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
 

 

 

Dreams of Desire 16 (Jacqueline and Frida)

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Jacqueline Lamba-Dans un Aquarium-Rogi Andre 1934
The above photograph is one of a series taken by Rogi Andre of Jacqueline Lamba preforming Dans un Aquarium at the Coliseum in 1934. Jacqueline Lamba was a performer and Surrealist artist who would become the second Mrs. Breton.

She accompanied Andre Breton on his visit to Mexico where he would sign with Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art. Here Jacqueline would met and begin a passionate love affair with Diego Rivera’s wife and famed artist in her right Frida Kahlo. Kahlo’s letter to Jacqueline after her return to Paris is touching:

Since you wrote to me, on that clear, distant day, I have wanted to explain to you that I can’t get away from the days, or return in time to that other time. I have not forgotten you, the nights are long and difficult. 

The water. The ship and the dock, and the parting which made you appear so small to my eyes, framed in that round port-hole, and you gazing so as to keep me in your heart. Everything is untouched. Later, came the day’s new of you.

Today, I wish my sun could touch you, I tell you, your eyeball is my eyeball, the puppets characters all arranged in their large glass rooms, belong to us both. Yours is the huipil with magenta ribbons. Mine the ancient squares of your Paris, above all, the magnificent Place des Vosges, so forgotten and so firm.

Jacqueline was the inspiration for Andre Breton’s L’amour fou and the mother of his only child, Aube. Although they divorced in 1943 they remained close. Jacqueline would sport long flowing skirts for the remainder of her life, in homage to her time in Mexico where she had worn indigenous Mexican dresses in emulation of Frida.