Monday, November 3, 2014

One of Tracy's pieces from her show at the Loge.  Es muy bien, no?

I thought I might take a little jaunt away from the trip in Guanajuato this week to talk about our efforts to use the images from this and other places to actually make art.

As I said in the last post, Tracy and I spent three nights walking through the alleyways and streets of Guanajuato on our first visit, but we also spent the four days bookending these nights exploring that town, collecting images for Tracy's December '08 show in the University of Utah's Loge Gallery.  Tracy spent the next several months creating an impressive number of mixed media works based on this material, as well as images from Taxco, Oaxaca and a few from the South of France.  It was an eye-poppingly colorful show, and almost all of the images have since found happy homes in the the houses of groovy people.

It took me quite a bit longer to start using any of these as source material, however.  Tracy and I have built up an absurd number of photos in the old iPhoto library over the years (71,440 as of this writing, and she's out shooting more as I type this), and sometimes the sheer volume of the material is daunting.  There's so much to choose from, but it also feels like just a whole bunch of haystacks to go looking for needles in.

The other thing that frequently happens in our household is that when one of us starts mining a particular vein, the other one feels like they can't really touch it.  This isn't said overtly and is even occasionally   denied by the person working that vein, but I think we both feel this pressure to stay on our own side of the artistic bed.

There are similarities in the way that Tracy and I work as well, which is one of the first things that drew us together as a couple, but which occasionally people who aren't looking very hard will say annoying things about, such as "You two paint exactly the same!"  (actual quote from an actual museum-art-collector-type person).  But it is true that Tracy and I have been barking up adjacent if not conjoined trees since even before our eyes met across a crowded room back in '02, and it's also true that we have influenced each other heavily ever since, on and off the canvas.  How, Dear Reader, could it not be so?

Aside from a show we did when Tracy was eight months pregnant, where we both painted about 10 or so paintings each from the same model setups, and hung our paintings up side by side like this, Tracy and I have kind of kept to our own individual subject matters.

Plein Air in France, where they invented the phrase
However, I was very interested in the beauty of all of these places we'd been, and in their sheer visual weirdness when compared to the very sensibly laid down grid, boring architecture and muted tones of the town I live in.  Even though I've painted plein air on most of our trips to Europe, I sort of felt like Tracy owned the photographic images from our excursions to Mexico, France and other places we'd been to, and I didn't want to infringe on her turf.

Also, a lot of my subject matter over the years has been about the very banality of growing up in a certain place and time in the U.S., and I really didn't know how to fit these picturesque locales into my body of work.  I've had a love/hate relationship with working from photographic reference for many years, sometimes swearing them off completely for a while and then coming back to them when I saw an image that was completely irresistible.  But when I'd worked from photos before it had nearly always been from old family snapshots that have a certain dorky nostalgia and time-muted color sensibility, mostly from the 1960s and 70s.  I really liked these new digital images we were accruing, but I just didn't know what to do with them, if anything.

Hey!  That's New!
One of Damien Hirst's Polka Dot paintings
This kind of inner critical dialogue can sometimes make an artist self conscious, and self consciousness kills art like roundup on so many dandelions.  Somehow there also has taken root in Western and particularly American Art the High Holy Doctrine of Unprecedented Uniqueness, which is that your work must break out anew as the Next Big Thing like Athena from the skullshards of yesterday's misguided tradition.

Continuing the Greek myth riff, this new Promethian fire, brought down the mountain of cranial grey matter from the solitary (and almost certainly New York based!) artistic genius, hopefully arrives just in time to save Western Civilization from stagnation by ushering in the New Paradigm, whatever that is.

This is all of course complete and utter Clement Greenberg B.S., but it is one of the primary myths (and not one of the good kinds with minotaurs and togas) left over from Art School that a painter may have rolling around their cranium when they sit down in front of a blank canvas.  It's also one of the many reasons contemporary art has become so utterly dreadful, but that's a whole other rant for another day.  One tries to empty one's mind of unhelpful myths, but sometimes it can be a challenge.

