Thursday, May 31, 2012

Francisco Toledo

Francisco Toledo at an inauguration for his ceramic tiles at Tienda Q
Many consider Francisco Toledo the greatest living artist of Mexico. He has come to be synonymous with Mexico's soul or at least the soul of his beloved state, Oaxaca.  Through him the heritage of his people has been refined and through him has poured into an astonishing array of work. To feel Mexico, immerse yourself in the work of Toledo. 
One of his designs on a kite at the paper factory in San Agustín Etla
Francisco Toledo was born to Zapotec parents in Juchitan, Oaxaca on July 17, 1940. He comes from the same state and indigenous background as Rufino Tamayo, another great painter from Oaxaca.  Both Toledo and Tamayo carry a unique energy in their work identified with the mystical beauty of Oaxaca. Both men borrowed from European and American movements and techniques, but remain firmly independent in their vision shunning the artistic dictates influencing Mexico following the revolution.

In 1950 Toledo began his career in the printing studio of Arturo Garcia Bustos and then went on to study at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Oaxaca. He went to Mexico City in 1957 where he studied graphic arts under Guillermo Silva Santamaria.  In 1959 Toledo exhibited his work for the first time at the Antonio Souza Gallery.  By the time he was 20, he had taken residence in Europe remaining for five years settling in Paris. By the time he returned to Mexico in 1965, he was already a recognized artist celebrated for his development of the mythic and his sacred sense of life. He integrated himself into the artistic community of Oaxaca, mastering an incredible array of media including lithography, engraving, sculpture, ceramics and painting. He designed tapestries with the weavers of Teotitlan de Valle executing his designs.

A mobile figure laser cut from x-ray film
His reputation spread quickly in the 1970’s. A lot of what we think of as representative of Toledo - cats, dogs, bats, insects  - came out of this period. During this period, he also started to experiment with semi-erotic male figures, often with faces that were like sketches in geometric form similar to ancient masks.  By 1980 his work was so significant that the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City had a retrospective of his painting.

The world was seduced by the power of his creations bordering on the fantastic fused with the real that resides in nature, and takes on the fantastic when inspired art raises it to the highest degree.  Toledo is a visual poet who looks at the world and notices strange analogies. His art suggests shapes within shapes, and actions have actions within actions. Though Oaxaca is always present beneath the surfaces of his images, he is able to take his surroundings and imbue it with the universal. Through his work we feel unconsciously his own heritage, yet he touches that connecting cord in all of us, that root from which we all sprang.

Toledo designed paper jewelry in San Agustín Etla
His work shows an innate, natural feeling for diverse material through which he expresses complex ideas. His graphic imagination shapes visual thoughts, more than simply being a storyteller.  Since the 1990s he has included more geometric forms in his art.  His fascination with the myths of his people and the nature that appears in their stories shows in the images transformed by his magical imagination into an art in which man is inclusive in the universe.

CASA, San Agustín Etla
In the cargo system characteristic of indigenous pueblo leadership, members of the pueblo have obligations to fulfill for the good of the community. Toledo has given back to the community by being a catalyst and a guardian of the arts. He created the Instituto de Artes Graficas de Oaxaca (IAGO) which has a collection of more than 12,000 volumes dealing with painting, graphics, drawing, sculpture, archeology, design, library science, popular art, textile, ceramics, photography, film, literature, and Mexican art, and a collection of over 6,000 works by Mexican and foreign artists. The IAGO also hosts exhibitions and conferences.  He was also involved in the founding of the Museum de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO), and the Patronato Pro-Defense y Conservacion del Patrimonio Cultural de Oaxaca which sponsors the Jorge Luis Borges library for the blind, the Alvarez Bravo Center for photography, and the Eduardo Mata music library. In 2006 the Centro de Artes de San Agustín (CASA) in San Agustín Etla opened by his initiative.  At CASA one can study photography, digital graphics, textile design, preservation of heritage, art conservation, and man’s interaction with his environment.  

