Long Exhibition Review
“Carlos Mérida” written in a red graphical font on a white wall. On the right side of his name was a description board about Carlos Mérida. There was an English board and adjacent was a translated board in Spanish. Carlos Mérida was an important twentieth-century artist who left a rich legacy of pioneering art. Born in Guatemala City in 1891, Mérida lived and worked for most of his life in Mexico City. San Antonio Museum of Art has obtained great examples of Mérida’s works, and its collection illustrates the artist’s broad diversity of themes and media –like his Natives Costumes of Guatemala (1940) to his Birds of Paradise (1936).
In the center of the room there was a clear display with a white podium. Inside of the podium there was three lithographs of Carlos Mérida. This piece was called Native Costumes of Guatemala, 1940. They were fairly large compared to a regular size paper. Starting on the left side it displayed the cover/container that held all the lithographs. The lithograph was very decorative with a floral border containing the title, “Native Costumes of Guatemala”, which almost reminded me of the art nouveau style. It had a sense of style of decorative art and design by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers. It is characterized by complicated linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms.The following two pieces that followed were lithographs sharing the same techniques and styles as the cover. However, within the border it contained people from the Guatemalan culture. Even though it showed the “Native Costumes” in the center of the page, the print was a strategic work in itself. Lithography uses simple chemical processes to create an image. For instance, the positive part of an image is a water-repelling substance, while the negative image would be water-retaining. Thus, when the plate is introduced to a compatible printing ink and water mixture, the ink will adhere to the positive image and the water will clean the negative image. This allows a flat print plate to be used, enabling much longer and more detailed print runs than the older physical methods of printing. Since it was a lithograph it had crisp and clean edges, but it also contained a lot of organic features and curves. The shapes around the border were very geometric and abstract. The shapes symbolizing nothing but the shape itself. This emphasizes the simplicity yet pleasing composition of these lithographs and not just the work itself but also the print work behind it.
His final piece was contained in a black border frame like the other lithographs on the wall. Birds of Paradise, 1936 had the most contrast in color and abstract among the rest. There was a sharp line that cut through the top of the painting diagonally and an implied line separating two distinctive colors, yellow and red. This implied the horizon line of a sunset or sunrise. Two black non-figurative objects were placed in the center beside each other. The title of the painting seemed to imply the objects were birds. It appeared to be a reference to the raven bird since they were both black. The birds were flying towards the horizon line based on the position and direction. Mérida represented this painting in a poetic and experimental way compared to his lithographs. The lithographs had a sense of control and structure in comparison to the painting. The painting had a more loose and cohesive disarrangement. The figures were abstract shapes, but they still held the quality of a lithograph print which were sharp, clean, and geometric with a touch of organic features.
Birds of Paradise reflects how, at this time, Carlos Mérida was incorporating what he had learned while in Europe from painters such as Picasso, Miro, and Kandinsky with his own deep Mayan roots. The two artist who influenced Merida the most was Picasso and Kandinsky. This observation can be made through the relation it has on the work itself. The influence Kandinsky had on Mérida was the abstraction of the objects. For instance, it was the sunset/sunrise and the birds. Mérida worked with lithographs as his medium just like Picasso. His mission was to take abstraction beyond the three dimensions of height, width and depth to a fourth dimension that permitted nonspatial considerations such as spirituality much like Mayan art had done. Above this one work, on the wall there was a quote from Mérida in red and fine lettering saying, “‘ The only interpretation of our vision and our experiences in life that I could accept was through an art with the profound modesty not to reveal itself completely, to close when touched, like the leaves of a sensitive plant.’ -Carlos Merida”. Having this quote above this work implied he wanted to discover life in a poetic way. Not actually doing the obvious, but finding new ways to explore life. In a sense I can see that is what he was doing in this painting for the viewer. To discover not an obvious sunset/sunrise and birds, but a more abstract paradise that we are not used to seeing. Creating depth and illusion with a lithography quality.
Carlos was a very curious artist with his fascination of the lithographs and the outcome it has with his work. The line and quality was very different from the other different media he used in this collection like painting. However, even with his painting, he kept the clean cut shapes that made it appear like a lithograph. He was very fond of his Mayan culture and embraced it throughout his journey as an artist. He explored and studied the place, the landscape, the cultural fashion and the tradition. However, he still went even further to explore the spiritual beliefs and foundation. He understood that the culture goes beyond what one sees before them, especially in regards to art. It was interesting to see the many ways he interpreted that and modernize it with the styles and medium he used.
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