High Water Mark of Contemporary Art: "Tree"
Paul McCarthy's 80 Foot Butt Plug in Paris two weeks ago.
What is known today as the Art World is a very noisy place, filled with a whole bunch of stuff catering to the One-Percenters or Po-Mo art critics or God knows who, that frankly Tracy and I are just really not very interested in or moved by.  While there are of course a lot of interesting artists still working all over the world, it seems that the most famous people who refer to themselves by that moniker today are 99.9% P.T. Barnum, and in my opinion they are pulling their ideas out of a different place than their grey matter, in the case of Paul McCarthy quite literally.

Still, there are some noted exceptions, like David Hockney, who is still kicking and continues to inspire artists like Tracy and me.

David Hockney Photo-Montage
One of the things Tracy and I have learned over the years from Hockney's photo-montages is that they have a much more interesting spatial (as well as temporal) relationship to the viewer than any individual photograph, and this space in some of them (though not so much in this one) begins to bend in ways that are closer to what it is like when you are actually standing in an environment that curves around you in every direction.  The image is also fractured in interesting ways that recall cubism, though in my opinion this fractal effect always looks a bit tricky when you try to do it with paint.

Add to this spatial idea the weirdness of actually standing in a place with winding streets like Guanajuato or San Miguel, the extreme light contrast and the color of these places, and it seemed like there might be something interesting to really track down here.  In the last few pieces for her show, Tracy was using this multi-vanishing-point bent space perspective to great effect in her pieces, and some of them had become quite large.  I also liked how she was bringing people, cars and animals from other source images into her composition to balance them and create new relationships between the characters and compositional elements.

Earlier that year, Tracy and I had worked together on a mixed media piece based on a hilltop town in France where we explored these ideas, and this collaboration reignited my interest in the images in our photo library.  I started digging back through the enormous number of pictures and figured out how to stitch the montages together in photoshop and similar programs instead of printing them all up and doing it with scotch tape on the studio wall.  I'd been playing with this for fun since I bought my first Canon PowerShot G1 back in '01, and even as far back as 1992 I was combining analog photographic imagery in the good old fashioned cut-and-paste-with-real-scissors-and-real-paste way, but in 2008-09 I started really pursuing digital stitching extensively as a compositional tool.

Worth pursuing
I ended up making a large number of these montages over the last 5 or 6 years, many of which are enormous jpeg files that would sometimes crash my old Mac.  Most of them will never end up turning into paintings but occasionally one will really stick out as something worth pursuing.

There are of course many people in the world and probably on your block making panoramic photos every day, and there are now programs and even apps for your smartphone which do everything for you and smooth out all the seams between the individual images so they even move around your screen like Google Street View.  But I prefer the clunky old manual photo stitch that shows all the rectangles and color and value inconsistencies from the source files, as they have that fractal Hockneyesque neo-cubist space thing going on in them, and I can try different incarnations of the same image, deleting or moving characters around like a collage and then deciding whether to pursue any given image further or not. My montages are intentionally pretty rough as I don't really want to spend all my time in photoshop, and I think of them as studies for the real thing.  Essentially, I'd rather get painting.

I still did some old-fashioned manual montages with tape and physical photographic prints like Hockney did, as it's actually pretty fun for an afternoon or so, and a very tactile and direct process, but somehow the photos feel kind of dead to me after they've been printed, whereas they literally glow at you when viewed from the screen, which glow gives you something to aspire to when you bust out the paints.  That deadness in your standard print from the Costco Photo Lab is one of the main reasons why I've disliked working with photos in the past.  Still, sometimes this is the approach that makes sense, especially when there are a lot of photos that would create an enormous file or crash the program, my computer, and then my brain.  Here's a link to the painting I did from this montage, if you're interested.

