Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chicanonautica: Weird Mexican Art: The Dead and Kid Stuff

Still too warm, but El Niño and the remnants of Hurricane Patricia are kicking enough moisture over Arizona to cause some impressive thunderstorms that have soaked the desert that gets streamy as the sun blazes. Not exactly what Americano cultural expects for fall, but we're hurtling toward the end of October. The big weekend is coming: Halloween/Días de los Muertos/Dead Daze as I called it in my controversial novel Smoking Mirror Blues (to be republished as Tezcatlipoca Blues in the near future).

Luckily, thanks to my wife, who works at the bookstore of the Heard Museum, I got ahold of a couple of fantastic art books that are just the thing for getting the visual cortex in that Dead Daze mood.

And they're both bilingual, too.

First, there's Posada & Manilla: Illustrations Of Mexican Fairy Tales/Artistas Del Cuento Mexicana By Mercurio López Casillas that takes us into the world of cheap “penny press” books – well, actually pamphlets – that children enjoyed before comic books. Manuel Manilla illustrated them before José Guadalupe Posada. Manilla wasn't as much of a stylist or master of the woodcut as Posada, but he definitely laid the groundwork for this style that is both modern and primitve, and suggests an alternative, fantastic Mexican universe where European fairy tales blend with Mexican folklore and history.

It comes with a spectacular two-sided dust jacket and a facsimile of one of these books, El Rey y Sus Tres Hijos.

Frightening, disturbing -- but that was children's entertainment before Walt Disney.

Mercurio López Casillas is back with help from Gregory Dechant and other scholars of Mexican art in Images of Death in Mexican Prints/La Muerte: Espejo Que No Te Engaña. This is an oversized, lavishly illustrated look at the calavera/calaca Mexican living skeleton and other morbid symbols from preColumbian times, through the Spanish invasion, to popular broadsheets where they were often accompanied by satirical poems  (presented in their original format), to modern illustration. It's an unholy feast for the eye, better than an all-night horror movie marathon. The ancient, popular, and avant garde meld, as is the Mexican way.

Both these books are great inspiration for artists young and old, and sources of important cultural history.

Ernest Hogan says “My roots embrace the planet and reach out of the universe – the Intergalactic Barrio.”in his “Chicanonautica Manifesto” in Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies, Volume 40, Number Two, Fall 2015.

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