Mission resident and artist Arturo Duarte is gearing up for this Sunday’s San Francisco Marathon, and a solo exhibition of abstract paintings at Cafe La Boheme. [Full disclosure: He's the godfather of this interviewer's son.]
ML: You said marathon running is an interesting way to experience a city. What’s it like to run through your own neighborhood?
AD: I’ve only done three marathons and one of them was the San Francisco Marathon. It’s great because you go from the Embarcadero to the Marina, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Golden Gate Park, the Haight, the Mission, China Basin and back to the Embarcadero. It’s a nice way to explore the city.
Running through the Mission was fun. Since the event is on a Sunday morning, 16th Street was desolate. The highlight was running the intersection of 16th and Mission and being cheered by drug dealers, prostitutes and police officers!
ML: Your uncle fought Sugar Ray Leonard. What happened?
AD: He lost. It was his last professional fight. His name is Armando Muñiz, and he was a welterweight professional boxer in the ’70s. The closest he came to becoming a world champ was when he lost a title fight to a great Cuban fighter, José “Mantequilla” Nápoles, in 1975 (Acapulco). At first he won, but he was accused of headbutting Mantequilla. Later on there was a rematch that Mantequilla won without a doubt. My uncle now lives in LA, where he is a bail bondsman.
ML: Your family worries when you go out for a 10-mile run. Yet they live in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
AD: Well, I worry because they live in a very violent city, and they worry about me running for a few miles…. I guess the situation is kind of unbalanced! They live in Juárez, which is nowadays a very dangerous place, mostly because of an ongoing turf war among criminal organizations — they don’t only move drugs.
I grew up there, so it really makes me sad to see the general situation in which people live in the city; that is, without knowing where the next violent episode will happen, and at the same time growing desensitized about the number of people being murdered every day. (By the way, Mantequilla Nápoles now lives in Juárez, where he runs a boxing gym.)
ML: How’s painting?
AD: She’s fine! Thank you for asking! I’ll be showing some stuff at Cafe La Boheme soon. I can’t say much about it. I prefer to listen to what people say about it, especially people who don’t know me. It would be fun if somebody — after looking at one of them — says that they can tell that I have a desk job, that I take Caltrain to work everyday and love it, that I love science, that I constantly dream about being suspended inside clouds, that I love beer…ha ha!
ML: When did you start painting?
AD: When I was a kid, I used to make religious paintings for my mom. I’d look at the paintings in a Bible and try to reproduce them, or add things so that the subject would look more impressive.
Then many things took over my attention and I ended up pushing art completely aside. I tried becoming a serious scientist, then got all into married life for a while. By the time I was getting divorced I started going back to painting. I went back to playing with color, texture and simple forms, mostly. My dad used to own a truck parts shop, so all the forms and roughness of the different mechanical parts always impressed me. I would also find it very appealing to look at random grease or iron rust stains over stuff. I guess all this kind of reflects in some way with what I do — some of the forms resemble gears, mechanical things or waves.
But for a few years now, I have been thinking about some ideas for some figurative themes. We’ll see what comes up next.
ML: What influences your style?
AD: Enjoyment. I guess that is really what it boils down to. Currently I have so much fun doing it, even when I end up not really liking the outcome. I like oil paint. It’s a friendly medium. It lets you make a lot of mistakes, and it also lets you create great textures. I only wish that it could keep the smell forever, or that it could make sounds, too.
ML: ¿Quién es más macho, Santo o Chuck Norris?
AD: Let’s see…. Both of them have many fighting titles. Chuck Norris can free prisoners of war all by himself, while Santo can defeat vampires and mummies. Chuck can dismantle drug cartels, while Santo can tame Frankenstein’s daughter. You will never catch either of them dancing or crying in a film. I think Santo is a more elegant and stylish macho dude.
Art by Arturo Duarte
at Cafe La Boheme
3318 24th Street (near Mission)
Date TBA. Paintings will be go up after the current World Cup display comes down.