Just over a year ago, Paul del Bosque, Austin-based artist and UT alumnus, picked up a prayer card and found a Catholic saint staring back at him — and inspiration struck.
The cards, distributed at the funeral of a friend and fellow artist, depicted saints surrounded by meaningful symbols. Del Bosque realized the cards could be storytelling devices, capable of relaying messages without saying a word.
The cards gave del Bosque the idea to draw charcoal portraits of his friends. He said he hopes each drawing provides information about the subject’s life, passions and fears. On 30-inch wood panels, del Bosque portrays his friends in varying ways. One friend is depicted barbecuing, while another painting more seriously captures its subject’s inner conflicts. Del Bosque’s portraits are on display through April 4 at the Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
“The cards are more than just portraits of the saints,” del Bosque said. “They tell stories of who the saints are. I wanted to use Mexican-Americans as the storytellers in my portraits. Our stories are pretty universal, from our struggles to our inspirations, to the things that we love. They can all be understood by anybody.”
Del Bosque said some of the friends he hoped to paint for his collection required some convincing to participate.
“I asked my best friend over the phone, and that one was pretty much a no-brainer,” del Bosque said. “But convincing some of the other people was a much more in-depth process. It’s a strange request to ask someone — to have their face in a gallery where someone might buy it and take it home. I had one person agree, and, after thinking about it, they backed out.”
UT alumna Nicole Castañon, del Bosque’s childhood friend, said she eagerly agreed to help del Bosque. Castañon said she is lucky to have been able to watch del Bosque’s art develop and grow.
“These charcoal drawings are the most personal things he’s created,” Castañon said. “Each of the people have their own personalities, but he still managed to bring us to life using just one color.”
UT graduate student Sergio Delgado, another childhood friend, said striking the balance between representing the Mexican-American community as a whole, and acknowledging the differences between individuals, was an important element of the project.
“We’re all from the same culture, but we’re different people,” Delgado said. “By putting us in this artistic space, depicting us in these saint cards, it was something we were all familiar with. It was easy to gravitate toward our own identities. It was able to show that we’re just regular people.”
Del Bosque works to capture the human element of his subjects in hopes his audience identifies with the portraits.
“I hope the portraits will allow people to recognize something in themselves or someone they know,” del Bosque said. “I hope it allows them to think more deeply about people in general and the stories they’re telling with their eyes and expressions.”