Thursday, February 29, 2024

Artists invite visitors into museum-like home in San Miguel de Allende

Half of Oscar Martinez Heredia’s face is rendered in exquisite detail, but the other half seems to melt from the page, vitality leaking from one eye and the corner of the mouth. The head is flung back at a severe angle, and the unmelted eye radiates fear. Meanwhile, one of Zoë Siegel’s vivid eyes looks right at you, the gaze piercing, direct, and steadfast, while precisely cut wedges of her skin curl back, revealing—what exactly? That is for the viewer to determine.  

Both of these mesmerizing works of art and many more are viewable now in their creators’ spectacular home. For the first time, artist and architectural designer Siegel and her husband, artist and musician Martinez, are opening to the public by appointment their unique house, which Zoë designed and built as her masterpiece. Guests can visit both artists’ studios and view many additional artworks displayed throughout the airy, spacious home in San Miguel de Allende.

Zoë Siegel, Eye Web, Cut photo, 2022

The couple’s origin story

As a young woman, Zoë had a fantasy that someone would fall in love with her art before falling in love with her. In San Miguel, it came true.

Zoë had been living in New York City, where she was born. During graduate school, she and her brother renovated an apartment in Chelsea. Her brother learned to do electrical wiring, and Zoë taught herself plumbing. Her brother decided right then to become an architect. Zoë, however, said, No, that was great, but I’m an artist.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. “My parents suggested I take a break from New York to live for six months in the house they had recently built in San Miguel,” Siegel said. “I said no, I don’t see myself living in Mexico. I don’t speak the language. I’m certainly not staying six months!” Nonetheless, she took her parents’ suggestion, and their light-filled art studio convinced her to linger.

Oscar Martinez Heredia, Self Portrait, Mixed Media on Paper, 2019

Zoë arranged to show her art at Bellas Artes. While setting up, she had to leave the room, her work strewn on the floor. Oscar wandered in. Impressed by the art, he was eager to meet the artist and became enamored of her — and Zoë was delighted to meet the handsome artist she had previously seen around town. Two years later, they married. 

Architectural design: Zoë Siegel to complete her 19th custom house in San Miguel

“At a very young age, I began drawing and designing my own house,” Siegel said. “I always knew that I would one day build it. Also, my parents had had a good experience building their house here, and I had my success with the New York apartment under my belt.” 

Zoë bought an empty lot in San Miguel, then gave her design, prepared on graph paper and vellum, to a builder. The resulting home was beautiful, so she designed, built, and sold another house, and then another and another. House #19, Casa Cima, is nearly completed. It happens to be situated next door to Zoë and Oscar’s home, sharing the same gorgeous views. It is for sale and available for viewing upon request.

Oscar Martinez Heredia, Series A 5, Mixed Media on Paper, 2019

Zoë retained many design elements from her first house in all those that followed. She also adopted regional Mexican elements, including vaulted boveda ceilings, tejamanil beamed ceilings, and cantera stone. “My aesthetic is woven into the fabric of all my houses,” she explained. “I create voluminous, loft-like spaces with fabulous natural light. Repeated stone columns and arches, with elegant metalwork, is another signature. Yet every house has a distinct personality and style.” 

Oscar Martínez Heredia: Combining passions for art and music

Martínez, meanwhile, is known for his deeply expressive portraits.

“I am fascinated by the enormous variety of information in the human face,” he said. “ … Analyzing, studying, feeling, and meditating through the process of looking and translating into marks, strokes, stains on a page are my passions.” He often depicts open and vulnerable faces, particularly in his self-portraits, making them uniquely powerful. “Self-portraits give me the opportunity to paint exaggerated expressions and extreme angles.” The shapes and features of his contorted faces offer surprise and drama.

Casa Cima, Calle Alba, San Miguel de Allende, 2023

In 2015, Oscar collaborated with filmmaker Lorenzo Shapiro on an award-winning short animated film titled “Oscar” that incorporated 350 of his self-portraits. The film appeared at film festivals around the world, including the Festival de Cannes, NYC Independent Film Festival, New Renaissance Film Festival in Holland, and the Khorshid Film Festival in Iran.

The film also features Oscar’s original music. He plays multiple instruments, including piano, guitar, percussion, cello, and ukulele, in a wide variety of musical styles. Oscar is fascinated by the potential for combining his two passions by creating visual art while making music. Recent pieces were created by dipping drumsticks in paint and drumming while painting. 

“Oscar uses every medium imaginable for two-dimensional works, and he works three-dimensionally as well,” Zoë noted. “He has mastered a wide range of diverse styles, from expressionism to total abstraction to photorealism. Beyond that, he is blending art and music excitingly.”

As Oscar put it, “Why focus on only one thing in life?”

The art of Zoë Siegel: angst and humor

Zoë Siegel, Nosey Hug, paper and wire mask, 2022

“When I came to San Miguel, I had the mindset that I was moving back to New York, so I made a conscious decision to work light,” Zoë explained. In New York, she had sculpted with plaster, wood, and chicken wire, but in San Miguel, she began to work with paper and wire in order to ship her work affordably. “Also, in the studio in my parents’ San Miguel home, I felt lighter. Their house is on a hill with an incredible view. I felt a bit like I was flying there, and my new airy way of working grew organically from that. The space where I work is very important.”

Currently, Zoë continues to work with paper and wire, constructing her whimsical, exciting “fascinators,” which are meant to be worn as well as hung on a wall as art. Recently, she also began creating pieces featuring photographs of her own body that are cut and manipulated in ways that both delight the viewer and plumb deep emotions. Zoë will give a talk about her work entitled Angst and Humor on Jan. -10 at San Miguel’s Biblioteca Publica.

“There is whimsy, humor, and lightness, and people even laugh out loud at some of my creations, which I love. But another aspect is dark, reflecting the fear in our world. When we listen to the news, if it’s not climate change, it’s Trump or war or Roe v. Wade overturned. All that anxiety and angst comes through, and in my art, I’ve always used my body.” 

To be among the first guests to view Oscar and Zoë’s collections in situ in their unique home, contact [email protected]. Appointments may be scheduled on Fridays. Casa Cima is also available for viewing. To learn more, visit www.oscar.com.mx, www.oscarportraits.com, and www.zoesiegel.com.

Ann Marie Jackson is a writer and NGO leader based in San Miguel de Allende who previously worked for the U.S. Department of State. Her award-winning new novel, The Broken Hummingbird, is available on Amazon, Apple Books, and Google Play, as well as in bookstores in the U.S. and San Miguel. Ann Marie can be reached through her website, annmariejacksonauthor.com.

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