I know some artists who declare from the rooftops that working from photo reference is always bad.  At least one of my professors in Grad School, Alfred Leslie (an artist way more famous than I'll ever be) was always railing about the evils of artists using photography, and he sometimes went to extraordinary lengths in his own paintings to only work from life.  Once he had an actual jeep dismantled and brought into his third story studio with a crane through a large window and then reassembled for a series of paintings about the untimely death of his friend the poet Frank O'Hara.

Here's a link if you want to take a look at a slideshow of the paintings from this cycle, all of which were (apparently) painted strictly from life, even the crazy one with naked people running all over the place and the guy flying through the air.  But I've come to believe that photographs are just another tool in the box, and that many of the images I want to create would be impossible without them.  If you make the decision to only work from life, then you are accepting the limitations of that particular decision, and your paintings are going to look a certain way.  I wanted mine to look a different way.

Whatever.  Alfred's got paintings in the Smithsonian and the MOMA and I don't.  He's also a terrific guy if you ever get a chance to meet him.

Crazy Studmuffin d'Art
In any case, photos are certainly not as good as actually being there.  Van Gogh's night paintings are amazing partly for the fact that he was standing out there in the streets of Arles with a straw hat with candles he'd attached to it so he could see what he was painting.  Still, all his neighbors thought he was totally nuts and more than 80 of them signed a petition asking for him to be evicted and perhaps committed.  Ultimately, they were kind of right, it turns out.  He was and still is the major Studmuffin of western art, and the standard by which all artists since are compared, but let's face it:  he was also kinda bonkers.  He's become the Tragically Crazy Jesus of Art, as has perhaps been observed by others.

Painted this puppy plein air
Ultimately, this anti-photo rhetoric just seems mostly like old fashioned Ludditism to me.  I've painted outside plein air at night several times, and sometimes I came back with something interesting, and sometimes I didn't.  The truth is I really like painting night scenes but I usually get real sleepy around 10:27 pm every night, especially if I've had a glass of wine or two.  Plus it's not the safest thing to do, even in a quiet town like Salt Lake City.  My friend John Erickson was painting outside in the Avenues one night when some Yuppyspawn teens drove by and threw a Snapple bottle at him.  Little jerks.

I've also had to come to terms with the fact that I'm not the most facile plein air painter.  It's true that plein air painting has a certain urgency and energy that is frequently absent in works from photo reference.  But it takes me way longer to bring an image together than people who are really good at this kind of painting, like my buddy Doug Braithwaite who absolutely kills every time he goes out outside with his brushes.

Renoir.  What a douche.
I'm sure there were artists who railed against these new whippersnappers who started buying their paint in tubes back in the 1840s when this technology first became available, instead of grinding their pigments with a mortar and pestle and adding linseed oil every morning for a couple of hours like a real artist did.  But as Renoir said, "Without tubes of paint, there would have been no Impressionism." Course I hate Renoir.  He was right though:  No tubes, no Monet, and by extension no Cezanne and most definitely no Van Gogh.  Tools are neither good nor bad.  It's just that you need to learn how to use them.

On one of our trips to France we had also spent time walking around in an amusement park in Paris right after a May rainstorm, and I had snapped off a great many night photos that were pretty intriguing.

The technicolor carnival lights reflecting up in all those pools of water on the pavement was super seductive.  I began to work from some of these images on a small scale to test their viability as subject matter, and to see what it was like to work directly from the digital images, which could be adjusted or expanded when necessary.  It turns out that people liked these little paintings immediately and all of them disappeared about as fast as I could paint them, which is always nice.  But more importantly I started to get a sense for using this tool to create works that still had the feeling of walking around in that French carnival in the brisk Parisian night.

Guanajuato 1
Come on, Brad.  I thought we were talking about Mexico here.

Okay then, let me try to catch us up.  A little over two years ago I finally painted my first work from our initial Mexican excursion to Guanajuato for an invitational show at the Salt Lake Art Center's (now UMOCA's) annual Gala Fundraiser.  It was a fairly modestly sized offering but I was pretty happy with how it turned out and it got snapped up pretty quickly by a friend of that institution who has collected a few pieces of mine over the years and who even commissioned a large piece a few years back.  It also felt like in these night photos I was able to finally take ownership of some of these images, as Tracy had not worked with any of them.  The night stuff was just not her thang, it turns out.  It was mine.

