Thursday October 17, 2002   |   |   online since 1994
UA News
Police Beat

Write a letter to the Editor

Contact the Daily Wildcat staff

Search the Wildcat archives

Browse the Wildcat archives

Employment at the Wildcat

Advertise in the Wildcat

Print Edition Delivery and Subscription Info

Send feedback to the web designers

Arizona Student Media info

UATV - student TV

KAMP - student radio

Daily Wildcat staff alumni

UA News
Remembering the dead brings celebration to life

Image courtesy Raices Taller 222 Gallery
Bruce McGrew's "Dark Kiss Dance," a watercolor collage, will be included in the Dia de los Muertos celebration and exhibition at Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery.
By Biz Bledsoe
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday October 17, 2002

Professor emeritus Bruce McGrew taught at UA for 33 years in the School of Art before he died in 1999. He was six months away from a

well-deserved retirement. McGrew was a well-known artist who "left a lot of work. He was very prolific," said Joy Fox McGrew, Bruce McGrew's wife, who is also an artist.

And now, McGrew's legacy continues as part of an ancient tradition that began over 3,000 years ago in what is now Mexico. Beginning this Saturday, McGrew's painting "Dark Kiss Dance" can be seen at the Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery and Workshop as part of their month-long celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

If it seems strange to celebrate death, consider the Spanish Conquistadors who arrived in Mexico 500 years ago. They discovered the indigenous Aztecs participating in a month-long ritual that used skulls and traditional dances to imitate death.

The foundation of Dia de los Muertos lies in the Meso-American view of life as a mere dream and death as a true awakening. They believed that the spirits of the dead, which the skulls honored, would come back during the month-long ritual. Thus, they didn't fear death, but rather celebrated it and honored the dead, who were symbolized by the skulls that represented death and rebirth. However, the Spaniards saw the ritual as sacrilegious and attempted to do away with it.

Those attempts failed. Instead the Conquistadors Christianized the holiday and moved it from the ninth month of the Aztec solar calendar (around August), to coincide with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, which fall on the first two days of November. Since then, the holiday has had elements of both Catholic and ancient Aztec traditions, illustrated by the continued use of skulls in the celebration. Today, the event is practiced throughout Mexico and parts of the United States.

"(Raices Taller gallery's) annual Dia de los Muertos show pays homage (to) or honors certain individuals," said Ceci Garcia, one of the founders of the gallery and a UA alumna. "One of the individuals who has had such an impact on artists' lives has been Bruce McGrew."

Although Dia de los Muertos can be a somber reflection on death, it is also a happy occasion to celebrate the lives of those who have passed and welcome them back among us through remembrance.

"To me, (the Dia de los Muertos exhibition) is just a real celebration of (McGrew's) life," Fox McGrew said. "His life was really about painting, and about color and space. It's very consoling, too, to be surrounded by his work."

The legacy McGrew left is extensive. Since his death, there have been three exhibitions of his work, including January's "Big Retrospective in the Sky" at the UA Museum of Art. The exhibition featured 57 of McGrew's paintings, following almost 40 years of his work beginning in the 1960s.

McGrew's work is rich and colorful. His materials range from oils and watercolors to mixed media, and he is recognized for his beautiful landscapes of the Sonoran Desert. McGrew is known as a masterful landscape artist and colorist.

However, McGrew is well loved and remembered in the Tucson community for more than just his art; he took an active role in promoting local artists and culture. He and his wife, who is a clay artist, helped found the Rancho Linda Vista artists'

cooperative in Oracle. As a professor, McGrew formed close relationships with many of his students, whom he later helped when they were struggling to get their work shown.

"He had so many friends in Tucson," Fox McGrew said. "Everybody studied with him at one time or another."

One example of McGrew's influence lies in the beginnings of the Raices Taller Gallery and co-op, Tucson's only non-profit Latino-based contemporary art gallery. Six years ago, when a group of local Latino artists (some of whom were former students of McGrew) were searching for a place to exhibit their art, they decided to form their own co-op with his support.

"We were Latino- and Latina-based and we didn't have the opportunity to show our work in a contemporary venue," said Garcia, who is a muralist. "We decided that we would start our own co-op."

Raices Taller means "roots workshop." It was McGrew who encouraged the co-op to file for non-profit status.

"(McGrew) was one of the first artists of his caliber to step up and encourage Raices' members to go forward with the gallery," Garcia said.

And now, Raices Taller is honoring McGrew as a part of their annual Dia de los Muertos celebration.

A piece by Fox McGrew and an altar dedicated to her husband will also be shown in addition to McGrew's painting "Dark Kiss Dance," a 4 foot by 5 foot watercolor collage.

McGrew spent time in Mexico teaching in Guadalajara and San Miguel de Allende.

"Dia de los Muertos has always been a big day for us," Fox McGrew said.

"To have (Fox McGrew) agree to show at Raices is a very big honor," Garcia said. "We decided that this is a beautiful time of year to honor Bruce.

"For us, death is not something to be mourned, it is something to celebrate. We're not in fear of death, we are in recognition of the celebration of continuing life."


Webmaster -
© Copyright 2002 - The Arizona Daily Wildcat - Arizona Student Media