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Last updateFri, 07 Dec 2018 11am

MUSA shows paintings of seminal female Mexican artist

The late María Izquierdo, a painter of Frida Kahlo vintage but much less known, is the focus of a small but fascinating show at the University of Guadalajara’s graceful Museo de las Artes in midtown Guadalajara.

Born in a town in the northern fringes of Jalisco, married off at the age of 14 and with three children by the age of 17, Izquierdo somehow managed to become a serious painter after moving to Mexico City in 1920, where she was caught up in post-revolution artistic fervor along with stellar artists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siquerios and Rufino Tamayo. 

Izquierdo even shared a studio with Tamayo and is said to have become romantically linked with him. With Tamayo and other luminaries, she participated in the paradigm shift which saw European styles cast aside in favor of more authentic Mexican ones. 

Nevertheless, similarities between her subjects and style and those of contemporary and earlier European artists such as Picasso, Dali, Rousseau and Gaugin are noticeable, including the fact that she painted on cloth and paper, unlike the Mexican muralists who of course painted walls.

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The topic of murals brings up what was probably a sore subject for Izquierdo. After attracting praise from Rivera (1929), having her work shown in Paris and at a solo exposition in New York (1930, a first for a Mexican woman) and then holding the position of cultural ambassador to several South American countries (1944), her career nosedived. She suffered a stroke in the mid-1940s and, in what can perhaps be described as an early #MeToo moment, her former mentors Rivera, Orozco and Siquerios turned on her and proclaimed she lacked the talent and experience to do a mural for which she was seeking a commission.

But similar to Kahlo, Izquierdo showed a feminine streak of independence. For one thing, she stuck to apolitical subjects, unlike her mentors, whose work dripped politics. Instead of the republic’s heroes and villains, Izquierdo’s paintings, as seen in this show of 26 oils and watercolors assembled by the prodigious collector Andrés Blaisten, consist of portraits, self-portraits, still lifes, landscapes and circus and altar themes – subjects often identified as within the domestic sphere where women tend to find themselves.

Another precept that Izquierdo adhered to was a vision of art as spiritual communication. Accordingly, even when she does portraits, landscapes or circus images, her images don’t seem real. The lighting is flat. The colors, while sometimes bright, are often somber and curiously devoid of sparkle. And her images consist of strange, haunting juxtapositions, including a white horse –  an icon of herself? – that pops up frequently, for example, in a self-portrait, in the still life used as publicity for the show and, most strangely, in a landscape painted after her rejection by “Los Tres Grandes” Mexican muralists, where the animal stands under a noose hung over the branch of a huge, dead tree.

“María Izquierdo – En la Colección de Andrés Blaisten” shows until May 6 at the University of Guadalajara Museo de las Artes (MUSA), Juárez 975, corner of Enrique Diaz de Leon, Guadalajara. Tel. (33) 3134-1664. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays. No charge to enter.

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