|Who could imagine that Mexico's turn of the century hardworking printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada would someday be celebrated as the first humorist in modern art? Today, his political and satirical skeletons, these ubiquitous images of death come alive, symbolize Mexico's intimate and comfortable relationship with death best expressed in the annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead ) holiday.
( animated skeletons)
however are just Posada's most familiar legacy
for time has placed him as a central
figure in Mexican art. His life and works have become the foundation
of Mexican printmaking and have vitally contributed to the formation of
contemporary Mexican art.
His genius for inspired illustration of the
people's themes continue to make him one of Mexico's most popular artists.
The modest hardworking illustrator not only addressed the issues of a society
in conflict prior to the revolution, he perpetuated the role of art as an
outlet for protest within Mexican society.
The spirit of posadas, as his distinctive black and white engraved images have become known, continue to express a deep commitment to our shared humanity, drawing its inspiration from the great drama of life itself and the final chapters we all share with each other.
|Born in Aguascalientes,
home of Mexico's oldest craft fair
He was born on the night of February 2, 1851 at 10:00 p.m. in the corner house marked No. 47 and 49 in Los Angeles Barrio of San Marcos in Aguascalientes, to German Posada, a baker and Petra Aguilar, a homemaker.
During his childhood he worked, along with two brothers (Ciriaco and Cirilo) in uncle Manual pottery business where no doubt his gifts as an artist first received attention. Cirilo, was also a rural teacher responsible for Jose's elementary school education and Jose eventually helped tutor fellow students.Jose Posada was one of nine children (7 boys & 2 girls) of Indian descent. Their region, Aguascalientes (Hot Springs), is still a provincial cultural center known for centuries for its excellent pottery, textiles, tiles and majolicas.
At fifteen, a census listed Jose Posada as a painter. He attended for a short time the Academia Municipal de Dibujo de Aguascalientes, directed by Antonio Varela where Posada learned basic concepts by imitating the European classics.In 1872 José Posada at the age of 16, had became an apprentice to José Trinidad Pedroza, a publisher, printer, and graphic artist. He was employed to lithograph cigar-box labels, diplomas, letterheads, and illustrations for this local printer who had also studied at the Aguascalientes Academy of Fine Arts. Pedroza taught Posada the printmaking techniques for lithography and engraving on wood and metal.El Esfuerzo had a engraving, lithography, and photography workshop, along with bookbinding, foundry, blacksmithing, and coachwork facilities. The shop, "El Esfuerzo" as it was called, was a center where political and cultural problems were discussed.
Pedroza is also a political activist and one of the principal participants in the campaign against the reelection of the ex-governor Jesus Gomez Portugal. Posada's political caricatures of the ex-governor in issue number three creates a political scandal during the elections on August 20 1871. Soon Posada found himself following Pedrozo to the city of Leon de las Aldamas, in the state of Guanajuato to escape the wrath of the authorities.
It was at this Leon print shop that Posada began political satire where his illustrations appeared in the magazine El Jicote (The Hornet). On September 20, 1875 Posada married Maria de Jesus Vela, a native of Leon The following year Posada bought the modest shop from Pedroza who had previously returned to Aguascalientes. Most of his work during this time is not signed. In 1882 Posada illustrated twelve of the daily papers La Gacetilla's ninety-six issues, as well as designing the logo for the paper. produced illustrations for magazines, books and commercial items.
In 1882 on the logo for La Gacetilla, a daily newspaper. During this time he also produces lithographs for the religious and informational periodicals El Pueblo Catolico and La Educacion. He also creates a city plan of Leon, matchbox covers, cityscapes, portraits, calling cards, and personal announcements.
In 1883 he received commission for three prints for a four-volume historical study of Guanajuanto by the Imprenta del Colegio de Artes y Oficios. All prints are signed "Posada and Son." A year later he began teaching lithography at a local secondary school and started a family.
In 1888, a cataclysmic spring flood struck León and Posada was forced to return to Aguascalientes. A few months after, at the age of 37, he moved to Mexico City.
Posada who had previously created illustrations for newspapers in Mexico City had little trouble finding work. His first regular employer is La Patria Illustrada edited by Ireneo Paz, a lawyer and participant in the Reformist Movement.
