Artist Profile: Calixto Shibaja

Hey ladies, just wanted to share the surprise of my Thursday last week. Here I am, sitting in a quiet room at my temp job being a receptionist, when two gentlemen come up the stairs and head towards me. They have the gait of latino suave and unhurried smiles, as if registering complete inner peace.

Naturally, I’m not surprised when they start talking about art while waiting for their meeting. The English-speaking man is Calixto Shibaja and his Mexican friend only speaks Spanish. Calixto looks at my face and says, “Your profile…where are you from?” I know he means heritage, as I am asked that question weekly, so I reply with my rote: “Irish, Spanish, German, and Romanian.” He gives the raised eyebrow and nods. He says, “I am a painter. I would like to paint you!”


Having just watched Andy Garcia’s Modigliani the day prior I am skeptical about this flattery of my face’s curve and once again I put on the “business suit” of professionalism. In characteristic central American gentility, Calixto starts telling me his life’s purpose and to my surprise, I am honestly fascinated. In unhurried, broken English he goes on about teaching Mayan children to paint in the south of Mexico.

I ask what materials he uses, and instead of announcing fancy brands of acrylics and watercolors, he says “Natural pigments.” My homesteading girl ears prickle with fascination!  He describes crushed shells, fruits and berries, charcoal, grasses. I am undone. He mentions and I have to look it up immediately; what follows is a beautifully calm video of children painting, in nature. The best part…they’re REALLY good! We watch in the office lobby for 9 minutes as nature and Spanish voice-over mix.

Of course, I have completely lost myself…children, nature, painting?! Check out this mamma’s blog if that appeals to you: It’s one of the more beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time, and here is the artist himself, leaning against my unresisting desk ledge.

As the gentlemen are leaving, I am handed information and told to come to the “park” exhibition the next week. Needless to say, I spend the next hour youtube-stalking this man and find a commission to paint Steve Jobs, professional news stories, and several cultural exposés.

Here’s the most fascinating part. His greatest passion is to restore the use of color to native Mayans in the deep jungles of Mexico. These children are growing up uneducated about their vivid history and the natural world around them that is quickly becoming a canvas for builders and innovators.

Spending most of his time in Oaxaca, the tweed-hatted man has spent years fashioning easels from branches and perfecting paint compounds that resist corrosion. He believes in the preservation of the culture around us for the enrichment of many nations, and this beautiful vision shines through his own art and that of his young students. Check out the videos: – Painting in the Lancandone Jungle Chiapas, Mexico – Overview of his own work – AMAZING Steve Jobs piece