Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Los Calaveras de Posada

José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) was a Mexican lithographer and engraver who produced some 20,000 illustrations during his life. He mostly worked out of a print shop in Mexico City where he engraved illustrations for newspapers but the majority of his work was published in the the broadsides of the pennypress, a favourite among the poorer people.

It is his satirical calaveras (colloquial for skeletons) that have achieved lasting fame. They have been adopted as a motif by (or indeed, arose from) the Mexican celebration - Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Just by the by, this festival derives from the ancient practises of the mesoamerican civilizations combined with the catholic All Saints Day and has no association with the more macabre Halloween. While the Posada images recall the 15th century european figures from Holbein in the Danse Macabre, I could find no evidence to suggest that this was a direct influence on Posada. The images here and the background to Día de los Muertos are certainly evidence for the calaveras being a generally 'happy' form of illustration.

Diego Rivera was a big fan of Posada and together with other art students, they would go to the print shop to collect the shaving from the Posada's engraving blocks. Rivera would immortalize Posada in the mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda).

It was the nature of the times in Mexico that critical publications were suppressed, which meant that the biting satire of illustrations such as those of Posada became all the more poignant. The political and social threads in the illustrations often require some local background however. Despite the important place Posada holds in the pantheon of Mexican (print) art, he was largely unknown and very poor at the time of his death - at the beginning of the Mexican revolution.

"Equilibrium and movement are the supreme qualities of Mexican
classic-that is, pre-Cortesian-art" says Diego Rivera when speaking of Posada.
"Another trait of Mexican classical art is its love of character."


cruelanimal said...

These are terrific -- very anti-Halloween. The skeletons aren't frightening but are bustling with joy, immersed in everyday activites, and captured in the throes of festival celebration.

Thanks for the extensive bibliography on the artist, too.

Your blog reveals new and wonderous treasures each time I visit.

Anonymous said...

The great New Yorker journalist Joseph Mitchell named Posada as one of his foremost influences, and devoted nearly a quarter of the Author's Note to Up in the Old Hotel to writing about Posada. "My respect for him grows all the time," he concluded.

José Carlos Guerra Aguilera said...

To fully undestand the meaning of the death for the Mexican People, I'd suggest to read the marvelous book of one of the world's greatest poets Octavio Paz: "El laberinto de la soledad" or The Labyrinth of Solitude:

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