The Surreal World: Mexico

The Sun Stone
The Sun Stone

“I don’t know why I came here. Mexico is the most surrealist country in the world.”-Andre Breton

“There is no way I’m going back to Mexico. I can’t stand to be in a country that is more surrealist than my paintings”-Salvador Dali

The above quotes shows how the surreality of Mexico outstripped even the imaginings of the movement’s leading theoretician (see The Pope of Surrealism) and its most famous visual artist (see The Phenomenon of Ecstasy).

They are plenty of factors that contributed to Mexico being conducive to the Surrealists. Politically there was the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 (Pancho Villa would be honoured as the Magus of Wheels in the Le Jeu De Marseille, the deck of cards designed by the Surrealists) and the Mexican President’s support of the Republican government of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. There was the richness of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art, mythology and culture. As a group familiar with the ideas of Hegel and Marx the Surrealists would have be aware of the theory that Cortes entry into and conquest of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan represented the true starting point of global capitalism that ushered in centuries of exploitative colonialism, slavery and imperialism. Combine  the Mexican cult of death, exemplified by the Day of the Dead celebrations and its variegated landscape of mountains, desert and jungle to this already heady mix and you end up with a country more Surrealistic than the Surrealists.

The purpose of Breton’s visit in 1938 was to met with Leon Trotsky who was staying at La Casa Azul (The Blue House), the home of  Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Breton declared Kahlo a surrealist and promoted her work, however the respect certainly wasn’t mutual, Kahlo detested Breton and held the Surrealists in contempt. As it appears that Kahlo was having an affair with Breton’s wife Jacqueline Lamba (see Dreams of Desire 16 (Jacqueline and Frida), as well as with Leon Trotsky, maybe the byzantine personal relationships within La Casa Azul influenced her judgement of Breton.

With the defeat of the Republicans in Spain by Franco’s Nationalists and the invasion of France by Nazi Germany, Mexico welcomed a number of artists, including the director Luis Bunuel, the writer and artist Leonora Carrington, her friend the Spanish artist Remedios Varo (again Kahlo wasn’t a fan of either Carrington or Varo, she called them those European bitches), the abstract Surrealist Wolfgang Paalen, Alice Rahon, Bridget Bate Tichenor and the poet Benjamin Peret among others.

It was in Xilitla, Mexico that the eccentric English millionaire and patron of many a Surrealist, Edward James built his extravagant folly house Las Pozas amid the riotously lush fauna and flora of the jungle.

Mexico is certainly well represented in modernist literature. Mexico became the home of the mystery man of modern letters, the German (?) anarchist B. Traven, whose true identity still remains to be resolved. Author of The Treasure of Sierra Madre, which was filmed by John Huston and starred Humphrey Bogart, Traven also wrote The Jungle series about the Mexican Revolution. One of the classics of Modernist literature, Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano is set on the Day of the Dead, 1938, in the town of Quaunhnahuac. The Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano’s two major (and monumental) novels The Savage Detectives and 2666 are mainly set in Mexico, particularly Mexico City and the badlands of the Sonora Desert.

Finally a brief note on the image selection; I could post a dozen articles on Mesoamerican art alone. I have confined myself to a few outstanding examples of Pre-Columbian art to allow room for Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and the Surrealists. As I have posted at length on Leonora Carrington, I limited selection of this artist to include work by Varo and Tichenor. As an added bonus there are the splendidly morbid and macabre woodcuts of Artemio Rodriguez and a statue of Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk religion of Most Holy Death.

Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca
Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca
Coatlicue
Coatlicue
Frida Kahlo-What the Water Gave Me
Frida Kahlo-What The Water Gave Me
Frida Kahlo-Without-Hope 1945
Frida Kahlo-Without-Hope 1945
Diego Rivera=Dream at the Alameda
Diego Rivera=Dream at the Alameda
Remedios Varo-Spiral Transit
Remedios Varo-Spiral Transit
Leonora-Carrington-The-Magical-World-of-the-Mayas1964-image-via-tateorg[1]
Leonora Carrington-the Magical World of the Mayans
Leonora Carrington-How Doth the Little Crocodille
Leonora Carrington-How Doth the Little Crocodille-Mexico City
Self Portrait-Bridget Bate Tichenor
Self Portrait-Bridget Bate Tichenor
Edward James-Las Pozas
Edward James-Las Pozas
Artemio Rodriguez-Woodcut
Artemio Rodriguez-Woodcut

rodriguez-hypocrisy-all.400x0[1]
Artemio Rodriguez-Hypocrisy for All
Santa-muerte-nlaredo2[1]
Santa Muerte
 

 

 

50 thoughts on “The Surreal World: Mexico

  1. How many times have I said that? There’s no way I’m going back to Mexico! Actually, I haven’t been there though I could easily drive across the border. In addition to Tequila., we could find the blue house of Frida Kahlo and Diego rivera, and artwork that appears to be from another world. Enchanting , Thank you Cake.

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  2. You chose some amazing pieces to feature! I love the Santa Muerte and the …. all right I love them all, I can’t really choose. Very interesting history, too. Thank you or sharing!

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  3. I’m never sure if Kahlo would have been a person worth knowing. A terrible life in so many ways, but bitter with it.
    The self portrait by Tichenor is amazing, but I’m not sure what it’s saying; I suppose as surrealism it doesn’t have to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kahlo could be a wee bit spiky for sure, but a great artist. She must have had something because she attracted people like a moth to a flame. I will probably write about Tichenor at some point, another fascinating talented and beautiful woman Surrealist.

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  4. Thanks for introducing me to Tichenor’s work. I was a little bemused about Kahlo’s attitude toward Carrington and Varo. Maybe a certain intolerance toward other interesting women who perhaps weren’t sexually attracted/attractive to her? I’m UK bound later this year, looking forward to visiting the V&A in London where they are holding an exhibition of her clothing. Probably the closest I’ll get to the woman herself, apart from an exhibition in Sydney a little while ago. Rather pleased to see that something defeated Dali!
    Thanks Mr Cake, a fascinating read, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like Kahlo a lot but she could be a bit spiky in her judgements. I am not sure what set her off with Carrington and Varo, but she wasn’t a fan. Only a big country like Mexico could defeat the ego of Dali, though he didn’t lose his wit. Thank you as always Indigo.

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  5. A Day of the Dead in the DF, whether or not you get thee to a cemetery, should be in everyone’s surreal bucket list. Go for the entire month of October, in fact, as the surrealism of that holiday starts early; the city will revive your soul.

    Liked by 1 person

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