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Jose Luis Cuevas. Photo: Marco Ugarte / AP

José Luis Cuevas (1934–2017)

Mexican artist José Luis Cuevas, best known for disrupting the national art scene, which was dominated by mural painters, died on Monday, July 3, at the age of eighty-three, Alexandra Alper of Reuters reports. “[Cuevas] will always be remembered as a synonym of liberty, creation, and universality,” Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto said on Twitter.

Cuevas was born in Mexico City on February 26, 1934 and studied at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado. He organized his first exhibit at the age of fourteen, but had to drop out of the art school when he came down with rheumatic fever, which kept him bedridden for two years. Despite never finishing his studies, he enjoyed a successful career as a painter, sculptor, writer, draftsman, and engraver.

In 1959, he won the first prize for drawing at the São Paulo Bienal and would later exhibit his drawings inspired by the works of Francisco de Goya and Pablo Picasso—as well as his depictions of dark, deformed, and animal-like figures—in exhibitions across the globe.

Known as a leader of a group of artists called La Ruptura, or The Breakaway, Cuevas criticized the popular twentieth-century muralists such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco for having close ties with the government and depicting scenes of Mexican life that weren’t authentic, or from behind a “cactus curtain,” as he called it.

At times Cuevas’s works sparked controversy. He once displayed his semen in an exhibition and had an electrocardiogram taken while he was having sex for a show titled “Signs of Life.” For the same exhibition, the artist created a brochure in which he offered to impregnate women who desired to have his children, but the Mexican government forced him to desist or face prostitution charges.

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