He sets up his first shop on Callejon de Santa Teresa, today named Lic. Verdad. Later he moves to No. 5, Santa Inez, today Moneda no. 20. Posada works out of his shop for various publishers
The following year he began working for the publisher Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, whose shop was right next to the Academy of San Carlos, Mexico's foremost art school. This relationship with Mexico's leading publisher of popular literature would last until Posada's death, in 1913. Their main collaboration was popular broadsheets -- so-called hojas volantes, or "flying leaves" Arroyo was the creator of this news form which attempted to be moral stories or examples. As Mexico's leading publisher, he was also responsible for countless songs, grammars, fortune-telling handbooks, prayers, love letters, games, and so on.
Published during the time of the Porfiriato, the government of Porfirio Díaz (1876 -1911). This was a period of both great wealth and great poverty in Mexico.
Antonio Vanegas, together with Posada and his first illustrator, Manuel Manilla gave popularity to what, until then, had not been the much practiced theme of "calaveras," drawings and verses about the living in terms of the dead.
Posada described with originality the spirit of the Mexicans: the political matters, the daily life, the terror for the end of the century and for the end of the world, besides the natural disasters, the religious beliefs and the magic.
In his work, Posada's artistic genius was filtered through the telling of a sensational or satirical story. His passionate illustrations presented the true face of the Mexican reality and conflicted with the conventional wisdom of his time where science and reason would inevitably lead to progress.
Posada produced thousands of illustrations for his main publisher in Mexico City. Vanegas Arroyo's broadsheet followed the a tabloid success formula emphasizing sensationalized stories focused on bloody crimes of passion, macabre violence, miracles, tragic news, natural disasters, as well as the bizarre and comical gossip of the day.
The range of Vanegas Arroyo’s publications can be found in advertisements on his surviving booklets. They include: "This year's songs, collections of greetings, tricks, riddles, parlor games, booklets on cooking, sweets and and pastry making, toasts, humorous verses, patriotic speeches, children’s theater and puppet plays. Entertaining stories; The New Oracle, or The Book of the Future; Rules for card games; The new Mexican prayerbook; Black and White Magic, or The Book of Sorcerers." Posada illustrated all of these with originality, audacious humor, extraordinary observation and a keen sense of aesthetic balance. His caricatures knew no limits although some were more popular like revolutionaries, politicians, shooting victims, drunkards, highwaymen, fancy ladies, bullfighters and workers.
From the starting of the Revolution of 1910 until his death in the year of 1913, Popsada worked unfailingly in the press directed to the workers, newspapers such as the Argos, La Patria, El Hijo del Ahuizote and El Ahuizote. The images criticize, with a daring black humor, the inequality and social injustice that existed in the Porfirian society; Posada questioned morality and the cult for modernity.
In his time Posada was not surprised that academicians contemptuously dismissed his work as "popular," but he took solace in knowing that it was alive, reflecting back to the people their own visions. His use of skeletons as a metaphor for a corrupt society ranks Posada as a pioneer expressionist. His aesthetic was based upon true native ancient forms that had lived in the collective unconscious of all the pre-Columbian civilizations of Mexico.
unrelenting, meticulous and innovative
José Guadalupe Posada was stout, with a strong, round head, marked Indian features, and a noble and simple manner. During his forty-four years of ardent and untiring daily labor, it is estimated he produced more than 20,000 engravings. (2,000 are said to survive) He permitted himself vacations only once a year, towards the end of December, and this consisted of a visit to the city of Guadalajara or to Aguascalientes where he had a great many friends.
Posada assumed a frank artisan attitude towards his work. Indifferent to the mode of life of the professional artists of his day, he would spend long hours quietly working over his table, piling up his plates in boxes where he kept his corrosive acids and other materials necessary for etching on zinc, a medium which he introduced in Mexico about 1895.
He was a constant but amiable victim of the attentions of children of his neighborhood where he lived in one of the largest and poorest tenement houses of Mexico City. This house, near the Tepito market, consisted of three hundred small rooms and many courtyards with open air wash basins.
|Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and Jose Clemente Orozco
(1883-1949) -- who as students absorbed Posada's popular imagery; his
solidarity with the poor and oppressed; his bond with Mexico's past and his
fight for Mexico's future.
