo, self portrait, angle with flowers, below, Alfredo

with death on a bicycle.

Love of Mexico, it’s foils and follies and luchadors. This is

one of a series of retablos, commemorating the lucha phenomenom, his family painted in to the bleachers.

Alfredo explaining a shadow box niche that was hung in his show in


While in France at a show of his work, he became enamored with

the work of Velazquez, and has painted a series of the royal family

each one with him as the artist painting

Alfredo in jeans & green shirt & as a saint surrounded by his

paintbrushes, the working altar

Retablo of a bus full of people, the Virgin watching over and

Mexico city & the Volcanos to the south in the distance.

Through his love of bull fights, he has begun a series of retablos depicting bullfighting – the inspiration for another possible book of his work.

Hugo Vilchis – with two of his retablos

Luis Vilchis with recent retablos of gay lovers

Daniele, so serious throughout our visit

The artist desk

Shadow box of milagros and small linear retablo

Wall of milagros in tin, clay, doll parts, wood

Alfredo describing a simple retablo drawn by his grandson Miguel — the story of the death of his little brother at one month

Artist’s view

Alfredo with Manuel holding drawings of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Manuel’s drawing is based on the drawing of Alfredo

Alfredo’s Virgin on the left, Manuel’s, right

Manuel, Alfredo & his grandaughter

Daniel, Alfredo, Hugo & Luis Vilchis

The blue bedroom. On the left is a retablo of all of Alfredo’s saints, a

small shelf with miniature figures, paintings & retablos & a cross filled with

drawings and milagros, a photo of his mother beneath it.

Views of retablos on the narrow stairway, filled with retablos that Alfredohas painted over the years, retablos & Ex-votos that are

in his two books.

Rincon de los milagros

© All rights reserved, September 2007, Dos Mujeres Mexican Folk Art

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