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Hilario Gutierrez

Author: Terri Feder
Issue: June, 2013, Page 162
Photos by Garrett Cook

Artist Hilario Gutierrez poses in his home studio in Gold Canyon, Arizona, where he realizes the polished abstract works that he describes as “an instinct of a feeling translated into a painting.”



Moved by the Arizona Desert, Artist Hilario Gutierrez Creates Powerful Abstract Paintings

Julia Child was 49 when she published her first cookbook. Grandma Moses didn’t paint until her 70s. Arizona painter Hilario Gutierrez, or “Hilario” as he signs his work, also was a late bloomer when it came to discovering his artistic calling, not facing the easel until age 43.

Before painting, he spent four years in the Navy, attended community college, “played hippie” for a spell, married his high-school sweetheart, Barbara, had a son, Antonio, and became a hair colorist. During his 36 years as a hairdresser, Gutierrez learned much about the science of color—lessons he would later apply to his art.

Photography classes under well-known Arizona photographer Allen Dutton were also instrumental in nurturing Gutierrez’s latent inner artist. “If I was told to photograph a tree, I would take pictures of a leaf, a shadow, everything but the tree,” he recalls. “And people loved it.”

But it wasn’t until an outing to Monument Valley in 1994 that Gutierrez experienced his life-changing artistic epiphany. At the exact moment he glimpsed the legendary thunderbird shadow form over the Thunderbird Mesa, the words “I have to start painting” tumbled from his mouth.

Day’s End Winter, acrylic on canvas, 34"H x 72"W.
Once home, Gutierrez bought some canvases and began painting. “It was immediately apparent that he had talent,” notes Barbara.

The novice then studied works of abstract painters he admired, including Gerhard Richter and Dan Namingha, and experimented with color and form to arrive at his own technique. “I spent two years learning to control the paint and find my influence,” he says. Soon he was selling pieces.

Fifteen hundred and sixty-two paintings later, Gutierrez is a recognized fine-art painter specializing in abstract acrylic works—some painted on traditional flat canvases, some on canvas that he’s hand-sewn around wire armatures to create sculptures, and some on 300-pound paper from France. All beg to be viewed up close and touched, and the painter encourages beholders to do so.

An intimate survey of recent works reveals carvings, cuts and innumerable hues. A stroke of the palm exposes a tactile wonderland of gritty grooves and smooth spots. Gutierrez calls his technique “polishing,” and it’s achieved through myriad tools and materials, including razor-sharp palette knives and granular modeling paste. “He has a very distinct style of working with the surface of the canvas; the work is active but not threatening and his colors are subtle but very rich,” explains Michael Costello of the Costello-Childs Contemporary gallery, which represents the painter.

Gutierrez’s studio in Gold Canyon, Arizona, where he sometimes paints for more than 12 hours a day—is the type where you would imagine someone like Jackson Pollock. There are paint-spattered floors, shelves brimming with paint containers, and crusty painters’ aprons hanging from hooks. In this space, the artist creates what first comes to him through a feeling, or “a burning pang.” “I know what I feel like; I have to name it, but the painting is already in here,” he says, pointing to his heart.

An Arizona native with Aztec and German ancestry on his mother’s side and Yaqui Indian and Austrian on his father’s, the artist feels a deep connection to the landscape and spirit of the American Southwest, and thus gravitates toward desert colors and terrain. “When I was a young boy ... I experienced the quiet struggle between [the desert’s] harsh topography and desert life,” notes Gutierrez in his book Chaos on the Canvas. “This struggle has always been a heart-stirring experience for me.”

Says a collector of his work, “Hilario’s paintings evoke feelings of peacefulness, movement, love of nature and the Earth’s natural environment and surroundings.”

Though it took him a while, Gutierrez believes becoming an artist was inevitable. “For me, painting is not work; it is my calling,” he states. And it is something the artist says he will continue to do for as long as his body allows.

Photos - From left: Three Kinds of Light #1, acrylic on canvas, 36"H x 36"W, is part of a series of three. Gutierrez is known for his multi-piece works, which are comprised of separate canvases designed to be hung together—though they may also be purchased and displayed as standalone works of art. • A Light Through the Mist, acrylic on canvas, 48"H x 30"W. Many of Gutierrez’s works, including this one, are “banded,” consisting of multiple horizontal bars of different colors. Depending on the painting, the color of each bar may contrast or complement the other bars. Per the artist, the break in color allows the eye to rest as one views the work, and each band is used as a chapter in the story told by the painting.

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