This painting made me want to work more in this vein, and it also made me want to get back to San Miguel as soon as possible.  Turns out that year we went twice, bringing our young daughter Sofi with us both times, to see what she thought of the place.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Well, I suppose I should endeavor to get us somewhere closer to the present tense with this blog deelio.  But before I do, I want to wrap up our first trip to Guanajuato and the rest of our initial 2008 visit to this part of Mexico which has held our attention for so many years.

After spending four nights in San Miguel, we repacked the backpacks and hopped on the 90 minute second class bus to Guanajuato (if you're flying Air Slaugh, you're flying Coach).  We found that this town is somehow even more adventurously colorful than San Miguel.  This might be a bit much for some Northern European temperaments, but Tracy and I have long ago abandoned the taste for beige, burgundy and taupe.  All the same, Guanajuato was like a visual jolt of espresso.

It's also laid out, if that's a phrase that even applies to such a place, in the wildest and most organic way possible.  Whereas San Miguel is organized in a way that more or less makes a nod toward some idea of a grid (albeit crossbred with a web spun by a dyslexic spider), the streets and callejons (alleyways only big enough for walking) of Guanajuato seem to have totally grown like a series of neurons from many hubs around the valley it's located in.  And like neurons, you're not really sure how the whole thing actually works, but somehow it totally does.

It's also reminiscent of someone dropping an entire pot of spaghetti on top of a gopher hole, each strand a street flowing over the mounds of dirt and down into the space below.

However, calling them streets does not really give you a sense of what the passageways of this place are like, as many of them are really too narrow for even one-way traffic, and many of the callejons are essentially cobbled-over trails with the occasional stairway worming its way up through all these colorful stuccoed buildings.  What I'm trying to say is that, like Taxco, the space in Guanajuato is superwack, with the amazing addition of full spectrum color.

It's also much bigger than Taxco, and you get the feeling that it would take a really long time to explore all of its polytechnic nooks and crannies. What should be a horizontal landscape is almost always extremely vertical, and what should be a level surface to walk on is usually set at a 45 degree angle.  Even those streets where cars are actually allowed are ones I am personally glad I am not expected to drive.
Which is not to say that there aren't some impressive horizontal viewing opportunities.

Actually, before noticing the color blitzkrieg and the trippy space upstairs, the first thing that struck me in Guanajuato is that the whole city has a network of tunnels running under it.  As I recall, we popped up and down into them a couple of times as we entered town in a taxi from the bus station, and we saw several openings to this subway-for-autos later as we walked around the town snapping pictures.  You can read all about the history of the whys and wherefores of this on Wikipedia, so I'm just going to talk about our own experiences here, which was a little reminiscent of being in a Hogan's Heroes episode.

I'm not a big fan of spelunking in general, as there are too many bats, roaches and pee pee smells in your typical tunnel/cave/New York Subway Station for my taste.  But this popping in and out of the auto tunnels of Guanajuato is a solidly synapse carbonating bonus, IMHO.  One moment you are in a colorless claustrophobic subterranean space and the next you have popped up into Candyland.
What, are you kidding me?  How is it possible that a place like this actually exists?

That's right.  I totally wear socks with sandals.
You got a problem with that?
Another striking thing we noticed about the town is the Central Square, which was treelined like San Miguel's, but which had extremely dappled light and was terrific for people watching.  As we sat down that first night to have a quiet meal here, there were no fewer than three mariachi bands as well as a couple of Norteno outfits all playing at the same time.  Guanajuato doesn't really do Peace and Quiet.

Guanajuato is also a College Town, full of students of one of Mexico's major Universities walking up and down its streets.

