Mexico Life
The artist painting at a spot overlooking Guachimontones archaeological ruins. The artist painting at a spot overlooking Guachimontones archaeological ruins.

An interview with Ilse Hable, Guadalajara’s popular plein air painter

'Mexico's beauty is a feast for the eyes of an artist'

The most recent works of Austrian-born artist Ilse Hable are currently on display at the Jalisco Chamber of Commerce in Guadalajara.

The exhibit of 27 oil paintings is entitled ¡Aguas! which may appear to mean “waters” in Spanish, but is also an expression used to grab someone’s attention: “Watch out!”

In this case, our attention is called to the latest works of one of Guadalajara’s great artists.

“What is it that attracted you to Mexico?” I asked the painter.

“Mexico was my first great adventure when I was a young person,” she told me. “I had landed a well-paid job as a fashion designer in the capital and stayed there for 10 years. During that time I got to know quite a bit of the country and fell in love with it. Now, more than 35 years later, and dedicating myself to painting fine art, I still love Mexico and visit it frequently.

Painting Los Azules Falls near Tequila.
Painting Los Azules Falls near Tequila, Jalisco.

“There are so many things I appreciate here, I have a hard time deciding how to start: I have found Mexicans to be very friendly and caring. They appreciate any effort made by foreigners to learn their language; they are happy to invite you into their home, share their food with you and show you their culture. And what culture!

“As a painter I appreciate beauty. Mexico is a huge country and I don’t pretend to know it all, but I have spent time painting inland and near the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and the landscapes are gorgeous. Volcanoes, lakes, ochre hills and agaves, tropical vegetation, beautiful oceans, colorfully dressed locals, a feast for the eye of an artist! I have made many paintings in Mexico and have also had a number of exhibitions here.”

“What’s your favorite place in Mexico?” I asked Ilse.

“My favorite state is Oaxaca, rich in pre-Hispanic history and exuberant in color and folklore, like the Guelaguetza, a yearly festival of dance and thanksgiving. I also admire Oaxaca’s richness in arts and crafts, second to no other state of Mexico.

“Just think of the famous alebrijes, miniature fantasy creatures, carved and painted in great detail and with bright colors. Especially beautiful are the handmade textiles, like the blouses and huipiles and also the rugs, all produced by the native indigenous people there.”

Regarding her ongoing exposition at the Chamber of Commerce, Ilse commented: “¡Aguas! is what you would shout when a big wave is coming, and here I’m thinking, ‘watch out for water because it may not be around for long!’ So this theme is calling attention to water and in these paintings you will see it in all its forms, as a liquid, as steam and vapor and as ice in my painting of a glacier, which I made after a trip to Alaska.

Grinding Corn by Ilse Hable.
Grinding Corn by Ilse Hable.

“Apart from the theme of water, I think this collection of paintings shouts to the heavens that nature is beautiful. Here I am celebrating the beauty of water and I invite everyone to come take a look!”

Ilse Hable was born in Vienna, Austria, where she studied art and received a master’s degree from the Akademie fuer Angewandte Kunst. She earned several prizes, including first prize for the 1970 World Exhibition in Osaka, Japan. During the next 10 years she dedicated herself to a career as a fashion designer in Europe and eventually came to Mexico where she helped to bring about a revolution in haute couture. She also sang in a Mexico City choir where she met her husband, Andrew Taylor.

In 1983 she moved to California and began dedicating her time exclusively to the fine arts. She has studied with the well-known painters Sebastian Capella, John Asaro, Wolf Kahn, Albert Handell and Bert Silverman.

Hable presented her first one-person show in La Jolla, California, in 1987 and has continued exhibiting her work in 17 individual shows and 39 group shows. Her work has been exhibited in several museum shows and in commercial galleries in the U.S. and Mexico.

Ilse Hable prefers painting on location rather than in a studio. She enjoys discovering outdoor beauty in little-known sites off the beaten track, such as the crater of Tequila Volcano or the hidden-away hot springs of Tamara Canyon.

On numerous occasions I have accompanied Ilse and her husband to truly remote places reachable only by hiking along rough paths that hardly deserve the name “trails.” Finally, dripping with sweat, we stand before an awe-inspiring, feathery waterfall pouring into a pool of clear, clean water, just begging us to jump in.

Oaxaca flower market.
Oaxaca flower market.

With red and blue dragonflies dancing in the air all around us, Ilse opens her backpack and extracts items which she miraculously turns into an easel. It’s the beginning of another of her wonderful creations!

“Plein air painting is always fresher than studio painting and is what I love to do,” she says enthusiastically. “I love the challenge of trying to capture the beauty of a striking scene on a small canvas. As my teacher Sebastian Capella always said, ‘If you can express it with one stroke, don’t use two.’”

Ilse Hable’s ¡Aguas! paintings will be on display until November 5 at the Jalisco Cámara de Comercio (tel 38 80 90 90), located in Guadalajara at 4095 Avenida Vallarta. The building is open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 6:00pm and Saturday from 8:00am to 1:00pm. Admission is free.

I suggest you check out the photo galleries and blog on Ilse Hable’s web page.

  • 1-Ilse-Hable
  • 2-Above-the-Guachimontones
  • 3-At-Los-Azules
  • 4-El-Manto-w-Jorge-Monroy
  • 5-grinding_corn
  • 6-mangos
  • 7-Oaxaca-flower-market
  • 8-On-the-so-called-trail
  • 9-sierra-madre-indian
  • 10-sm-Cutting-ribbon
  • 11-sm-Fuerza-Primordial
  • 12-sm-Koi
  • 13-sm-Nadando-en-Eden
  • 14-With-El-Capitan-Reflection

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.

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