This is an exhibition that I was keen to see having spent a significant period there in my 20’s. I hadn’t really appreciated that much of the work was photographic. It spanned a 30 year period that included the Mexican Revolution and clearly sparked a time when many artists and writers were attracted to Mexico. I was hoping to see works by Frida Khalo, in particular work that may illustrate her connections to the surrealist movement. There was only one piece by her, a beautiful, but tiny self portrait. It is notable that Andre Breton, the father of surrealism, was one of those attracted to Mexico during this time.
One of the paintings that most caught my attention was this work by Edward Burra. It interested me on a number of levels. I had fairly recently seen an exhibition of his work at Chichester, but was not aware that he had spent time in Mexico. It is quite exciting to see such an ambitious painting made using watercolours; this work is made from 4 large pieces of paper stuck together. I like the subject matter, I can recall such scenes from my travels, but when you look closely there is an unsettling quality, some of the characters have skeletal features, but when you know about the ‘Day of the Dead’ you realize these are viewed differently in Mexico. I like the use of monotone areas within the painting, possibly dividing the work around the golden section, adding to the balance within the work, but there is also a sense of the vibrant, lively, colours above relating to the living, whilst the black and white below to the underworld; possibly another reference to the ‘Day of the Dead’.
I was also surprised to find that Josef Alber, along with his wife, Anni, were frequent visitors Mexico. In 1935 he made the first of 13 trips over a period of 30 years. I associate him with colour theory, and it therefore makes perfect sense that he should be attracted to Mexico; a place of vibrant colours, particularly in indigenous costumes and textiles. The exhibition showed his photos of the ruins of Mitla and Monte Alban, both places I have visited, in relation to abstract works he made. He clearly felt Mexico was the perfect place to explore abstraction in art, through the observation of the play between light and shadow in the many relief sculptures and stone work at the ruin. It made me think about revisiting some of my photos.
I enjoyed the exhibition; quite a few surprises.