In Oaxaca it is common to see Toledo on the street especially near the IAGO.  He also is present at some art openings, a frequent occurrence in Oaxaca.  His art is distinctive, easily recognizable, with a certain element that carries over from one media to another as well as from one period to the next.  More of my photos are available on my picasa web album.  For more of his painting I suggest you search the internet under his name for images.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Paseo Juárez el Llano

Paseo Juárez, also known as El Llano, is one of the oldest and largest parks in the centro histórico de Oaxaca. José María Morelos  created "El Llano de Guadalupe", the Plains of Guadalupe, in celebration of triumphs of the Independence movement.  Originally it was a simple grass covered esplanade, with a central fountain and trees.  By 1870, State Governor, Miguel Castro ordered development of the southern end of the garden.  In 1878, State Governor Francisco Meixueiro finished the northern end.  By 1886 the park was completed.  The central fountain was removed in 1894, and replaced with a characteristically national-style monument to Benito Juárez.  In the middle of the 20th century, the park was used for the city zoo, which closed in 1970.  Bronze lions marked the entrances and still stand guard at the corners of the park.  The park is approximately 250 meters long by 75 meters wide with gardens, benches, paths, four fountains, and some of the finest trees in the city.  It hosts civic functions, cultural and artistic festivals, and a lively market on Friday. 

 December 12th the park is filled with family amusements to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe.   At the north end of the park is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Chapel of Bethlehem. The church and hospital of Our Lady of Guadalupe were blessed in 1650, and years later an image of Guadalupe was donated by Bishop Cuevas that miraculously survived a fire in 1665.  In 1821 the Spanish Parliament abolished the Bethlemite Order and the church was given over  to the state government, and began to function as a civilian hospital, then later becoming a leper colony and a shelter for the poor. The temple and the chapel remain open for worship, while the former convent would be used for the offices of the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

In just 24 hours Llano Park can go through wild mood swings from a quiet place to rest in the afternoon or as a place to meet a friend in the evening, to a loud busy market, which comes and goes in a single day.  If you can’t find it at the Friday market, you don’t really need it.  You can get clothes, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, groceries, hardware, or equip your kitchen.  It’s a great place to eat as well with stands selling tacos of chivo, borrego, arrachera and carnita; tortas; consume; costillas or braised pork ribs; pollo asado; and agua frescas.  If you went to the organic market in Xochimilco before you came here, well everything is available to go, no need to cook tonight. The market has grown to nearly encircle the perimeter creating a packed isle way 600 meters long while the center of the park remains somewhat calm.

For more photos please visit my Picasa web album.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción) is an imposing sight on the Alameda de León in Oaxaca's city center.  The cathedral, whose construction began 1535, had to be extensively rebuilt in 1730 after a series of earthquakes and fires, which explains its solid walls and asymmetrical towers.  The Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antequera, Oaxaca. During construction the Temple of San Juan de Dios served as the cathedral of the diocese. In 1640 the seat of the diocese was transferred to Our Lady of the Assumption. Due to earthquakes in the 16th and 18th centuries, the cathedral had to be reconstructed several times, with the most recent reconstruction beginning in 1702 and finishing in 1733.

Its facade is made of green cantera stone commonly found in Oaxaca's buildings, and the interior is in Neoclassical style. The altar features a bronze statue of Our Lady of the Assumption (Nuestra Señora de al Asunción) made in Italy during the Porfirio era by Tadoini.  The towers of the cathedral are not the originals, which were destroyed in a 1931 earthquake. In the south tower there is a clock donated to Oaxaca by King Fernando VII.  A chapel at the back of the church, left of the altar, houses the revered crucifix of El Señor del Rayo (Our Lord of the Lightning Bolt), the only piece to survive a fire that started when lightning struck the thatch roof of the original structure.  The second chapel on the right contains the remains of the Cross of Huatulco. Against the west wall of the choir is a locally built baroque pipe organ, parts of which date to 1711-1712, restored in 1997. The interior was plundered during the Wars of Reform, so is not as interesting as the intricate exterior.

The cathedral's attractive Baroque façade includes a fine relief of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary above the central door. The heavy, elaborate frame around the picture and the highly stylized wavelike clouds next to the cherubs are distinctive features of Oaxacan Baroque. An uncommon and quite lovely detail is how the Virgin's cape and its folds are depicted in angular lines and facets.  For more views please visit my picasa web album.