NEW YORK — Painter, sculptor and designer Sergio Bustamante was born in Culiacan in northern Mexico in 1949 before moving to Guadalajara when he was five, where he still lives and works. He has become a rising star in the art world, admired for his whimsy and originality, which are influenced by the rich colors of Mexico and its traditions.
Natalie Curran, a fine art specialist at Vogt Auction Galleries in San Antonio, Texas said the market, especially in that geographic area, is strong for the artist and there is much excitement among bidders when his works come up at auction. “His style is instantly recognizable, it’s unique and really is a legacy that he has built that continues to grow,” she said. “With Bustamante, his subjects are usually really whimsical and colorful, kind of tapping into the tradition of Magical Realism in Mexican cinema, literature and art.”
The colors the artist uses as well the combination of body parts — human hands on a cat, for example — are what help capture viewers’ imaginations and interest, she added. While he is mostly known for his ceramic works, he also creates pieces in bronze and other metals, and, early on, worked in papier-mache.
His oversize sculptures are particularly coveted, and he is represented in several cities with monumental sculptures, notably In Search of Reason in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that stands about 30ft tall. His oversize fountains are highly prized as well, such as his Face Mask sculpture fountains, one of which stands 60in tall. That signed bronze fountain from an edition of 25 sold for double its high estimate at $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022 at Simpson Galleries, LLC.
Much like the image used on the cover of the book Sergio Bustamante: Alquimista de los Sueños (alchemist of dreams), a veritable parade of quirky animal sculptures has come out of his studio. Some are double-faced, and others, such as a ceramic leopard that sold for $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Vogt Auction Texas, have two pairs of eyes and moon-like faces. Standing 73in tall, that particular leopard is depicted doing a handstand atop a shimmering metal ball.
African wildlife seems to be a fond source of inspiration for the artist and he vacillates on how to depict them, sometimes favoring realism and other times, surrealism. A lavishly embellished fireplace screen depicts a pair of lions in the center panel and a pair of giraffes on the side panels below a sun and a moon. The circa-1975 screen, made of patinated and welded steel with brass and featuring extensive repousse work, made $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2023 at Wright.
“There are a couple themes [in his art] that seem to be really popular and one of them is kind of a little bit more realistic-type wildlife made out of brass and copper and other kinds of metals,” Curran said, adding that when he segued from ceramics to metals, his work became more experimental.
Among Bustamante’s favorite subjects is the giraffe, which he has rendered across the decades in both papier-mache and metal. A large signed giraffe wrought in brass and copper, standing 72in tall, earned $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2023 at Redlands Antique Auction.
One of Bustamante’s most compelling surrealist sculptures, evoking the tradition of Venetian masks, is the finely executed bronze Busto de Dama con Mariposas (Lady Bust with Butterflies), which outperformed its high estimate, going out at $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022 at Auctions at Showplace. In this work, the woman holds a mask of her face while a kaleidoscope of blue butterflies sit atop her head, almost as if they are forming a crown or a living headpiece. The work is 57in tall and is mounted on a stand.
Also popular are Bustamante’s bird eggs, which often have fanciful creatures, people or even the sun hatching from them, Curran said. A 32in-tall bronze of a girl hatching from an egg realized $4,200 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021 at Andrew Jones Auctions.
Bustamante’s brightly colored sculptures that evoke Magical Realism are also eagerly sought after. A freestanding papier-mache ostrich sculpture brought $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022 at Vogt Auction Texas.
Sergio Bustamante is still creating artworks, and his most recent pieces are colorful and pay homage to key mythological figures such as Bacchus and Aphrodite. His earlier works are growing harder to find, appearing only occasionally on the secondary market. As his collecting audience has continued to expand, he has in turn helped draw more attention to Mexican art on the global stage.