Alec Dempster - Loteria Huasteca

Mexican-born artist, Alec Dempster was captivated by the music and stories of the Huasteca Region of Eastern Mexico. Motivated by his friend, the teacher and poet Arturo Castillo Tristàn, Dempster designed a series of woodblock prints in which he captured the culture, traditions and mystery of his beloved homeland.

The art of woodblock prints is widely practiced in South America. In Brazil, literatura de cordera,

or string literature are booklets of poems, stories and myths that are sold by traveling poets at fairs and in market places. They feature an illustrative woodblock print on the front cover. Over the years, the prints have evolved into an independent art form. Some artworks, such as those of Jose Francisco Borges from Brazil, have appeared in galleries such as the Louvre and the Smithsonian Institute of Art.

In Mexico, woodblock prints are used in a game called loteria. It is similar to bingo but features images instead of numbers. Dempster’s set of 54 images, featured in the book, ‘Loteria Huasteca’, delve deep into the daily life, culture, music and spirituality of the Huasteca Region of Mexico.

Through travel in the region and consultations with experts, Dempster has carved a series of magical images, into Spanish cedar, rosewood and walnut with simple gouges. Paper was then laid onto the inked woodcut and rubbed with a wooden spoon.

When the paper is lifted, a negative of the carving is revealed. These shimming images are a loteria unparalled in imagination. A typical loteria might include images of a lady, a saucepan, a spider, a ladder. Dempster has chosen instead, the healer, the altar, the improvising poet, the ritual of flying down head first from enormous heights, transmitting the rich culture of the many indigenous peoples of the area.

A launch of ‘Loteria Huasteca’ published by Porcupine Quill Press takes place on November 2 at the Gladstone Hotel. There will be readings, limited edition prints for sale and a gallery of original woodcuts.

Coming from a world where art, music, dance and spirit are consistently integrated, a launch for such a venture would be incomplete without son huasteco – the music of the region.Tlacuatzin will be present with their virtuosic vocals, improvising violin and the two guitars typical of the region, the jarana huasteca, a small five-stringed and the bass guitar or quinta huapanguera.

© Gloria Blizzard is a Toronto-based writer