In spite of the apparent success Rivera was experiencing , he still felt that there was something missing in his art that technical growth alone could not supply. There was still that something he had seen in Posada’s shop and in the powerful work of Aztec architecture that seemed to elude him. (3)In the frescoes of Italy he saw how the need for a popular art capable of appealing to the masses--telling them a story--could be met
Diego Rivera began painting murals on the walls of public buildings, a medium he viewed as less elitist than the gallery canvas,
In his autobiography, Rivera credits Posada as one of his principal influences. Both artists shared a strong populist streak Rivera believed that art should play a role in empowering working people to understand their own histories. He did not want his art to be isolated in museums and galleries, but made accessible to the people, spread on the walls of public buildings
Posada considered himself blue collar whose audience was the urban and rural poor.
Yet. And though Posada's calaveras depicted the idiosyncrasies of both rich and poor, the butt of his jokes were more often white-collar professionals, government officials and the middle and upper classes.Diego said he learned about the art of his own country from a teacher he found himself, Jose Posada. Posada owned a small printing shop near the academy and Diego often stopped to watch Jose Posada working on his drawings and prints. Diego thought these drawings were so full of life and energy that they might jump off the page at any moment. (1)
In 1902 Diego Rivera was unhappy with the new art director at the San Carlos academy. Because of this he decided to leave the school where he had been a student for six years
“Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park” (1947-48) standing next to the “Catrina”, the skeleton society woman of turn of the century Mexico City
Calling Rivera his "artistic father," Rivera decided to pay homage to the late artist in 1948, when he painted a mural at the Hotel del Prado in Mexico City. He painted himself as a young boy holding the hand of Catrina, next to Posada. Frida Kahlo, Rivera's wife, was also featured in the mural, which became a pantheon of the famous and infamous in Mexican history.
During his first two commissions in San Francisco in 1930-1931, Rivera and his wife, artist Frida Kahlo, were extremely well-received. Rivera was quite pleased, therefore, to return to San Francisco in 1940 to execute the Pan American Unity mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition. This work represented a culmination of hundreds of murals painted for the public, and also demonstrated his affectionate relationship with San Francisco.
1893 - As a ten-year-old youth, Jose Clemente Orozco wanders in Posada's workshop. In his autobiography, Orozco writes, "This was my awakening to the existence of the art of painting. I became one of the most faithful customers in Vanegas Arroyo's retail shop . . .
Always attempting to find a more rapid and efficient method of reproducing his images for the masses, Posada experimented with different types of print technology. The lithograph, introduced into Mexico in 1826 by Italian artists, had been Posada first engraving method which he later taught
His move to Mexico City spurred a drive towards cheaper printmaking on zinc, wood and type metal. There, Posada radically transformed both his style and technique to meet the demands of the penny press and his new urban audience. He developed an expressive shorthand to produce rapid, legible, and appealing illustrations. Early on Posada employed a method known as wood cutting by which he would carve his calavera images onto wooden blocks for printing.
Toward the end of his career, Posada discovered a way to use acid-resistant ink to create free hand drawings on metal plates which were then "bitten" or dissolved with acid so that only the drawn image stood out from the surface. The resulting relief block looks like a rubber stamp, and can be printed in the same press and at the same time as type, instead of requiring a special press like the lithographic stone.
This process known as relief etching allowed Posada to draw rather than carve resulting in greater freedom of expression and enabled him to print rather quickly, positive images composed of black lines. These later calaveras are noticeable different in terms of style and complexity from Posada's earlier wood cut ones exhibiting a delicate vividness of expression which was achieved through a mastery of tools designed to allow his to render images more quickly.
Common grave (b Aguascalientes, 2 Feb 1851; d Mexico City, 20 Jan 1913).
Despite his true genius, José Guadalupe Posada died alone, very poor, in that same humble atmosphere which had produced his fertile and prodigious art. He died shortly after his wife, in that same tenement house at No. 6 Avenida de la Paz, now Jesús Carranza, on the morning of January 20, 1913. Three of his friends, of whom "only one can read," as was recorded in the death certificate, reported his death to the proper authorities. They carried the body of "Don Lupe" on their shoulders to the Cemetery of Dolores in which the civil authorities had given them a "Ticket for a sixth class grave."
