Mexican painter, sculptor and muralist Gilberto Aceves Navarro was honored with his country's Fine Arts Medal for his creativity in the plastic arts and for his distinguished contributions as an educator.

The 80-year-old Aceves, a Mexico City native, received the highest honor awarded by the National Fine Arts Institute, or INBA.

INBA director Teresa Vicencio presented Aceves with the medal at an event held Monday in the murals area of Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts.

"It isn't a prize, it's a certificate of a stage completed. Now comes another totally different," Aceves said after accepting the award.

The mural in oils "Poema Floral" (Floral Poem), painted in 1968 for the Mexican pavilion at the Hemisfair in San Antonio, Texas, and "Yo Canto a Vietnam" (I Sing to Vietnam) created for his country's expo at the 1970 Osaka World's Fair, are among his most outstanding works.

To date Aceves has presented his works at some 300 collective exhibitions and about 150 one-man shows.

"The only way to be a painter is to try and define and understand the nebulosity around us," Aceves said in describing what awoke his creativity and moved him to practice art.

"One cannot stop progressing and searching," the artist said.

The artist spoke of a blank canvas as something possessing an equilibrium that is broken with the first stroke of color, and from that point the artist takes on "the commitment to restore its equilibrium."

Aceves is a "master of the three noble arts" and a "teacher of young artists who receive a companionship that enriches them but at the same time lets them be themselves," Vicencio said.

"Throughout his career the artist has been capable of approaching the mystery of art while transcending its ordinary limits," Vicencio said.

The writer Luis Ignacio Sainz, a specialist in Aceves' work, called him a "classic in his lifetime" and a "living treasure" who "remains fresh and decisive in the defense and construction of art in capital letters, with no concessions."

Sainz also noted Aceves' work as an educator.

"No one has been such a critical factor in the creation of so many outstanding creators," Sainz said.

Aceves' next project is an exhibition of 25 new works portraying the conquest of Mexico that will be open to the public starting Oct. 20 in the city of Guadalajara.

"I think I'll die working," the painter said, adding that all he wants is to continue creating art with enthusiasm "as long as I can."