The San Antonio Museum of Art [SAMA] has a new bright mural in its spacious Great Hall that serves as the main entrance to the museum. The SAMA mural, Pase Usted by Texas-New York artist Carlos Rosales-Silva, features “two vibrantly colored forms that evoke archways—one rounded and one corbeled, the former representing European architectural histories and the latter representing those of the precolonial Americas.” The artist framed the large archways with a decorative pattern created from his unique conversion of numerous motifs he found on the vessels within the Museum’s collection.
Rosales-Silva currently lives in New York but welcomes the opportunity to undertake art projects in his home state of Texas. He has deep family roots in the Lone Star State, and working in Texas brings him back to his first home. In a talk at SAMA, the artist commented on the distinctive culture of his Texas birthplace, El Paso, the oldest US Borderland town and a Latino community on the Rio Grande that inspired his artistic development.
When architects converted the 19th-century Lone Star Brewery building to the San Antonio Museum of Art, they focused on large exhibit spaces for European, Asian, American, and Latin American Art. After the recent and very successful La Malinche and Roman Landscape exhibits, Dr. Emily Ballew Neff, The Kelso Director at SAMA, and Lana Meador, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, envisioned the need for colorful art in the Great Hall entrance to the museum. The plain white walls of the Great Hall previously had the appearance of a corporate headquarters building and by no means lifted the spirits of museum visitors.
Rosales-Silva proposed a mural installation that would draw from diverse cultures around the world. As he walked around the museum searching for ideas, he found architectural and design stories that make an ideal artistic statement. In a conversation about the Gateway mural, Rosales-Silva commented that one of the Roman architectural arches also reminded him of the Spanish-Mexican arches found in borderland churches. He noticed that all ancient cultures treasured their clay and metal vessels utilized for drinking liquids and eating food and that the people who created the vessels decorated them with motifs reflecting their cultural heritage.
The SAMA cultural leaders sought something bold with cultural meaning, striking in its beauty, and bright like a ray of sunlight. In the mural proposed by Rosales-Silva, the museum found the right combination. In Pase Usted, Rosales-Silva brilliantly blends artistic traditions from “expansive periods of time, places, and cultures,” explained Lana Meador, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
When Rosales-Silva proposed his mural concept to SAMA, his portfolio included photos of the ten murals he had completed in major U.S. cities and Mexico City. Prior to the SAMA mural, the artist’s largest mural spanned the fifteenth-floor elevator lobby of the Empire State Building in New York City. Rosales-Silva’s credentials listed artist-in-residence posts in three states including San Antonio Artpace in 2018. Rosales-Silva is exceptionally well-trained in the arts with a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin and an MFA from New York City’s School of Visual Arts.
At a SAMA presentation prior to the official opening of the new Great Hall featuring the Rosales-Silva mural, the artist shared a story and photos about his family revealing that his grandparents overcame great difficulties following their deportation by the U.S. Government agents in 1930. Mexican-American historians estimate that more than a million Mexicanos and Mexican Americans were deported during the early years of the Great Depression under the orders of President Herbert Hoover.
President Hoover mandated the deportation of Mexican workers who were recruited in earlier decades to work on the railroads and in the agricultural fields of the Southwest. Hoover used the excuse of easing the economic impact of the Great Depression.
Rosales-Silva’s grandparents, who were American citizens, were caught up in the mass deportation hysteria in which everyone who looked Mexican, both citizens and non-citizens, was rounded up and returned to Mexico. In 1970 the artist’s family showed their U.S. birth certificates to U.S. border agents in El Paso and returned to the United States.
Rosales-Silva has lived in New York City since his graduation from UT Austin in 2011. He moved to one of the art capitals of the world more for the purpose of joining his fiance than to seek art opportunities. He found work near his home and studio in Manhattan which enabled him to continue his artwork. The skills he learned from his family in El Paso came in handy. He took a job with a small shop that employed him as a designer and creator of wood furniture. Although his passion for art grew stronger, making art was limited to evenings and weekends because of his day jobs. In addition, finding long-term studio space was especially challenging for emerging artists in the city. Rosales-Silva demonstrated tenacity and determination as he was forced to relocate twelve times in his first ten years in New York City.
Rosales-Silva’s persistence, creativity, and
determination paid off as he exhibited in two shows in Brooklyn, as well as in shows in Houston and Dallas. Following two shows in Minneapolis, he won an Artist in Residence position in 2017 at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, NY. Further artistic recognition for Rosales-Silva came in 2019 when he was selected as an International Artist in Residence at Artpace in San Antonio, Texas.
Rosales-Silva’s solo exhibitions at the Ruiz-Healy Art Galleries in San Antonio and New York prepared me to
better understand his application of color, design, and architecture. My wife Harriett and I were intrigued by art critic Barbara Calderon’s mention that the artist “uses the nuanced subtlety of abstraction.” Calderon referred to Rosales-Silva’s art as a “rebellious abstraction.” She noted that “by rejecting the representational figure in favor of a sensuous blending of eccentric shapes, architectural textures, and dramatic color, the artist broadens a visual lexicon related to identity and pushes us to reconsider the true, obscured foundations of modern art.”
When Rosales-Silva visited San Antonio in early June of 2023, he came up with the idea that two large distinct arches nearly 30 feet high should dominate the spatial setting separated by an entryway. The inspiration for the motif that framed much of the mural also resulted from that same visit.
The inspiration for the motif that framed much of the mural also resulted from that same visit.
Rosales-Silva returned during the first week of August armed with nearly 40 drawings of his proposed mural. He reached out to Cassidy Fritts, mural Director of the San Anto Cultural Arts organization, for assistance. Fritts is part of a team that has completed 60 murals in San Antonio, most on the west side of town. Rosales-Silva and Fritts worked on the Great Hall for fourteen days straight, from the 7th to the 21st of August, laboring ten to twelve hours per day. The muralists rolled nearly 25 gallons of paint on the museum’s two large walls and main staircase.
Great art can transform space. Additionally, art is capable of engaging each of us with new thoughts, observations, and ideas. Rosales-Silva’s mural will give viewers transformational perspectives on culture, color, and design and will warmly welcome visitors to the San Antonio Museum of Art.