Pedro Cervántez was born in New Mexico in 1915. In the mid-1930s he was hired by the Works Progress Administration in New Mexico to paint reproductions of older religious images. The reproductions were distributed to schools and other local public buildings, where they could be appreciated by those who lacked access to art museums. Cervántez proved to be such a talented artist that he was given a job in the easel-painting division of the WPA Federal Art Project, where he was encouraged to paint scenes that interested him. He lives in Texico, New Mexico.
National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)
Pedro Cervántez is a very meticulous painter who never works directly from the object or from nature. Instead, he does numerous preparatory sketches so that the composition can be worked out before he actually begins painting. Los Privados (The Privies) is typical of the artist’s work of the late 1930s, in which every element is painstakingly defined. The shadows cast by the outhouse, clothesline pole, and clothes form a crisscross pattern, creating a path leading to the outhouse. The clothesline, which is almost parallel to the middle ground of the horizon line, and the varying lengths of the clothes reinforce the flattening-out effect of the image into a series of planes that are parallel to the visual surface.
The playfulness of the image is expressed by the dancing clothes and floating clouds. Not only does the movement of clouds and clothes draw our attention to the outhouse, but the configurations of both suggest the human anatomy.
Cervántez has lived most of his life in New Mexico. For two years beginning in 1938, he studied art at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. After serving in the armed forces in Europe during World War 11, he returned to his studies at the Hill and Canyon School of the Arts in Santa Fe from 1949 to 1952. Today Cervántez lives in Clovis, New Mexico.
Hispanic-American Art (brochure, Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art)
Pedro Cervántez hit the art scene at the age of twenty-three when the Museum of Modern Art included him in a 1938 show. MoMA’s curators launched Cervántez’s career as an unknown painter of “native ability” who “never wavered in his determination to paint.” (Miller et al., Masters of Popular Painting, 1938) Cervántez worked for the Federal Art Project in New Mexico and studied at Eastern New Mexico University. Two years of military duty exposed him to European art and inspired him to study art seriously when he returned to Santa Fe in 1949. (Quirarte, Mexican American Artists, 1973)