Francisco Toledo (Juchitán, Mexico, 1940) is one of the most important living artists in Mexico. His painting is based on the traditional Zapotec culture and works through his personal vision, partly inherited from Rufino Tamayo, an artist he meets during his stay in Paris in the Sixties. In the French capital he contacts Octavio Paz and is influenced by Paul Klee and Jean Dubuffet, as well as Antoni Tàpies’ material painting. During that time he spends a few months in Barcelona, where he works with printmaking at the Polígrafa Editorial.
This exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía joins earlier ones that review the contribution of Latin American artists such as Vicente Rojo, José Luis Cuevas, Juan Soriano, Wifredo Lam and Severo Sarduy, among others. For this occasion more than ninety works by the Mexican artist are bought together and presented chronologically and thematically. The exhibition begins with a video and a series of portraits by photographer Graciela Iturbide, which place the people, the environment, the workshop and pieces made in Oaxaca.
Toledo's works are exhibited grouped into categories such as Animals on land, among which include Lagarto (1973), Cangrejos (1975) y Tortugas (1978). There are also stories about Juchitán and objects, mainly sculptures, made with turtle shells such as Nabigu (Figuras jorobadas) from 1976. The fusion of the subject and earth, air, soil and insects or of maps and history are other groups, along with images of death and self-portraits and books. There are also prints, a series of etchings and xylographs where the artist talks about the human deliriums, vanity and suffering and among which eight self-portraits in the exhibition can be seen.
After a transitional period of fantasy and vivid colours in the late sixties, Francisco Toledo begins a series of large paintings, including Rua Nisado, title written in Zapotec which alludes to the "lips" where land and water can be seen. Along with painting, Toledo employs various techniques such as polychrome wax on wood, as seen in El cañón del Juchitán. The clay modelling which appears in Autorretrato (the old man) from 1996, as well as various additive procedures led him to incorporate organic elements to the canvas such as sea, egg or pistachio shells, as can be seen in Títulos primordiales from 1988 and 1990. All this testifies to his love of working on the floor, spontaneous and made with basic and local components.
Sex and scatology are a constant in the work of Toledo and bring an unmistakeable character to his production. In El coyote y el conejo we can see the female erotic exuberance, along with a phallic symbolism that repeats obsessively in his work.
Toledo is admired in Mexico for his art and his struggle for indigenous people and the environment. His solitary character and little appeal for self-promotion influence the diffusion of his work beyond the borders of Mexico. Exhibitions like this one, held at the Museo Reina Sofía, help to spread the important work of this artist.
Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (April 14 - June 7, 2000)