Coffee with Corey: Art from Mexico to America

By Corey Poole

Assistant Art Professor Edgar Cano’s introduction to Northwestern State University happened over breakfast with one of his professors while he was a student at the Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa, Veracruz in Mexico.

While earning an arts degree, Edgar was introduced to Marcus Jones, who currently serves as the president of NSU. At the time, Jones was visiting Mexico and he bought a few pieces of Edgar’s art. He also hired Edgar as a translator over the course of multiple other trips he made to the country.

Before we go any further with our story, let’s rewind and talk about Edgar for a minute.

Growing up by the beach in Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz Edgar started drawing as a young age. He entered some art contests in elementary school and won, but hadn’t yet realized his talent. 

As a teenager, Edgar found a magazine featuring the art of Fransisco Toledo, who was widely regarded as one of Mexico’s most important contemporary artists. Introduced to all the different art forms (sculpture, etchings, etc…) Edgar fell in love with Toledo’s work. 

While Edgar became known for his art in high school, he didn’t immediately pursue a path to college. Instead he spent four years after graduation drawing caricatures at different restaurants, illustrating on a freelance basis, and even working as a cashier at a Costco.

Edgar doesn’t regret this time period in his life because he collected a lot of different skills from a lot of different sources.

When it was time, he applied to the Universidad Veracruzana to earn his college degree. He wasn’t accepted the first time he applied, or the second. 

“I was confident in my skills but got rejected,” Edgar explained. “I felt bad, of course, but not totally bad. I saw it as an opportunity to do something different.”

After taking an intensive 1-year art workshop, Edgar was accepted into the university. This made him one of five siblings to earn a college degree.

It was tough studying art at college. Edgar had his family’s support emotionally but not economically, and so, to make ends meet, he found himself working as a cashier, a security officer, and as a model for art classes.

But he was always drawing, even at work.

“I work so hard in my art because I love it so much,” he said.

Edgar was older than the usual kids at college, which was good thing. He worked hard, focused and took his art seriously because it was what he wanted to do.

When he had the opportunity to display some of his art in an exhibition, he asked one of his professors if he could focus on creating art instead of attending her drawing class. The drawings he created for the exhibition took the place of class and in one semester Edgar finished his big collection (20 pieces) for his first exhibition in 2005.

Around this time, Edgar decided that art was what he wanted to do with his life. He started working as a full time artist after he graduated and eight years later he received a national grant in Oaxaca. As a result, he had a painting on display at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO Museum). 

With his art on display at such a large scale, Edgar waited to receive calls from galleries, but none came. With a passion for theater, films, and music Edgar could walk anywhere and be surrounded by some form of art. But good art wasn’t enough. 

The day of the deadline to register for a master’s program he’d been accepted into at the University of Mexico, Edgar rejected it.

He also wanted to try to find another way to live with his wife Gabriela and their three girls. He wanted to be able to show his children that they could go anywhere in the world and be anything they wanted to be.

A firm believer in the power of networking, Edgar also thought going to the United States would help him on his path to artistic success.

While he’s continuing to make moves in the art world, the small town of natchitoches is a bit removed when it comes to networking. The world may be at your fingertips via the internet and social media, but Edgar said it’s just not the same as the connections you can make in person.

“I’m having success but not in the way I was thinking originally,” he shared. “It can be hard for immigrants, but we’re learning and adapting.”

Edgar came to Natchitoches to earn a master’s of fine arts from NSU, which he completed in 2021.

Why Natchitoches and why Northwestern? 

It was Edgar’s wife who originally suggested they try living in another country after the couple watched a documentary about identical twin brothers Joel-Peter (photographer) and Jerome (painter) Witkin, two artists working in different media who shared a childhood but whose lives took very different directions.

In the end, it was thanks to that breakfast introduction to Dr. Jones all those years ago (an example of networking in action). Edgar called him to inquire about NSU’s master’s program and the rest…is history.

“I chose to come to Natchitoches because of my past meeting with Dr. Jones,” said Edgar. “It had left an impression on me.”

When they moved to Natchitoches in 2020, within three months the world shut down because of Covid, making for one very rough introduction.

The Cano family has really enjoyed the area and has found it to be quite and relaxing, however they were a bit disappointed when they discovered that a lot of things require a car for transportation.

With a little English under his belt, Edgar knew he’d need a better command of the language for his academics so he took a three-week course before coming to NSU. Covid hindered his family’s ability to learn English better because they were all hoping to have more face to face conversations. The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it and being stuck at home was counter productive.

The path from student to faculty member at Northwestern was hard for Edgar. He had the experience doing workshops and exhibitions, but to work directly with students to boost their art skills was a learning experience for me. However, he’s forever thankful for the opportunity.

“I like learning anything and everything,” he added. “It’s a good way to keep brain active and stay alive while living your life.”

He teaches print making, painting, drawing, and figure drawing.

“The student is like a mirror for me,” Edgar said. “They look at reality and their art work represents their unique perspectives.”

Remaining student themselves, Edgar and his wife are currently working to play music and dance. Gabriela is also working on a master’s degree and plans to become a Spanish teacher. The couple also enjoys gardening, going on walks, and going out to the movies.

One of the biggest challenges Edgar faces as an artist today is the fight against technology because there are so many people working to garner attention on social media.

One of the best pieces of advice Edgar received was from a professor/mentor, who told him to, “Try to see slowly.”

“We are wasting a lot of time doing many, many things,” Edgar explained. “We’re trying to arrive first…trying to finish a drawing in 10 minutes…These kind of feelings come from technology. We want everything fast. I may be thought of as a lazy artist because I spend so much time on a painting, but it’s time spent thinking what I’m doing, what my next step is.

Some of Edgar’s latest work is on exhibit at the Mexican Consulate of New Orleans over the next two months. The exhibit Arcano is a collection consisting of varied pieces, having realism as a driving thread, as well as metaphorical visual games. 

“These pieces of work offer something secret, something hidden,” Edgar explained. “They’re asking people to see a little bit more.” 

In his more than 15 years of art production, Edgar has been distinguished and awarded in various national and international competitions. To date, he has 17 solo exhibitions in Mexico and abroad and more than forty-five group exhibitions in various cities within and outside of the country. He has shown his work in Buenos Aires, Argentina, England, Venice, Canada, United States, Japan, Sweden, and Serbia.

Future projects include more shows, more collections, an upcoming exhibit in May in Mexico City called “Modern Love” and a solo show in October at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts (LSMSA).