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
 

 

 

Art Brut II

Blue Birds in the Tree-Scottie Wilson ca 1960
Blue Birds in the Tree-Scottie Wilson ca 1960

One of my more popular posts, and a piece that I have a special fondness for is Art Brut, which highlighted the work of visionary/outsider artists without formal training, many of whom were institutionalised for mental illness. This was followed shortly after by tangentially related posts on The Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace and the Acid Cats of Louis Wain, again pieces I am quite tender about,  if only because I got to indulge my penchant for purple prose (anyone for a spot of hallucinated decorative splendour?), while showcasing truly exceptional art and architecture.

So after a delayed interval, (a butterfly for a mind), here are more artists driven by an urgent inner necessity to create intensely luminous works of art.

Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern

Born in East Prussia (now Russia) Friedrich Schroder was sent to a juvenile delinquent facility at the age of 14 and was committed to an asylum at 17. During the 1920’s he founded a cult, though any money raised went to feeding the destitute ruined by the hyper-inflation of the time. In 1930 he was institutionalised again for debt and working as a conman, posing as Dr Eliot Gnass von Sonnenstern (Sun Star). It was during this period that he met an artist who encouraged him to draw. During WWII he spent further time in prison and labour camps. Friedrich’s allegorical drawings and paintings ladened with erotic symbolism was lauded by the artist and critic Jean Dubuffet, the man responsible for coining the phrase Art Brut.

Schonwarsia Mondmarchen-Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern 1954
Schonwarsia Mondmarchen-Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern-1954
The-Demoness-of-Urgency-Friedrich Schroder-Sonnenstern-1958
The-Demoness-of-Urgency-Friedrich Schroder-Sonnenstern 1958
The Moon-Moralistic Veneration of the Artist's Bones - Friedrich Schröder- Sonnenstern
The Moon-Moralistic Veneration of the Artist’s Bones – Friedrich Schröder- Sonnenstern

Consuelo González Amezcua

Born in Mexico, Consuelo (Chelo) Amezcua moved to Del Rio, Texas at the age of five where she was remain for the rest of her life, working at the local department store selling candy. She won a scholarship to study art in Mexico City but her father died, leading her to forfeit the scholarship so that she could remain with her family. Known locally as an eccentric, her family paid little interest in her drawings and poetry (which is frequently incorporated in her art), though at the age of 65 she was the subject of her first exhibition. Chelo’s work is characterised by biblical imagery, Mexican folklore and stunning filigree decorative motifs.

McNay Art Institute and Chelo-Consuelo) Gonzalez Amezcuacirca 1967
McNay Art Institute and Chelo-Consuelo Gonzalez Amezcua circa 1967
The_Prophecy-Consuelo González Amezcua 1966
The_Prophecy-Consuelo González Amezcua 1966
Consuelo (Chelo) Gonzalez Amezcua
Consuelo (Chelo) Gonzalez Amezcua

Joseph E.Yoakum

Jospeh E.Yoakum was born in Missouri of African-American, Cherokee and French descent. He joined the circus at nine and worked for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show which toured Europe between 1903 to 1906. He served in France during WWI. After the war he travelled throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, working on railroads and as a seaman. Joseph settled in the Southside of Chicago in the late 1920’s, working at various occupations including carpenter, janitor and mechanic. At the age of 72 he was inspired by a dream to start making art, calling it ‘spiritual unfoldment’. During the last decade of his life he produced thousands of anthropomorphic landscapes inspired by his extensive travels.

Near Naples. Italy-Joseph E. Yoakum
Near Naples. Italy-Joseph E. Yoakum
Near Damascus Syria-Joseph E. Yoakum
Near Damascus, Syria-Joseph E. Yoakum
Near Trieste-Joseph E. Yoakum
Near Trieste-Joseph E. Yoakum

Scottie Wilson

Born of Jewish descent, Louis Freeman grew up in the tenements of Glasgow, Scotland,  dropping out of school at the age of eight to help provide income for the struggling family. He later enlisted in the army, changing his name to Scottie Wilson. After serving in WWI he moved to Toronto, Canada, where he owned a second-hand store. At the age of 44 he was listening to Mendelssohn when, all of a sudden, he dipped a pen into the inkwell and started drawing. Pablo Picasso and Andre Breton were early collectors of his intricate and decorative drawings of birds, fish and fauna.

House of Peace-Scottie Wilson
House of Peace-Scottie Wilson
Scottie Wilson
Scottie Wilson
Scottie Wilson
Scottie Wilson