Lee Chapman, gringo painting in Mexican style

On our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta, we visited two figurative artists, Jose Marca and Lee Chapman. Artist Lee Chapman and wife Nancy built their home 12 years ago in the hilltops overlooking Puerto Vallarta and huge Banderas Bay. They've been in Mexico since 1992. Lee barely even goes home to visit and doesn’t miss it at all. Nancy flies home to Chicago every summer and is sometimes stunned to find the weather even hotter in Chicago than Vallarta! After working in the film and advertising industry in Los Angeles in his former life, they decided to give Mexico City a try for one year and loved it! His film industry work dried up after the 1995 Mexican crash and he opened his Puerco Azul (The Blue Pig) Gallery in Marina Vallarta.

We first saw Lee's lively colourful paintings there in 1998 when we were here on our family sailing adventure. The gallery was a colorful whimsical bijou in the brand new and bustling Marina complex. Seven years later they expanded to a second gallery in Puerto Vallarta Old Town which ran for about 7 years before closing its doors two years ago. We enjoyed his current paintings at Galeria Contempo on the South Side Art Shuffle the day before our visit.

They used to drive all over Mexico in a big huge Ram Charger loaded up with goodies for their gallery and shop.

After designing sets in his former life, the aesthetic "staging" in his home and his lovely shops certainly shows a very artistic hand. The home is wonderfully decorated with lively Mexican folk art.

He buys his pre-stretched canvases and oil paints here in Mexico except for magentas and purples which he imports from the USA as he found the Mexican brand oil paints tended to fade in that color range with the local weather and humidity.

Current work still on the easel in the studio. He used to undercoat his canvases with a hot Mexican pink but more recently uses a bluish green base. He uses a household enamel paint base and then varnish overtop to create a smooth surface for his charcoal drawing and thin oils on top. He prefers oils to acrylics because of the longer open time down here in the hot weather.

The studio is lovely and cool with big opening glass doors to the garden.

This whimsical piece is called The Deposed Latin American Dictator. Gee, I’d love to take him home with me, he’d fit right into my colorful house!

Paintings and giclées in the guest room.

He carefully covers his original unsold paintings in the house with plastic to protect them from corrosive lizard poop, a hazard that goes with living in the tropics.

Lee Chapman AKA LENCHO
"I was painting in Los Angeles before I moved to Mexico but mostly images I had seen on prior trips to Mexico, marketplaces, musicians, Yelapa scenes, etc. plus some landscapes and impressions of Laurel Canyon where I lived. At that time I was "borrowing" from Paul Gauguin and Diego Rivera. Some interesting work but I didn't yet "own" my style. I put off painting in a true Latin folkloric style because I was a "gringo". Finally my Mexican friends pushed me in that direction and gave me my Mexican appolido of Lencho. After that the images came pouring in. The DOG paintings lead me to my first children's picture book called Doggie Dreams a rhyming story written by my wife, Nancy. All my books and illustrations can be seen on my website.

Ten years ago he was having a show that featured paintings of tango dancers. He saw an advertisement for a tango class and thought what a good idea to be able to turn a few handsome turns on the floor at his gallery opening a few months later and so he signed up for some lessons. He loved the music, loved the dancing which he describes as a three minute love affair. His tango teacher celebrates his 83rd birthday tonight with a big tango party! Lee goes without wife Nancy who enjoys her own free time PLUS they don't risk arguing about who is leading properly or not following correctly!!

When the show finally opened two months later he did get to turn some smart dance steps on the floor, decided he really enjoyed the tango and has carried on ever since. He even has a smart black jacket and fancy tango shoes. His eyes lit up when he described his tango dancing so I imagine it's like a second mistress after painting for him. In March, he and some tango pals will go to San Miguel de Allende for a big tango festival. Watch out San Miguel!

They’ve always had dogs and the current generation of pets have an interesting story of how they came to live with the family. Lee had often painted a funny white dog with big black spots into his character paintings.

A young Pinta, a large white dog with funny black spots and demanding baleful eyes, used to hang around the building site next door where she got fed snacks and treats by the workmen who enjoyed having a dog around as a companion and guard for the work site.

It took one and a half years to build the house next-door which towers over Lee’s house, almost completely obscuring it from view. Pinta used to wander over each evening for "drinks and dinner" with Lee and Nancy and their two older dogs at the time. When the older dogs finally went to doggie heaven, Lee and Nancy asked Pinta would like to move in and marry them? Surprisingly, she was slow to adopt them and played hard to get.

Meanwhile, friends with connections to the local animal rescue brought them Rudy, a smaller golden dog to see if they would like to adopt him. They took Rudy on trial to see how the two dogs might get along. It was love at first sight for the dogs! The crazy kids fell in love, playing and rolling around, both about the same age. It’s as if Pinta looked up at them with those big eyes and said "You see? All I wanted was a friend all the time." and she happily moved right in.

This piece with the dogs in fired clay mounted on board was made by craftsman here in Mexico for Lee to sell in his store. Unfortunately in Mexico, copyright is not strongly respected. Artisans from the manufacturing companies sometimes moonlight and reproduce the designs on their own with little the original artist can do about it. Undoubtedly frustrating!!

Folk art kitchen.

Collection of refrescos bottles.

Old family pictures in the smallest room, some their own families, some adopted from second hand stores.

Thanks Lee for the lovely tour and talk and thanks Nancy for the refreshing aloe juice. It was lovely to meet you both and visit your interesting artist home in Mexico. Big ear pats to the dogs!
Lee Chapman

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