Art in Mexico Part II

Northern America

The time after 1820

Among other things, the liberation war led to secularisation of the arts. The State Academy of Fine Arts, San Carlos, in Mexico City (established in 1783) gained more importance, but the artists gladly studied further in Madrid, Rome and Paris. Among the European-oriented painters of the 19th century can be mentioned José María Velasco with colossal landscapes; but there were also representatives of a more original painting, especially in the province, including José María Estrada and Hermenegildo Bustos, who, in keeping with tradition, painted naively realistic portraits.

From the 1880s political etchings and popular graphic prints were performed, worth mentioning are the political caricatures of Constantino Escalante and Santiago Hernández. An important popular feature came with the graphic artist José Posada, who with his macabre and socially trendy prints had a great influence on Mexican art in our century.

Towards the end of the 19th century, a change in style and attitude was noticed in the visual arts. Jesús F. Contrera’s allegorical, sensual women’s acts are performed in an impressionistic-inspired style. In painting and graphics should be mentioned Julio Ruelas and Roberto Montenegro. Germán Gedovius and Alberto Fuster worked in a symbolic style, with an impression of impressionism and post-impressionism.

A significant influence on younger artists had Atl’s visionary Mexican landscapes and anarchist social ideas. José Clemente Orozco started his experiments in expressionist deformation. Diego Rivera and Angel Zárraga had a cubist phase in the years 1913-1918. Rivera created works as a Zapatista landscape (the guerrilla) in 1915.

Cortez and La Malinche

Cortez and La Malinche meet Moctezuma 2, November 8, 1519.

Mexican Renaissance 1920–1950

After the Mexican Revolution of 1913-1918, the art was strongly influenced by political and social revolutionary ideas as well as by a strong national consciousness. Another influence was pre-Columbian art and folk art. Art played an important political role during this period and was aimed at the large unskilled masses; Rivera, Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros performed monumental frescoes in public buildings. The motifs were often historical and allegorical and inspired by Renaissance frescoes, modern synthetics and post-cubism, as well as pre-Columbian culture and colonial art. Other prominent artists in the so-called Mexican school were Fernando Leal, Fermín Revueltas, Ramon Alva de la Canal and Roberto Montenegro.

This erasure of José Posada

This erasure of José Posada, “Gran calavera eléctrica”, was performed between 1900 and 1913. It shows a large skeleton trying to hypnotize a group of skulls and a sitting skeleton. In the background we see an electric vehicle with passenger skeletons.

In the years 1925–1933, the mural painters were counteracted by the sitting right-wing government. Rivera nevertheless created some of his main works during this period, Orozco left the country, while Siqueiros devoted himself entirely to union struggles. From 1934, the mural was again appreciated by the government, and a number of public assignments, including banks, offices, hotels and restaurants, as well as trade union premises (Siqueiros) and government buildings (Orozco) followed. One of the most interesting later projects was the decoration of the exterior of the new campus in Mexico City (1948–1952) with contributions from artists such as José Chávez Morado and Juan O’Gorman (mosaics).

David A. Siqueiros

David A. Siqueiros. Murals at the University of Mexico City.

The graphics

The graphics followed a more or less parallel line with the mural. Jean Charlotte’s woodcuts are made with clearly marked lines and with a strong contrast between black and white. Woodcuts were frequently used in political illustrations in opposition newspapers such as El machete, and in posters and pamphlets. A number of graphic works were also created in a cubist- and futuristic- inspired style. Other trends in the graphic arts of the 1920s and 1930s were Soviet- inspired constructivist posters and photo montages. Graphics were widely used as an ideological weapon in the politicized climate of the 1930s. The muralists Orozco and Siqueiros also performed graphics.

Easel Painting

Although the easel was rejected by the mural painters in their manifesto in 1923, several artists continued to develop it in a more intimate direction. These artists were often more lyrical than epically oriented and did not share the radical political ideas of the muralists, such as Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Julio Castellanos, Agustín Lazo, Antonio Ruiz, María Izquierdo and Rufino Tamayo. Characteristic of their art is a kind of neo- symbolism performed in a modernist form, but also with a certain influence from Mexico’s folk art.

A distinctive artist like Frida Kahlo (married to Diego Rivera) is known for her portrayals of pain and of being a woman, performed with distinctly surrealistic features. A major exhibition devoted to surrealist international art was opened in Mexico City in 1940, inspired by André Breton who had visited Mexico in 1938 and met Rivera and Kahlo. The exhibition featured works by internationally renowned artists and outstanding photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

Recent Mexican art

From the 1950s artists such as José Luis Cuevas, Alberto Gironella and Manuel Felguerez worked with different degrees of abstraction. This tendency was reinforced by the public recognition of artists such as Rufino Tamayo. In the mural, a straightforward figurative synthesis developed that was close to geometric abstraction, including in Carlos Mérida’s decorative mosaic works. In the 1960s and 1970s, conceptual art was created with installations, performance and happenings, as well as geometric and minimalist art.

Towards the end of the 1970s and the 1980s, a renewed interest in painting and sculpture was carried out in everything from various degrees of abstraction to hyperrealism. A key artist in the 1970s was Francisco Toledo, who inspired the fauna and mythology of the Oaxaca region to create fine graphic works.

From the mid-1980s there came a New-Mexican movement in the arts, which used elements from the national, popular iconography of the 1920s, but in a more personal and less political style. The most prominent representative of the movement was Nahum B. Zenil, whose representations are deeply rooted in national traditions.