The High Wire

It’s fun, I think, to play a little private game whenever I visit art galleries. First, I pretend I have money. Then, quietly humming to myself my adaptation of the “Fiddler on the Roof” tune, “If I were a rich girl,” I roam around, seeking out one – just one — of the works of art for sale that I simply cannot live without. (This imaginary game is something of a love quest.) Then I ask myself: Just what is it about this piece that speaks to me and captivates me so? And: Why have I fallen in love with it?

Last Sunday my friend Suzanne and I decided to spend the beautiful, sunny, mild afternoon strolling through San Miguel de Allende’s grand center of art and design, Fabrica La Aurora, the fully renovated early twentieth century textile mill now housing world-class cafes, chic shops, and close to two dozen contemporary art galleries featuring works by Mexican as well as international artists.

The exterior of Fabrica La Aurora, former textile mill, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Fabrica La Aurora’s floor plan

Considered one of San Miguel’s top tourist destinations, it’s a place to visit when you think you’re looking pretty chic yourself and you’re prepared to pretend you have money to spend. As Suzanne and I wandered from gallery to gallery, observing, admiring, and commenting, I could hear my mother’s early admonitions in my head: “Shoulders back. Head up. Walk tall. Look rich.” And I had to smile.

And then I saw it – the piece I would buy if I could afford it (and if I had a place to put it): a tall, bronze sculpture by the acclaimed Mexican artist, Ignacio Manteca, of a man balancing precariously on a high beam that leads upward to – God knows where.

“This is my view of life,” I said to Suzanne, who’s known me since grammar school in suburban New Jersey. She didn’t seem surprised.

Manteca sculpture close-up

For many years I’ve thought that if I were an artist who painted confidently in oils on large canvases (instead of a rank dabbler in small watercolors), I would depict life this way: a tiny person walking on a long tightrope high above a nameless expanse with only the sky above and a thin, horizontal balancing rod in his (or her) hands. The high wire goes up, on an angle, from the lower left to the upper right of the canvas. To what? The unknown.

I’ve never tried, but I know how I would paint this abstraction: Beneath the high wire would be a rough patchwork in thick, earthy browns and greens, reminiscent of the view one sees from an airplane shortly after takeoff, before the plane cuts through cloud cover. Above the high wire I’d paint with a wide, flat brush flashes of purples and pinks – unpredictable weather – over which I’d draw in loopy calligraphy, like the faint outline of clouds, dotted with birds, the Arabic word “balance.”

Why do I love this Manteca sculpture? Because it is the closest I’ve ever come to seeing an artist’s rendition of what I’ve seen in my mind for so long.

This is the purpose of artists, I feel: to express for others what those others would express themselves if they could. And not, of course, only in paints or bronze, but also in music, dance, drama, poetry and literature. All of the arts. All of them have the power at times to speak to our often-inarticulate hearts.

The other day I checked out more large-print books from our beloved Biblioteca here in San Miguel to tide me through the holiday season. One is the late Pat Conroy’s memoir My Reading Life. I copied this short passage from his chapter, “Why I Write,” because it resonated deeply with me and I needed to share it now with you:

“From the very beginning, I wrote to explain my own life to myself, and I invited readers who chose to make the journey with me to join me on the high wire.”


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(For more about the Fabrica La Aurora Center of Art and Design in San Miguel de Allende, please visit .)

12 thoughts on “The High Wire”

  1. Lovely! And if you haven’t seen the movie, “Man On Wire,” it is one of my favorites. About the wire and also about doing something rather crazy to satisfy something deep inside.

  2. Thanks, dear Bonnie, for your delightful, inspiring blog. I wish I might have accompanied you through the galleries! Perhaps you could trade your books, your creative works, for the sculpture?!
    Happy holidays, Marge

    1. Oh, Marge dear, what a thought! The sculpture costs almost $4,000 USD. The value of my life’s work couldn’t even put a dent in that! — Happy Holidays to you and George — xx

  3. Hi Bonnie,

    I tried to send you a photo of my favorite piece of art,
    but I got back a strange message about the ( address might be invalid).
    In any event, I was intrigued by your piece on that bronze
    sculpture you loved. My favorite piece of art is: “ Le Jardin à Saint Adresse” by Monet. Can’t explain why, exactly, but it has always comforted me and provided peace and hope.

    Best regards and Merry Xmas


  4. Dear Bon,

    This is a fantastic reflection on art. But first, let me just say how much I admire you for going to galleries. I feel so intimidated that I just spare myself the anxiety. I also think being on a tightrope is such an apt metaphor for life. We’re all trying to get or maintain our balance.

    I think you’re right, artists do speak for those who cannot, and I think that is just what you do, dear Bon. I also think that artists have no inkling how their work will be interpreted by others. People find meaning and inspiration in works of art never imagined by those who created the works. Art can never be second guessed. I think artists take a leap of faith that once they have done their job, the art will find those who will respond to it.


  5. One of your most beautiful pieces, I think. Yes, I understand why you would be drawn to that particular piece of art. He seems to have perfect balance – saying to me that, although the height is dizzying and the fall would be fatal, still we manage that high wire, step after step. Perhaps there is a presence behind us.

    1. Thank you SO much, Helaine, for your kind words. Yes, “a presence behind us” or maybe an invisible hand beneath us — something that keeps us from falling and breaking.

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