Reading the city

Phil Kelly, an Irish artist who has been in Mexico City for about 25 years, opens and closes "Making a Scene," the chapter in First Stop in the New World about contemporary art. He arrived here with $50 in his pocket, half of which he spent on a hotel room, from which he telephoned English-language schools until he got a job as a teacher.

At the time he spoke no Spanish, so he began a process he calls "reading the city" -- traveling by metro, microbus and on foot, all over town, immersing himself in the observation of "the physical way in which people existed day by day." Volkswagen taxi cabs -- which were yellow in those days -- and palm trees became Phil's obsessions, "emblems," he says, "that reflected the exuberance and the freshness of the city."

When I met him, almost twenty years ago, I was immensely inspired. There is no writer who guided me to my own vision of Mexico City as clearly as Phil did. He had come here, seen the city in a unique way, and made it his own. At the time, after many years of living hand to mouth, he was only beginning to make a living as an artist. Today, he sells as many paintings as he can produce. He has had solo shows in the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Mexico City, has exhibited all over the country and is represented in galleries in Dublin and London.