Interestingly, it's also a town with a serious Cervantes obsession:

Every year Guanajuato holds an international Festival called the Cervantino that draws people from all over the world (again, sadly not when we were there), similar to the Cedar City Shakespearean Festival in my home state of Utah, which I somewhat shamefacedly confess I've never actually been to, even though it's only four hours from my front stoop.

However, in my defense, if Cedar City looked like Guanajuato instead of the McHomes Legoland Sprawl-O-Rama it has become since I graduated from High School I'd be there every year.  Yeah, that's right, Cedar City, I'm callin you OUT.

Notable corner in Guanajuato
Jive Plastic Ranchburger at 4237 W 75 N, Cedar City, UT,
apparently.  Which photo I swiped off yonder Internet.
Of course, it's not just Cedar City that bums me out in this way, Dear Reader.  It seems like my entire home country is hellbent on becoming a jive plastic coast-to-coast stripmall, complete with regularly occurring Winger's and eight other McChains, all designed by the same anonymous architecture school flunky and serving the same bogus foodlike Soylents that are turning us all quickly into extras from Wall-E, with a nod to the set of Bladerunner in the host of LED Billboards stretching off in all directions, obscuring whatever landscape our ancestors may have once admired.  That's right, U.S.  I'm callin you OUT with three separate movie references in the same run-on sentence.

How amazing would it be if these abominations dropped like so many dominos?

Anyway, I digress.

Don Quixote at the Cervantes Museum
Callejoneadas, also swiped off yonder Internet.
Almost all my photos were super blurry.

I reckon the fact that these two locales have nothing to do with their festival's Patron Saints is testament to the sheer enthusiasm of their founders and the devotion of those who keep the flames fanned year after year.

There's also a very impressive Don Quixote Museum in Guanajuato with traditional and Contemporary art from all over the world referencing Cervantes Iconography, and every night of the year there are college students dressed in 17th Century period costume performing callejoneadas, which consist of guiding small groups of people through the darkening alleyways of this crazy town, telling stories, performing skits and playing songs on traditional instruments while the audience members walk along behind, drinking wine from small ceramic flasks that they give to you at the end as souvenirs.

That is also decidedly not happening in Iron County, Utah.

Alas, we didn't go on one of these, fun as they sounded, as it was felt that my Spanish was too utterly and embarrassingly minimal to get the full benefit, but I did take some super blurry pictures of one that I happened upon, not realizing the wall I was leaning against to steady myself was crawling with flying ants.  Luckily, the hombre next to me tapped me on the shoulder and pointed it out in time for me to deal with the situation.  Silly Guero, he perhaps thought as I slapped them off of my shoulder and neck in the deepening darkness.

Still, as dusk began to fall on Guanajuato, slowly surrendering into night, we noticed immediately that the callejons and plazas of this town began to be transformed into something really magical.  The combination of the strange cobblestoned spaces, the streetlights playing on the colorful buildings and the narrow vertical spaces, increasingly muted by the darkness, was irresistible.

We pulled out both cameras and started to go to town with them, thinking perhaps we might be able to stitch something interesting together later when we got back to Salt Lake.

For three nights, we prowled around Guanajuato during that perfect interval when the streetlights began to dominate the sky until it was so dark that the cameras were only taking blurry photos, and all the color was gone.

One of these days, one or both of us will need to make some art from these, we thought.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tracy and I were in Taxco looking at pictures of Guanajuato on the internet in a little room off the lobby of the Hotel Victoria.  It was May 2008.  We had returned to Mexico after nearly 3 years, this time on the (tax deductible!) pretext of doing research and gathering additional reference material for a show that Tracy had been invited to hang at the Loge Gallery of Pioneer Memorial Theater that December.  We were, it is true, also doing some limited research on mezcal, which the locals drink with salt ground up with something mysterious and exotic called jumil (pronounced hu-Meel).  Turns out jumil is an edible beetle, a stink bug actually (!), that migrates through town every November with several million of his buddies, and around which there is an entire festival centered.  The folks grind em, roast em, and even eat them raw.  We weren't there during this time of year (thank God), but we did try the jumil salt chased by the mezcal in a little clay shooter made just for the ritual.  It was all right, but it decidedly did not taste like chicken.

