A collage of cityscapes by Mr. Garduno.
Mr. Garduno’s depiction of Plaza del Angel de la Independencia.

Cesar Garduno didn’t set out to become a cultural ambassador, but his urban interpretations through paint are now shaping perceptions of Mexico City all over the world. 

This Thursday, Feb. 23, his work will once again be on display in Atlanta, showcasing unique depictions of his hometown — a mega-city home to 20 million people but also filled with hidden neighborhood gems. 

And it’s all thanks to a chance encounter at a weekend market. 

Mr. Garduno, an architect by trade, in the past made a living by designing hospital spaces, blending function with aesthetics and colors that he hoped would affect patients positively as they recovered. 

But he never let go of his passion for painting, and his sweeping, colorful portraits of his hometown are far from antiseptic. They can be found in homes in Spain, Germany, France and even in Atlanta. 

“This is my city — I can’t help but paint it,” he told Global Atlanta during a walk around the Coyoacan neighborhood, where he pointed out with infectious enthusiasm the blend of old colonial architecture and renovations modernizing what has become a trendy area popular for artists and writers to live and for residents and families to visit on the weekends.  

The streets of Coyoacan are filled with life at dusk. Photo by Trevor Williams

During a stop at Cafe El Jarocho, the rare coffee shop where conversation (and churros) still thrive, Mr. Garduno laid out a personal history that included a father who encouraged him to gain perspective through experience.

“My parents are very active people. They like to travel, but above all they are lovers of Mexico City, its architecture, its history, culture and food; They awakened my taste for the city and the arts,” Mr. Garduno said.

His schooling at the Universidad Autonomia de Mexico, or UNAM, gave him a solid technical background, but the staid, detached functionality of commercial work only made him hungrier for more expressive outlet. 

Now, he makes his living designing interiors and homes with models on a computer, but he feeds his soul with hand drawing and painting that he believes hearkens back to an era where art and architecture weren’t such distant cousins. His firm, 226 Arquitectura, aims to “rescue art in architecture,” he told Global Atlanta. 

“I determine what to paint according to the daily life of the city, its colors, textures. Mexico City and Mexican painting is very colorful, when I paint I want to convey those ideas in a contemporary way,” he says. “Those who do not know the city discover through my paintings a colorful and beautiful cosmopolitan city, many decide to know Mexico by my paintings.”

Work has taken him to Peru and other Latin American countries, but he always returned to the city that has shaped his imagination. It was there he made an Atlanta connection through a serendipitous meeting with Gina Espinosa, another Mexico City native who now lives and works in public relations in Atlanta. She encountered him at an artist’s market in San Angel and was captivated by vivid water colors that showed the evolution of the sprawling urban landscape in what was also her hometown. 

Mr. Garduno, left, in Midtown Atlanta at a street art exhibition.

She bought some work and reached out to contacts in the local Mexican arts and tourism community to bring Mr. Garduno to Atlanta for a street exhibition with the Instituto de Mexico in Midtown in September 2014. 

“His landscapes show a different face of Mexico City than people usually see,” Ms. Espinosa said. “We want to share that perspective of Mexico City with people who haven’t visited it and tempt them to go.”

The Atlanta business district was a departure from Coyoacan, where brightly colored homes — some built by the Spanish as far back as the 15th century — sit behind walls concealing courtyards. Mr. Garduno knows the history of many and recalls the area from his younger years, before it became a local hotspot. The cobblestone streets are lined with food and candy stalls and meander past churches and through open squares like the central gathering point, Plaza Hidalgo, or Jardin. 

Indeed, the area’s artistic pedigree speaks for itself: One of its best-known tourist attractions is Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, now a museum in its own right. Murals by her husband, Diego Rivera, dot the rest of the city, from the National Palace to buildings on the UNAM’s Central University City campus, which became a  UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the more than 60-architect collaboration that led to its construction in the late 1940s. Its coming out party was the 1968 Olympics, held mainly in the nearby national stadium. 

Mr. Garduno will not be in Atlanta for the Feb. 23 event, but he aims to return for a separate event in March or April. 

To attend Feb. 23, RSVP to ahandal@sre.gob.mx.

“Urban Landscapes of Mexico City” will be on display at CT Cocina & Taqueria in Sandy Springs.

Mr. Garduno at work.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...