Seven years later, Posada's unclaimed remains were exhumed, and tossed in a common grave.
Eight years after Posada's death, his works were still being printed, but his name was virtually unknown. Artist and art-historian Jean Charlot rediscovered the enduring popularity of this singular folk artist. Charlot wrote a magazine article about Posada in 1926 and 20 years later a collection appeared in a museum exhibition in Mexico City which later traveled to Chicago.
As his calaveras remind us, death makes fools of us all. Rich and poor, proud and humble are placed on a level playing field. The closest we can come to eternal life is the longevity of those who leave something universal behind, like Posada.
In 1880 Antonio Vanegas Arroyo and his son Blas came to the capital from Puebla and established a press aimed at producing inexpensive literature for the masses: historical profiles, comedies, farces, hair-raising thrillers, songs and histories of saints. These sold mainly in plazas and market places. Venegas and his son also founded a number of popular newspapers, among them El Centavo Perdido, La Gaceta Callejera and El Boletín. To the press and to these newspapers, Posada was a prolific contributor.
Posada and Vanegas Arroyo complemented each other admirably; together they created a center for broadsides, or printed sheets used in the diffusion of political news and argument which reached the remotest corners of the country, guided by the great talent of the publisher, the genius of the illustrator and the intelligence and charm of the poet, Constancio S. Suárez. Suarez was poet and writer from Oaxaca who most often expressed the group's ideas in the written word.
Like Posada, Vanegas Arroyo possessed an independent spirit; This tenacious, mocking and ferocious combatant experienced the sufferings of imprisonment but his talent as both editor and businessperson allowed him to thrive as Mexico's most popular publisher. Vanegas Arroyo enjoyed a clear vision which often expressed the progressive political view or that of the people. In 1903, aided by his son Blas, Arroyo was one of the first to bring movies to Mexico. Like Posada he was periodically jailed by the authorities.
The corrido communicated through words, melody and pictures Distributed as hojas volantes, or "flying leaves," Posada's prints, which satirized and celebrated heroes of all classes, accompanied the rhymed verse of the corrido. Printed on inexpensive, brightly colored paper and costing only a few centavos, (pennies) these corridos were sold on street corners to an audience that was largely illiterate.
Posada's corrido prints were distributed by corridistas, musicians who traveled from one market to another singing the rhymed verses of corridos. Those without the ability to read could still grasp the meaning intended by the phony obituaries or the rousing corridos glorifying the likes of bullfighters, revolutionary heroes and larger-than-life bandits through the benefit of Posada's expressive engraved skeletal forms.
When Manuel Manilla was an illustrator and the Vanegas Arroyo publishers just beginning, the religious tradition in these sheets, with their romantic colors and prominent typographical features, completely over-shadowed the illustrations. Posada, when he came to work for Vanegas Arroyo, reduced the typographical attractions to a position of minor importance and gave to the illustrations the principal place on the sheet. This proved to be a great economic success for the publishing house.
Through the medium of his work Posada was one of those actively responsible in preparing the way for the 1910 Revolution
|Skeletons in Art before Posada
To a large extent, the boom in representations of the human skeleton in the twentieth century is due to José Guadalupe Posada. He took the popular traditions and gave them a material form of such expressive vigor that the macabre surrendered to the dynamic and jovial vitality of his images. Posada’s famous calaveras evolve from many millennium of the Central America Indian art tradition and its powerful relation with ancestors and the shadow world as well as a more recent European graphic tradition which took flight with the plagues in the 13th century.
Skulls and skeletons are often represented in the art of Prehispanic Mexico particularly the Aztec civilization which ruled much of Mexico at the time of the conquest. Human sacrifice and collection of victim's skulls was particularly prominent among the Aztec and their subject tribes.
In 1521, when the Spanish began the conquest of Mexico , they brought with them an art that featured images of an agonizingly crucified Christ and a tradition dating from the time of plagues called "the Dance of Death." From the late middle ages through the renaissance the church-related phenomena known as the Dance of Death, the Dance of the Dead Ones, and the Danse Macabre all artistically depicted skeletons dancing and playing musical instruments.
Medieval art and early book illustrations portrayed active skeletons, but they were usually bare-boned. Posada's most obvious influence was Manuel Manilla, who preceded Posada at the publishing house of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo was also known for his calaveras.
