Posted: Jun 18, 2012 4:50 PM
Updated: Jun 18, 2012 6:08 PM
BROWNSVILLE - Mark Clark's paintings are devoid of butterflies and paradisiacal landscapes. Traditional themes have given way to a harsher subject - Mexico's bloody drug war.
"If I was painting butterflies and flowers while people are being slaughtered next door, historians would think there was something seriously wrong with me ... that I could ignore what's going on and seek only beauty," Clark said.
Clark's downtown Brownsville studio overlooks Mexico, and he is a witness to the incessant violence across the Rio Grande.
"I can hear the shooting in Matamoros, I can smell the smoke from burning vehicles," he said. "I can see the plumes of smoke from burning trucks on the road to Reynosa."
His pre-Columbian-style paintings chronicle brutal murders and cartel street battles. One of his works depicts the massacre the Zetas committed in San Fernando, Tamaulipas.
"I've done a dozen of the modern scenes," he said. "Marines, army and police. Sicarios (hitmen), mañas (gang members), and the narcos."
At times, Clark has been too close to the violence.
"That one ... with the burning SUV, the helicopter and the SUV," Clark said while pointing to a painting. "I drove through the smoke from that ... December 20. A military helicopter strafed an SUV full of narcos, and the thing ... crashed and caught fire. When four truckloads of marines drove up on the scene, the narcos that hadn't been killed in the strafing and the crash shot and killed eight marines."
Clark's collection keeps growing. Some of his paintings are on display at the McAllen Public Library. The show runs through Sept. 10.
Joseph Flores said the contrast between Aztec deities and modern violence is gripping.
"They drew my attention right away because of the colorful, passionate feeling that the artist has," Flores said. "I was drawn in with the beauty of the Aztec culture, and then you turn around and see some of the ugliness that's portrayed in the media and what people have seen."
A young mother at the exhibit used the paintings to teach her children about what is happening in Mexico.
"They are bad people, and these are the soldiers trying to save the country," the woman said.