ARTISTS OF SAN MIGUEL: Strength, passion, and the common man
Some San Miguel artists are born here; others arrive from elsewhere and settle for a long haul, perhaps a lifetime; still others pass through the city for a short stretch, but leave behind the legacy of their work. Luis Filcer is part of the latter group—a San Miguel artist whose stay with us was sadly, and unexpectedly brief.
Filcer was born to a Jewish family in Zhitomir, Ukraine, in 1927, ten years after the Bolshevik Revolution that created the Soviet State in all the occupied regions, including Ukraine. The change in regime, from the iron rule of a tsar to the despotic rule of the Bolsheviks, kept many of the previous existing discriminatory practices in place. Jews, as in the past, were persecuted and denied rights, and often simply being Jewish could trigger an attack on life and limb. Such was the case when Luis was six years old, and his father and grandfather were about to be executed by a firing squad for no other reason than their ethnicity. The timely interference of a neighbor stopped the action, but the family knew they had no choice than to leave their home. The one country that would take them in was Mexico, and so they boarded a ship and came to Mexico City in 1933. Below is a Mexican beach, seen from above, as Filcer sketched the scene from the plane.
Mexico is where Luis Filcer grew up, lived out his life, and fulfilled his dream of becoming an artist. Since childhood, he loved to paint and draw, and at 17 his talent was recognized, and he was accepted at the prestigious Academia San Carlos—Mexico’s National School of Plastic Arts. He learned from the best, such as the Spanish painter Jose Bardasano who offered to give him private lessons. He received a scholarship to study in Paris, where he became proficient in portraiture and was able to earn a living selling many of his works. Once again, he came in contact with renowned artists from around the world.
However, it was a painter long dead who influenced Filcer the most. He became fascinated with the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), after reading about him in “Lust for Life,” and his works and life became the model for Filcer’s own life and paintings. When he went to the Netherlands, birth place of Van Gogh, he became enchanted with Amsterdam and visited all the museums, drawn to the works of classic artists like Rembrandt. Amsterdam became home for the next twenty years, during which he married and had two daughters, and became quite successful exhibiting and selling his works. When his marriage failed, he returned to Mexico.
Filcer liked to pay homage to the great artists he admired. The painting on the left is his interpretation of Van Gogh, the one on the right is Filcer “as Rembrandt,” and the middle picture is titled “Van Gogh and Gaugin painting,” an imaginary scene of the two great artists painting en plein air.
Filcer made a name for himself both in the Netherlands and internationally, with numerous exhibitions around the world, and his works sold through many prestigious galleries. One such gallery was owned by Clara Slucki, whom he had met many years before. Clara had been widowed for several years, and owned an art gallery in Mexico City where she featured his paintings. The two became close friends, and in time they married and formed a family, with Clara’s two young sons.
In 2017 the Filcers built a house and studio in San Miguel, and moved here, with Luis fully expecting to continue painting. But a fall resulted in a head injury and led to his death, not even six months after their move. What was left behind was his grieving widow, Clara, and all the works he had produced over the years.
I met Clara in their home in San Miguel and she showed me the numerous works which grace the home. She spoke fondly of Luis as a husband, whom she considered above all, “a very good man,” as well as a great artist. The main characteristic of Filcer’s works, according to Clara, is “their strength.” This is quite evident in the strong colors he used, the bold strokes with brush or spatula, but also in the subject matter. Luis Filcer was a humanist who liked to paint common people, showing their rough lives and physicality. It could be a painting of fishermen hauling a boat, or he sinuous body of a flamenco dancer. All is stark and powerful, bold and forthright.
Filcer was not kind to religious institutions; he saw them as antithetical to the good of the people, and several of his paintings depict various religious leaders, sitting together as if posing for an official portrait. The painting is sarcastically titled “Waiting for god.” It was Filcer’s way of critiquing and calling for unity.
Another work, along a similar theme, is composed of two canvases and adds a touch of humor—an element often found in Filcer’s works. The first painting shows the grouping of religious leaders standing behind each other on an upwards moving elevator. The second, has the same group, but now descending. The unavoidable question is: Did they go searching for god, and not finding him headed down?
Van Gogh remained an important element in Filcer’s works, and in many paintings he honored the master either by approximating his style, or “using” him as a model for his own creations. The other theme that runs through the works of Luis Filcer, is the idea of performance—dance, theater, concerts, and circuses. These subjects appear again and again in his paintings, either directly or alluded to. For Filcer, life is theater, and living itself is an act.
In 2018, at the age of 90, in San Miguel, the curtain fell on Luis Filcer’s life. Yet his amazing works remain—esthetically beautiful, and philosophically rich. It is impossible to box him into a neat package, place him in a single category of artists, or styles because he showed so many different faces, and attempted to speak on so many levels in his paintings. Perhaps an approximation of who he was t is the title of one of his paintings, done late in his life, in 2015: “Fantasy escapes the Canvas.” That might explain the difficulty of describing Filcer—he himself escapes pigeonholing; he is simply defined by fantasy on canvas.
You may contact Clara Filcer or Alex Slucki at firstname.lastname@example.org to see the works of Luis Filcer, or for any additional information.