New Groundbreaking Artist In Puerto Vallarta

“My art is made by hand, layer by layer. But, on a computer,” noted digital artist Craig Strong.  “I create much the same way as a traditional artist works in watercolors or oil paint. I lay down transparent layers of pigment, one after another until an image emerges. “

After a career in the theater, running professional theater companies and large arts festivals, producing and directing plays, Craig moved six months ago to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to begin a new chapter.  He came here with his husband, Randy Bennett, an early member of The Groundlings, Los Angeles’ legendary comedy/improvisation troupe, and their 17-year-old son Zander who attends the American School of Puerto Vallarta.

“Randy and I met at The Groundlings when I took his beginning improv class.”  Craig began his theater producing career at The Groundlings which launched the careers of Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wigg and dozens of other famous comedy performers.  Craig produced their entry into the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival starring Phil Hartman and gave Lisa Kudrow her first professional job.  Randy shared the stage with Hartman, Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Rubens and taught Jon Lovtiz, Julia Sweeney and George Clooney.

“We’ve been improvising together for the last 37 years, marrying in a 2012 ceremony and making it legal in 2013,” Randy noted. In 2004, they traveled to Romania to adopt their son.

They have been coming to Vallarta for spring break nine years. Sometimes, they looked at properties with Taniel Chemsian. As they were getting ready to leave last March, they met with Taniel again.  After listening to their wish list, Taniel showed them a condo, just to see if he was on the right track.  They fell in love with the Conchas Chinas condominium and immediately made an offer.  The view sold the place, but it helped knowing that Taniel also lived in the ten-unit building and would be their neighbor.

In July, they moved here from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they lived for 22 years.  Craig ran a professional theater company for ten years, worked for the Santa Fe Opera, attended film school where he made a festival award winning short film, and was a fundraiser for United Way of Santa Fe County’s early childhood programs.  It was during this period that he began to work in Adobe Photoshop creating the marketing materials.

“I loved the combination of control and spontaneity that comes from working in Photoshop. I have never cared for much for the pixelized, digital art that is created in the program,” Craig noted.  He discovered techniques for creating layers of transparent color which results in images that look like a watercolor painting. Sometimes there are over 900 layers which give the work great depth and texture.

Inspired by the beauty of Bahia de Banderas and the warmth of the culture and Mexican people, Craig began a new career as a visual artist. “I studied and created art as a child and young man and began my theater career as a costume designer. “I have always made art for myself.  Now, I am sharing it with others”

With his trusty point and shoot camera ever ready, he rambles through Vallarta, looking for the unusual.  He seeks an image that might go unnoticed: Los Muertos Beach tables and chairs being set up in the early morning; an East Indian girl on the beach; and his son digging in the sand, the image dominated by a bright yellow and green graphic beach towel. He also takes inspiration from classic P.V. sights like the Cathedral Tower Corona, Dias de los Muertos figures on the Malecon, and Banderas Bay and Los Arcos.  He also makes photo collages including a series of Corazóns, one which features a dried busera tree leaf that he picked up walking his dog, another with green bananas at Biblioteca los Mangos, and the “corona de espinas” growing on their “tarraza.”

“I work from photographs that I take. My photos are not works of art, but a starting point for me to capture the essence of a moment and the beauty of the unexpected. I love the light and color.  I grew up on San Diego’s beaches. I want to celebrate my return the Pacific Ocean with my art,” Craig said.

He took a series of photos of south Banderas Bay during several steamy, rainy days last summer. These images combine to create a dramatic panorama of weather, water, and light, titled “Light on Los Arcos.”

The digital files are printed on to watercolor paper or canvas.  They are issued in limited giclée editions and can be printed in many sizes, becoming affordable art.

“Right now, I am experimenting with 3-D images created on PVC and transparent acrylic,” he said enthusiastically. “With P.V.’s ocean air and humidity, I am looking to create something beautiful and indestructible.”

Puerto Vallarta feels like home now.  Randy spends his days as a Puerto Vallarta “Road Warrior,” driving Zander to and from school, and running errands for the family. Craig is at the gym in the mornings, volunteers with the Conchas Chinas Homeowners Association and is now president of their condo association. Every day, he makes art on the power computer that Zander built.  He takes breaks to take in the fresh salt air and the glorious view of Banderas Bay from their upper deck.

“I’m just beginning.  My files of full of photographs and ideas waiting to be expressed.”

To receive his digital catalog, contact ArteFuerteMercado@gmail.com.  If you live in the United States or Canada, check out his Etsy Store at etsy.com and search for artefuerte (all one word).  His work can be shipped in the U.S. and Canada.

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