Mexico is a fascinating place because so many influences come together and blend here. The Spanish culture blended with the Indigenous cultures. Politics influences art and art spurs politics. Religion and the Mexican landscape are ever-present forces. You can see all these influences at work in the art of one family now on exhibit in St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Cuernavaca.
The artists whose work is on display are three (of seven) children of artist and muralist Jesús Guerrero Galván. Guerrero Galván was born right along with the Mexican Revolution (1910-1973). Though much younger than the big-name muralists of the 20th century, he was very much a part of Mexico's post-revolutionary art movement.
Guerrero Galvan was not a prolific artist -- his pace was an oil painting per month. At the end of a day spent on his feet painting he would sit in a chair of William Spratling's design and relax by drawing. For the most part his paintings and drawings made their way to private collections. Earlier this year I was pleased to discover a small painting of his I hadn't seen before in the exhibit "Impulsos Modernos, Pintura en Mexico 1840-1950" (Modern Impulses, Painting in Mexico 1840-1950) at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.
At the inauguration of that exhibit curator Miguel Cervantes Díaz Lombardo said, “The Revolution brought Mexico a new identity charged with nationalism -- a new conception of what Mexico had been, and was. Jose Vasconcelos [1920s Secretary of Public Education] was extraordinarily important in developing Mexico's renowned post-revolutionary mural art movement dominated by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Less appreciated, a modernist easel art movement paralleled the mural art movement." Guerrero Galván participated in both movements.
In his twenties Guerrero Galvan assisted prominent and older muralists on murals for the Secretariat of Public Education. In his thirties when he was an artist-in-residence at the University of New Mexico he painted "Americas Joined in Freedom" outside the president's office in Scholes Hall. In the 1950s Guerrero Galván was commissioned to paint a mural in the lobby of the Federal Electrical Commission's headquarters. In it he even made high-tension power lines beautiful.
Guerrero Galvan was very much involved in the politics of his day. He was a member of the Syndicate of Artists and Engravers formed during the Mexican Revolution, which supported the idea that to be truly revolutionary, art must include a social statement. Easel art had less obvious social statements than murals, so Guerrero Galván would often paint in a subtle red star representing the Communist party.
In the St. Michael's Church exhibit Guerrero Galvan's oldest son Francisco "Paco" Guerrero Garro displays drawings and paintings with a definite influence of prehispanic pictographic calligraphy -- shamans, "nahuales" (animals born at the same time a child is born that become the person's alter-ego) along with other aspects of Mesoamerican Indigenous culture. In his twenties Paco worked in the United Nations' Plan Oaxaca and he still maintains contact and friendship with people who with time have become Indigenous leaders in Oaxaca.
Middle son Miguel Angel's paintings are landscapes, forests, and rainforests portrayed in oil on canvas. Angel recognizes his love of art and music came from his father of Purepecha ancestry, while from his Spanish mother, Deva Garro, came his appreciation of writing and architecture. Indeed the Guerrero Garros are first generation mestizos with strong roots in and appreciation of both their Indigenous and Spanish backgrounds.
Flora, the youngest of the siblings, paints in a magical realist style frequently combining gold leaf with oils on her canvases. On exhibit is one of her incursions into religious art--"Virgin Mother Earth" holding flowers instead of a child standing barefoot on the planet. Not on display in the exhibit, but easy to visit in Cuernavaca's Church of the Holy Spirit, is Flora's "Baptism of Jesus." It's not unusual to see people on their knees in prayer in front of that painting. Her art reflects her role as one of the state of Morelos' prominent environmentalists. In full disclosure, Flora is also my wife of 35 years.
These three artists continue the social activism inspired by their parents. Miguel Angel and Flora were among the 33 activists arrested for defending Cuernavaca's Casino de la Selva in 2002. Paco, founder, and then director of the state of Morelos' widest circulating daily, covered the movement from its inception and was the trusted voice for those following the events.
The fascinating exhibit at St. Michaels is not about Jesús Guerrero Galván, but he is the link between the three artists. To fill that gap I will exhibit two Guerrero Galván drawings concurrently with St. Michael's exhibit at the Cemanahuac Educational Community in southern Cuernavaca. Email me for a map to both locations.
The exhibit will be open through Wednesday of next week during church library hours: Monday-Friday10 am-12:30, Saturday 10:30-1 pm, Sunday 11:45 am-12:30, Calle Minerva #1, Colonia Delicias, Cuernavaca.