Life-long El Pasoan Hal Marcus is the featured artist at this year’s Las Cruces Arts Fair, March 1 – 3 at the Las Cruces Convention Center. Marcus had an unlikely beginning for an artist. There was no art or even a record player in his home. His father owned a grocery store and the entire Jewish-Arabic family worked in it. What he did learn at the store, he says, was how to run a business, which has helped him successfully own and operate the oldest art gallery in El Paso. Hal Marcus Gallery has been part of the community for 23 years, featuring the work of Marcus and hundreds of other artists.

His art is exhibited in about 20 public buildings in El Paso and owned by collectors around the world, a far cry from his first days of promoting his art by going door to door selling cards for 50 cents and calendars for $5.

Marcus forged his own path to becoming an artist. He discovered his future career thanks to a high school art teacher who inspired and believed in him. Then after taking a college class in painting in which he was awarded an F, Marcus decided that the academic route wasn’t for him. Instead, he began checking out piles of art books from the library each week and studying the work of the masters. As a young man, he toured Europe for several months, studying art in museums and furthering his admiration of the masters, as well as the Cubist artists whose work he would later emulate.

When at the age of 19 he told his father that he wanted to be an artist, his father warned him that he would starve. However, the work ethic he had learned in his family’s store served him well and he applied it to his routine as an artist. Marcus says he gets up every morning and paints. He says, “People say I’m talented. I say it is 10 percent talent and 90 percent hard work. I had a passion for it and was lucky enough to have a teacher who believed in me and here I am. It’s about hard work and being disciplined and believing in yourself.”

Pointing out he’s just a stone’s throw from Juarez, Marcus finds inspiration in Mexican folk art, as well as the modern influence of artists such as Picasso and Matisse. Considering his body of work, two pieces stand out to him. One is a piece he worked on from 1980 to 1988, a large painting which first brought him attention as an artist, which depicts the marketplace in Juarez, “Mercado Juarez.” It was inspired by his weekly trips to Juarez with his Syrian grandmother to buy produce for the family grocery store. “The colors and smells and people buying and selling stuck out in my mind as the nucleus of the planet,” he explains. He dedicated himself to taking as long as was needed to create his own masterpiece and prints of this painting remain his bestseller four decades later.

A more recent piece, “El Paso,” a six-foot by 20-foot mural that hangs in the new Providence Hospital on Transmountain Road, depicts his hometown and shows 70 landmarks in the border community. He says, “That is one of the best examples of my work,” then adds, “to date.” The “to date” is important because at the age of 68, he has no plans to slow down. “Artists don’t retire,” he says.

Since he has been busy creating his own art and running his gallery, Marcus says he doesn’t usually participate in shows like the Las Cruces Arts Fair. He was invited by DAAC emeritus board member Ron Saltzman, a life-long friend, and quickly decided to accept. Besides, he says, “El Paso and Las Cruces are like sister cities. We should be more tight!” He looks forward to meeting new people and making new friends in New Mexico, and hopes they will then come visit him and his gallery in the Sunset Heights neighborhood of El Paso, which was established in the late 1800s.

At his booth, he plans to show a wide selection of his art, including originals, prints, cards, and books, at prices from $5 to thousands of dollars. Topics represented in his work include love, humanity, women, and beauty. Marcus says, “I’m mostly known in these parts for doing work that is geographically magical. Visions of the border have been some of my more popular pieces.”

Marcus is also a supporter of his community, giving back in a variety of ways, donating to non-profit organizations, serving as the auctioneer on KCOS public television’s annual art auction, and being a keynote speaker for various events. He was inducted into the El Paso Artists Hall of Fame in 2003 and served as chair of the El Paso Museum of Art Advisory Committee. To see examples of his work, go to www.halmarcus.com.

Marcus’ work “Queen of Diamonds” is featured on the 2019 Las Cruces Arts Fair poster.

The Las Cruces Arts Fair kicks off Friday evening, March 1, from 5 to 8 p.m., giving collectors the first opportunity to see and buy work directly from the artists. The fair opens on Saturday at 10 a.m. with a special “Quick Art” competition from 11 a.m. to 12 noon.  The fair is open on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and continues Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. There will be entertainment by flamenco guitarist Jake Mossman Friday evening and Saturday and food and beverages will be available to purchase.

Tickets are $10 for adults at the door or $15 for a two person pass when purchased in advance.  Ticket-holders may re-enter the event once during the weekend. Children aged 12 and under are admitted free. Tickets may be purchased in advance in Las Cruces at the DAAC offices, 1740 Calle de Mercado; Cutter Gallery, 2640 El Paseo Road; Frame & Art Center, 1100 S. Main St.; in El Paso at the Hal Marcus Gallery, 1308 N. Oregon Avenue; and online at www.daarts.org.

The Las Cruces Convention Center is located at 680 E. University.

For more information, go to www.daarts.org or call the DAAC office at (575) 523-6403.