Born 1915, Wilcox, Arizona
Died 1987, Clovis, Arizona
Pedro Cervántez was born to parents of both indigenous Mexican and Spanish descent. He was interested in making art at a young age, but it was not until the 1930s, under the tutelage of Russell Vernon Hunter, an artist and state director of the WPA, that Cervántez began to experiment with oil painting as well as fresco. Although he received little credit for his involvement, he worked alongside Hunter on The Last Frontier murals at the De Baca County Courthouse in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Subsequently, Hunter encouraged him to enroll with the WPA and to paint traditional reproductions of religious imagery for local schools and public buildings. He eventually turned to still-life painting and landscape and gained a national following. His artwork was frequently displayed in traveling WPA exhibitions, and ten of his paintings were included in the important Masters of Popular Painting exhibition at MoMA in 1938.
In Los Privados Cervántez presents a sweeping New Mexico landscape. A line of clothing drying in the breeze draws the eye from the right side to the center and up a slight hill in the middle distance. The viewer then encounters a privy—jarring in such a picturesque scene—with the two doors slightly ajar. Reminiscent of the precisionist cityscapes of George Ault, the architectonic structure contrasts with overlapping striations of tan, green, teal, and purple used to model the serene, receding background. Akin to regionalist artists Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, Cervántez trained his eye on his local community by capturing the beauty of his everyday surroundings. But he departed from the regionalists’ precedent by approaching the landscape with a stark realism and bluntness that confronts the grittiness of the desert rather than the fecundity of the American countryside captured by midwesterners Benton and Wood.
Nunn, Tey Marianna. Sin Nombre: Hispana and Hispano Artists of the New Deal Era. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.