(Side note:  How is a Fiesta based entirely around eating stink bugs not called the Jumiliacion?  C'mon, Mexico!  Missed opportunity!)

Anyhoo, this time we'd brought 2 digital cameras with us and had shot, including our first trip, over 800 photos of Taxco, and we were starting to feel like it was time to move on.

One of Tracy's works from her show at the Loge 
Our original plan was to go south back to Oaxaca, where we'd only spent a few days back in December of '05, but I was balking at the 8-9 hour bus ride this would entail.  Then Tracy started talking about a couple of towns up north she'd visited years before, and showed me some pictures that looked a bit like the panorama at the top of this post.  Wowsers.

San Miguel De Allende
She also mentioned that if we went to Guanajuato we might as well stop for a couple of days in a town on the way called San Miguel de Allende where she'd once spent a freezing Easter Eve trying to sleep on the roof of a hostel with some other students she was traveling with (one of whom was trying to get amorous all night long on the pretext of conserving body heat).

I thought this place looked pretty groovy too, and it was only a five hour (second class) bus ride away!  Even more palatable if we broke it down and made our way up there stopping in maybe one or two other towns along the way, we reasoned.

I hoped we would be able to find subject matter that was as interesting as the town we were leaving, but these two cities seemed really colorful, which would be very different from our experience of the unified white gestalt of Taxco.  At the same time they're both set on hilly terrain and would give us the up/down space we were interested in.

Unfortunately, we discovered at the very first city we came to (Toluca) that not every town in Mexico is equally picturesque.  We were trying to skirt La Ciudad to avoid as much as possible the Cloud of bad air that hovers over the Greater Mexico City Area, as Tracy was recovering from some bad respiratory gumboo.  Even when you're healthy, you can actually feel the air of that town mucking up your bronchioles every time you pass through it, and you spend all day clearing out your throat.
Taco Alley in Valle de Bravo

(Another side note:  It's noticeably better now due to lots of progressive steps in the last decade by the Mexican Government, but still not what one would call Bueno.  Tracy and I've spent a few days in De Efe but overall we figure if we want to breathe crappy air, we can just stay home in Salt Lake.)

On a lark, we spent one or two enjoyable nights in a little resort town called Valle de Bravo, which is apparently world famous for parasailing as well as watching the monarch butterfly migration at a certain time of the year (not when we were there, however), but we decided we just needed to head north to the towns we wanted to see.  This place was the first time a street vendor ever called me Guero, which I thought was awesome.

First picture we took in San Miguel
Alas, we took a bad turn on the wrong bus, which ironically ended up tacking a couple of hours onto our journey and even more ironically plopped us right back into the middle of Mexico City and The Cloud, but after some time in the terminal with Tracy using her magic Spanish words between coughs, we made it onto the right bus, one without obnoxious video screens, though it became quickly clear that San Miguel was on the other side of five hours of Mexican Polka music from the direction of the driver.  Fortunately, we had learned our lesson three years before and had packed foam earplugs.  I'm actually a pretty big fan of the accordion but Ay Caramba! Enough is decidedly enough, Amigo.  

Tracy and I finally arrived in San Miguel, exhausted from a long day traveling, just as it was beginning to grow dark.  We splurged and took a taxi from the bus station to the center of town rather than walking, which in Taxco is called the Zocalo, but in San Miguel is called the Jardin, a beautiful tree-lined square dominated by a majestic cathedral called the Parroquia that is even more impressive than Taxco's Santa Prisca.  I'm not what anyone would call a Believer, but I have to say that it's hard for me to imagine a group of atheists building something so formidable.
Sweet B & B:  Casa Carmen

We dropped our backpacks off at the lovely Bed and Breakfast recommended in the Lonely Planet guide, and returned to the Jardin.  There was a slight sprinkling of rain as we strolled with our cameras, and the square was dotted with people just hanging out and enjoying the beautiful night atmosphere.  

