Interview with Arturo Duarte

[This year I had the pleasure of interviewing some people doing interesting stuff around the Mission. These were posted in Mission Loc@l. My last interview was with my son’s godfather. An edited version of this appeared in Mission Loc@l on July 24, 2010.

[Here’s the full version, which includes more of Arturo’s personality and culture. This stuff in between the lines is what I find most fascinating about these beautiful people… more so than the event or object or objective…]


Mission resident and artist Arturo Duarte is gearing up for this Sunday’s San Francisco Marathon, and a solo exhibition of abstract paintings at Cafe La Boheme.

What are your favorite places to play soccer?

I’ve played in Franklin Square for a team in a league, and in Mission High for pick-up games. Somebody told me that Franklin Square was recently restored. I hope so, because the synthetic field was pretty run down. They have some pick-up games there during the week, but I haven’t checked them out since I come back late from work. I used to really enjoy the pick-up soccer games at Rossy Park and Golden Gate Park. I like team sports — it’s exciting to have a thinking group of adversaries.

Now I’m focusing more on long distance running because soccer injuries can put me down for a number of weeks. It’s not low-impact but at least I have more control over possible injuries. Running is just you against yourself. Some people find challenge in that (for example Haruki Murakami), but I don’t… or maybe not yet…

You said marathon running is an interesting way to experience a city. What’s it like to run through your own neighborhood?

I’ve only done three marathons and one of them was the San Francisco Marathon. It’s great because you go from the Embarcadero, to the Marina, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Golden Gate Park, the Haight, the Mission, China Basin, and back to the Embarcadero. So it’s a nice way to explore the city.

Running through the Mission was fun. Since the event is on a Sunday morning, 16th Street was desolate. But the neighborhood highlight was running the intersection of 16th and Mission, and being cheered by drug dealers, prostitutes, and police officers! This is a great city for becoming a runner. It has so many landmarks that can inspire you.

Any suggestions on how Mission residents can support marathon runners this year?

The run is on Sunday, July 25th. So people can just get up early and support the runners that go through 16th Street. It’s not all that exciting, I know, but later on they can go to church or breakfast, ha ha! I know that there will be a nice show at the finish line at the Embarcadero with Sila playing in the morning.

Your uncle fought Sugar Ray Leonard. What happened?

He lost it, and it was his last professional fight. His name is Armando Muñiz, and he was a welterweight professional boxer in the 70’s that had a few shots at world titles. The closest he came to becoming a world champ was when he lost a title fight in a controversial way versus a great Cuban fighter: José “Mantequilla” Nápoles in 1975 (Acapulco). He was accused of headbutting “Mantequilla”, but in fact, he was knocking him out. Later on, there was a rematch that “Mantequilla” won without a doubt. My uncle now lives in LA, where he is a bail bondsman.

Your family worries when you go out for a 10-mile run. Yet they live in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Well, I worry because they live in a very violent city, and they worry about me running for a few miles… I guess the situation is kind of unbalanced! They live in Juárez, which is nowadays a very dangerous place, mostly because of an ongoing turf war among criminal organizations — they don’t only move drugs.

I grew up there, so it really makes me sad to see the general situation in which people live in the city; that is, without knowing where the next violent episode will happen, and at the same time growing desensitized about the number of people being murdered every day. (By the way, “Mantequilla” Nápoles now lives in Juárez, where he runs a boxing gym.)

How’s painting?

She’s fine! Thank you for asking! Ha ha! I’ll be showing some stuff at Cafe La Boheme soon. I can’t say much about it. I prefer to listen to what people say about it, especially people who don’t know me. It would be fun if somebody — after looking at one of them — says that they can tell that I have a desk job, that I take Caltrain to work everyday and love it, that I love science, that I constantly dream about being suspended inside clouds, that I love beer… ha ha! Oh well, what I do is not universal in any way…

When did you start painting?

I can’t really pin down the actual starting point. When I was a kid, I used to make religious paintings for my mom. I’d look at the paintings in a Bible and try to reproduce them, or add things so that the subject would look more impressive — making Christ the ruler of everything! That’s how I found out that I was good at drawing. (Later in life, I saw the images of Christ the Pantocrator in Greece, and I felt a little nostalgic, ha ha!)

Over the years I grew more interested in color, texture, and simple forms. There was a long period of time when I didn’t paint at all. It was more than ten years. Many things took over my attention, that I ended up pushing art completely aside. I tried becoming a serious scientist, then I got all into married life for a while. By the time I was getting divorced I started going back to painting, I went back to playing with color, texture, and simple forms mostly. I don’t know where things will be going in the future…

What influences your style?

Enjoyment. I guess that is really what it boils down to. Currently, I am doing stuff that I really enjoy creating — I have so much fun doing it, even if I end up not really liking the outcome. This enjoyment also comes from experimenting, I guess. I like oil paint. It’s a friendly medium, I think. It lets you make a lot of mistakes, and it also lets you create great textures. I only wish that it could keep the smell forever, or that it could make sounds too! Ha ha!

As I mentioned earlier, I have been playing mostly with color, form, and texture. Some of the forms resemble gears, mechanical things, or waves. My dad used to own a truck parts shop, so all the forms and roughness of the different mechanical parts always impressed me. I would also find it very appealing to look at random grease or iron rust stains over stuff. I guess all this kind of reflects in some way with what I do. But for a few years now, I have been thinking about some ideas for some figurative themes. We’ll see what comes up next.

¿Quién es más macho, Santo o Chuck Norris?

Let’s see… Both of them have many fighting titles. Chuck Norris can free prisoners of war all by himself, while Santo can defeat vampires and mummies. Chuck can dismantle drug cartels, while Santo can tame Frankenstein’s daughter. You will never catch either of them dancing or crying in a film. In any case, I think Santo is a more elegant and stylish macho dude.

San Francisco Marathon
Sunday morning, July 25 It courses eastward on 16th Street. Courage! Runners will have already tackled more than 21 miles upon reaching the Mission. CLICK HERE for map.

Art by Arturo Duarte
at Cafe La Boheme 3318 24th Street (near Mission) Date TBA.
Paintings will be go up after current World Cup display comes down.

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