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.

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