RIP Mérida Artist Samuel Barrera Ceballos 

Samuel Barrera is interviewed on the Macay YouTube channel in August 2023.

Mérida-born surrealist painter Samuel Barrera Ceballos, who gave up a career in law to follow his passion for dreamscapes and fantastical portraits, has died. The self-taught artist, 56, is remembered for his kindness and eagerness to collaborate with other artists. 

Barrera left behind law school after he developed a passion for painting while designing and creating theater sets. He began humbly, selling his pieces at the Parque de la Madre outside the Jose Peon Contreras Theatre. 

His first individual exhibition, consisting of 33 painted wooden crosses, was in 1995 at the Macay Museum of Contemporary Art. Later that year, the exhibit was mounted again at the Museum of Popular Cultures in Coyoacán, Mexico City. By the mid-2000s, he was regularly booked at galleries in the US and Mexico. 

Selected for numerous competitions and biennials, he was distinguished with multiple awards and recognitions. He earned first place for painting at the 6th World Convention of Chile in 2009. He was also a five-year Blue Spiral 1 Gallery member in Asheville, North Carolina. 

A friendly and affable man, Barrera made no secret of his disdain for snobbery in the art world. 

“I think the purest form of art is to give way to simple visual interest,” Barrera once said. “When art is passed off as a quasi-religion that can only be administered and interpreted by a special order of priestly elites, the system invariably stifles imagination—even when the art is as liberal as blobs, slashes, and splatters.”

But by the mid-2000s, he had several gallery exhibitions lined up. His paintings, particularly those on hardwood, were often displayed in iron frames. At one point, his canvas was 100-year-old sosquil reels, a wheel-shaped piece of old machinery used in henequen estates. 

Samuel Barrera’s “Habanoptero” is undoubtedly influenced by Da Vinci’s futuristic design.

At times he drew on Mayan mythology and cosmogony, and like many artists, he integrated images of the Yucatán region’s flora and fauna, but he did it with bold imagination — an alux riding a xtatic-pepper spaceship, for example.  

His classical training came through, as well, in his command of the human form in both oils and acrylics.

“My contact with him was very intermittent, but on each occasion, I was always able to appreciate his simplicity and bonhomie,” prominent journalist Jorge Cortés Ancona wrote. “His absence will be notable for everything he contributed to culture as a creator, promoter and friend.”

Barrera’s mid-century modern home on Reforma had recently been set up as his own gallery called Elanticuerpo. It was to be part of the Merida English Library Artist Studio Tours in February, but he withdrew shortly before the event began. 

He was predeceased by his partner of 20 years, Paul Ziegler, who died in 2015. 

Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.
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