Looking for Francisco Toledo In Oaxaca, Mexico
” Oaxacan art tends to depict one theme: the appearance in our history of another time and place. A space within another space. A time within another time.”" Alberto Blanco
“I was in Oaxaca once”, said a friend. “When I was in Junior High, I went with my friend to visit her father. He is an artist in Oaxaca. You should see his work. His name is Francisco Toledo. “
When I arrived in Oaxaca at this beautiful hacienda hotel La Casona De Tita http://www.lacasonadetita.com.mx ) I asked about him. ‘ He is the most famous artist in Oaxaca and maybe the most famous living artist in Mexico today.” (breakfast area)
Toledo’s art is imbued with his Mexican heritage of history and mythology. It is Pre -Colombian meets his favorite artists -Goya,Klee Miro Tapies, Tamayo plus Borges and Kafka. He has exhibited in many galleries in Mexico, Europe, South and North America and Asia. He is represented in public and private collections worldwide. Toledo’s work is based in part on the largely misunderstood shamanistic notion of the nagual, the belief that each human’s fate is intertwined with that of an Aztec spirit in animal form.” (Toledo)
The next day I met our local guide Pati Reyes. She is a dancer who loves art and artists. “They are all my friends here. I will introduce you to Francisco Toledo if he is in town,” she said in Spanish.
We go to IAGO (Institute of Graphic Arts in Oaxaca). It has a wonderful art library (66,000 books) and the largest collection of prints (over 7,000 works) in Latin America. The library is free thanks to Toledo who has donated it to the city. Antique presses are used as tables to display books at IAGO. Art openings there can be crazy; mezcal is poured by the gallon from red plastic gas cans.
Quetzalli, the gallery that represents Toledo, is in Casa Oaxaca and because of him other artists come. Writers and artists visit from all over Latin America, including Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez.
The vigor of Oaxaca’s art scene is visible in the galleries that occupy its downtown corners and the colors that pop off the canvas as local arts . Its art is integral to the character of the city, and an outcome of its amazing backdrop. One night we saw an exhibit called Takeda vs Herrera at the Museum of Oaxacan Painters..It was filled with people all talking about the art. The excitement , stimulation and inspiration is felt everywhere.
The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO) is perhaps the best example of Oaxaca’s artistic tradition and its ongoing contributions to the art world. Its position near the Santa Domingo Plaza and just a few blocks from the zócolo makes MACO a routine stop for both casual tourists and serious art aficionados. Permanent exhibitions are dedicated to Oaxaca natives Francisco Toledo, Rodolfo Morales, Rufino Tamayo, Rodolfo Nieto and Francisco Gutierrez. (exhibit)
I meet Venancio Velasco. He is the twenty year old artist who is the recipient of the Cultural Xplorers Scholarship to continue his studies in art. He works mostly in woodblock printmaking. The scholarship was started by Cultural Xplorers founder Jim Kane who is always looking for ways to make a positive impact on the countries he visits.
When you speak to Venancio, you understand that he has the soul of an artist . Art is about an emotional connection. Either you have one or you don’t. I connected immediately with his work. This is why I think he has the ability to go very far in the art world. It is exciting to see him at the beginning of his journey . I look forward to seeing his work evolve and supporting his career.
Composition, interpretation and values are key to defining an artist. Venancio’s art is straightforward and abstract, blending emotion with the animals and people of his culture. Everything tells a story and Venancio is happy to share the stories with you.
Shinzaburo Takeda is a master printmaker and artist who brought the first Japanese woodblock tools to Oaxaca. He is a professor and chair of the school of art at Benito Juarez University. He is Venancio’s teacher and one of the judges of the scholarship. He believes in Venancio as an artist of great promise and enjoys nurturing his individual vision. (Venancio and Maestro Takeda)
Maestro Takeda feels that Oaxacan artists have a special gift for printmaking. He jokes that there is so much printmaking going on in Oaxaca that it will sink like Venice under the weight of the printing presses.Though he grew up in Japan, his art is infused with Mexican culture. He is devoted to nurturing the artists of Mexico’s poorest families. The Takeda Biennial is an all-Mexico print competition with many extraordinary entries all honoring Shinzaburo Takeda.
I learn about ASARO. It stands for Assembly of Artist Revolutionaries in Oaxaca. ASARO is a printmaking artists collective and was founded in 2006, during a time of barricades, tear gas, and mass arrests. The ASARO group took great risks to paste topical protest prints on the walls in those days.
There are dozens of art venues ranging from libraries, galleries, coffee houses, restaurants, and mescal bars. My room in the hacienda has some extraordinary pieces hanging on the walls. All the artwork at the hotel is for sale. Exhibitions hang for as little as a week, so there might be several openings a night. Oaxaca’s two daily newspapers send reviewers to cover art openings even at small cooperative galleries. I buy two of Venancio’s prints and the most amazing photograph by local artist Pablo Santaella.
Though I don’t meet Francisco Toledo on this trip, his influence is all over the city He is widely known for not only contributing to the art world in Oaxaca and young artists, but he is an unfailing advocate of Oaxaca’s best interests and has the ear of whoever is in power at the time, often affecting big municipal decisions with his passionate pleas to preserve the environment and integrity of Oaxaca and her history. He brought art to the Oaxacan people. (self portrait by Toledo)
One of the things I have learned from traveling is that good art happens everywhere. There are artists working in every field in every medium in every country. I can’t wait to return to Oaxaca and see what they are creating next.