I'm really going to like it here, I thought.

About this time we were missing the kids quite a bit, so I shot a little video for them:

It was dark enough that we really didn't have a sense of just how colorful the town we had just entered in fact was.  But the next day, as we began walking around, it quickly became clear that we had stepped into someplace pretty amazing.

It was actually hard to find anything in this town that wasn't just super interesting to look at.  The light glows off everything in a crisp, fully saturated way, and the town somehow pulled off being incredibly colorful without ever being garish.  I had no clue how this could be accomplished on the scale of an entire town, but we've subsequently learned that in the Centro Historico, you get to choose from a predefined and well-thought-out set of harmonic colors, after which the city will paint your house for you.  Having just had our house painted in Salt Lake before we left a month or so ago, this sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

Like I said, the place is kinda crazy photogenical.

We began snapping pictures like possessed people, and whereas we thought the 874 photos we'd taken in Taxco was an impressive number, as of this writing we're now at slightly more than 7,900 in San Miguel and Guanajuato combined.  True, many of the photos are blurry, mediocre and completely unusable as reference, and some of them involve small people traveling with us putting rabbit ears behind the heads of bigger people (and thinking that's just the most hilarious thing in the world), but we have been able to stitch a few into some kind of compositional shape, and there's a million little gems that you see when you are just out walking around.

Of course, Tracy's been the one who has made the most of the material we've gathered in this town and its neighbor Guanajuato, and her show of mixed media works in December '08 was truly outstanding.

What Arnold was talkin bout, Willis.

She assembled the photo montages manually with Scotch tape on foam core a la David Hockney and worked from them that way, as we hadn't fully figured out how to do it in Photoshop yet, and she would bring a person from one environment and put them in another in a way that was extremely cool and very unfussy.

I learned a lot from Tracy, watching her process over those months.  Almost every painting and drawing she made in this series has also found a very groovy home to live in, though it took a while for people to come around and open their hearts and wallets. The groovy home this one found, however, is ours:

Crumbling Beauty, from Tracy's show in the Loge Gallery.  We're keeping it.

We both fell instantly in love with San Miguel, and while we initially planned to stay perhaps one or at most two nights on our way to Guanajuato, we ended up staying twice that long on our first trip, wandering through the alleys and curving streets, taking pictures and sampling as much of the local fare and culture as possible.

The people in San Miguel are as amazing to photograph as the architecture is, and everywhere we looked there were details that startled, surprised and, as corny as it sounds, delighted us.

There are lots of places I've gone in this world that just a whole bunch of people seem to really want to live in.  New York, for instance, which I can personally spend about 3 days in before I want to flee like it was Superstorm Sandy hitting during a bedbug convention.  Still, I suppose eight million people can't be wrong, yes?

I could probably also live in LA, though I doubt I could ever really love that town, despite the fact that both these cities have amazing art museums, endless cuisine options and very lively creative communities.

What, are you freaking kidding me?

I sometimes joke that I live in Salt Lake because it's a great town to take vacations from, but I do have a real affection for the place, though it's the affection of someone who's been married for nearly 50 years to a very nice person who also smacks when they eat.  There's something to be said for knowing where everything is:  all 3 Home Depots, which mechanic won't rip you off, where to get good olives, what time the wine store closes, and which bakery can transport you to Paris if you close your eyes while taking a bite of the pain au chocolate.

It's also where nearly all our dearest and most amazing friends are.

Still, there's only a handful of places I've been in the world that have made me fall in love with them instantly.  I'd put Paris and Bruges on that list, as well as Port Townsend, Washington.  Not really so much of a Big City guy it turns out, with the exception of Paris (though DC is completely underrated).  I could totally hang for a serious amount of time around San Remy De Provence, Arles or Nice, for instance.

But ever since stepping foot into San Miguel de Allende, Tracy and I kept asking each other the same question:  "Could you ever live here, at all?"