Calavera of MaderoAmateur politician, Francisco Madero, whom Diaz had allowed a few token votes in the 1910 election, joined with the bandit, Pancho Villa (Doroteo Arango), and the peasant leader, Emiliano Zapata. They forced Diaz into Parisian exile the next year. Posada met the events with Calavera of Madero. Posada mistrusted even innocence. He wasn't wrong: Reality turned ever more surreal. General Victoriano Huerta seized control from the popular, but ineffectual and preeminently trustful Madero. And, despite a pledge to allow exile, Huerta had Madero taken out and shot. The press of Vanegas Arroyo did respond. It published The Ravenous Calavera, a rapacious image, half-spider, half-man, sometimes misattributed to Posada, but in fact executed by Manuel Manilla, a fellow printmaker at Vanegas Arroyo's press. Viva Posada!, here, sets the attribution straight. In doing so, it clarifies an art which collaborates with human lives and hopes.
|Dia de los Muertos & Posada
Calaveras de montón. Número 1. José Guadalupe Posada. Broadside, full sheet, zinc etching. (Mexico: Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, 1910).
One of the most popular forms of engravings produced by Posada is the multitude of uninhibited illustrations which he engraved year after year during the last days of October and first days of November when all in Mexico celebrate All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, or most commonly in Mexico, the Day of the Dead. Death has a unique persona in Mexico; in the pre-Hispanic cultures as in the later Christian culture, death was just a further step in life itself, a step which offered a security and serenity markedly contrasting the sufferings and worries which afflict mankind. Life and death complemented each other.
Manny Manilla, who did all of Arroyo's calaveras from his arrival in 1880 till Posada joined the team in 1888 died in 1893. These two artists established the leading place of the skeleton at the Day of the Dead Feast. Posada would stage shows with skeletons in working class barrios, where the skeletons would ride bicycles or dressed to impress in the latest styles. Posada supplemented macabre humor with lampoons against venal and tyrannical politicians.
|RESOURCES on the web
Stanford University Libraries has been developing a research collection on Posada and the Taller de Gráfica Popular. It has amassed close to 1,400 prints and several important monographs.
This web article by JOHN SANFORD was devoted to Stanford's early 2003 exibition celebrating Posada's 150th birthday, with his work of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (Workshop for Popular Graphic Arts), which took its creative inspiration largely from Posada. both Posada and the TGP shared a desire for social justice.
The lament of a cartoonish lawyer by Posada may best capture the spirit of this common cause: "If I had only been an honorable artisan, earning my living with the sweat of my brow!"
"Posada realized and often asserted in his art what revolutionary, Che Guevara, later stated as a maxim -- he who thinks he is safe, is dead. At times, Posada's awareness of such continuing struggles for life, expressed in a rough-hewn, utterly honest idiom, approach a classical dignity."
which originally appeared in Posada Printmaker to the Mexican People, The Art Institute of Chicago, Lakeside Press, Chicago, 1944. The book accompanied an exhibit of Posada's work which appeared at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1944 and was lent to them by The Direccion General De Educacion Estetica, Mexico.
Fernando Gamboa Collection at University of New Mexico
http://libweb.hawaii.edu/libdept/charlotcoll/posada/posada.html All his life Jean Charlot was caught in the
creative tension between what he referred to as the "Renaissance norm" and
new ways of seeing and appreciating the world. His own difficulty in
escaping the "Renaissance norm" is revealed in his essay "Who Discovered
America?" (Charlot 1972 :27-38).
All his life Jean Charlot was caught in the creative tension between what he referred to as the "Renaissance norm" and new ways of seeing and appreciating the world. His own difficulty in escaping the "Renaissance norm" is revealed in his essay "Who Discovered America?" (Charlot 1972 :27-38).
Devoted to the art history of the dance of death by Patrick Pollefeys Thorough site which could make a good book with many church photographs from throughout Europe.
"In the Middle-Ages, the dance of death was though as a warning for powerful men, a comfort to the poor, and ultimately an invitation to lead a responsible and Christian life. But its basic idea is even more simpler, more timeless: to recall the shortness of life. It makes men remember that they all will die, without exception"
7th Grade Art Visual Study Guide