Sueños precolombinos

This following series of acrylic paintings began in response to an experience I had teaching art to 5th and 6th graders at Bert Corona Charter School in 2002. As I introduced classroom art projects, I showed slides of Western artists to exemplify the elements of art - Degas to introduce life drawing, or Mondrian to introduce primary colors, etc. But most of the students were children of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and I was confronted with the fact that I knew very little about the artistic traditions of those places.

Although the school was forced to cut it's arts program, my fascination with pre-columbian arts continued, and resulted in the following acrylic series...

 


 

Sueno Tlatilco

Un sueño tlatilco (2007)
Acrylic 12 x 24 in.

About three thousand years ago, In the area surrounding what is now Mexico City, the Tlatilco culture produced outstanding figurines whose expressiveness is at once emotional and philosophical. Little is known about the people who produced such figures, although they surely had a ritual significance for their creators.

All three figures represented in this first painting, "Un Sueño Tlatilco", are Tlatilco artifacts. The models I used for the plump dancer and the dual faced woman are dated between 1300-800 B.C.E.1 The half-skeleton baby is older, and can be found at the Museo Regional de Antropologia e Historia in Villahermosa, Tabasco.

I struggled to create a suitable setting for these figures. I had never been to Mexico City, and could only imagine what the area looked like when these figures were created. Looking for inspiration, I came across a suitable background in an image from the Diego Rivera mural at the Palace of Cortez in Cuernavaca. So I just jacked it.

 


 

Sueno Olmec

Un sueño olmeca (2007)
Acrylic 12 x 24 in.

This second painting, "Un Sueño Olmeca" is dominated by representations of Olmec artifacts. The two childlike figures and the colossal head are all Olmec, variously dated between 1500 and 200 B.C.E. Although the jaguar figurine is from the same era, it is actually identified as Tlatilco 2. In any case, it seems to belong with these Olmec toddler-gods, especially since the finger sucker is claimed to be "one of three children of a human mother and a sacred jaguar father."3

Finding a suitable environment for these figures was easier. Rubber was an important resource for the Olmecs, who are also notable for their invention of the rubber ball and of the ritual sport inherited by the Aztecs, so I placed these figures among the rubber plants.

 


 

Sueno Tot

Un sueño totonaco (2007)
Acrylic 12 x 24 in.

This third painting in the series, "Sueno Totonaco", juxtaposes two figures from the region now known as Veracruz that date from a much later era (C.E. 100-900), and are examples of "Classic Veracruz" culture. Actually, it is not certain whether ethnic Totonacs were in fact producers of high culture in Classic times, since Huastexs and Otomis appear to have also occupied some of the territory now known as Veracruz.4

In this image, Mictlantecuhtli, the Lord of the Dead, who is often associated with spiders and owls5, patiently watches over a smiling man, who perhaps represents the god of alcholol.6

Although Veracruz is dominated by tropical forests, I painted this piece while staying in the California dessert, and so imagined these figures confronting one another in a desert landscape. Also, I added an armadillo.

 


1. Bradley Smith, Mexico: A History in Art (Doubleday, 1968).

2. Ibid., p. 289

3. Douglas Newton, Masterpieces of Primitive Art (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), p. 165.

4. Mary Ellen Miller, The Art of Mezoamerica (Thames & Hudson, 2001), p.92.

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mictlantecuhtli#cite_note-12

6. Masterpieces of Primitive Art, p. 135.