Critics’ Picks

Carlos Mérida, Estampas de Popol Vuh (Plate X), 1943, lithograph, 16 1/2 x 12 1/2".

Carlos Mérida, Estampas de Popol Vuh (Plate X), 1943, lithograph, 16 1/2 x 12 1/2".

Santa Fe

Carlos Mérida

Hecho a Mano
830 Canyon Road
December 27, 2019–January 26, 2020

In “Estampas del Popol Vuh,” Carlos Mérida (1891–1985) presents ten earthy, psychedelic lithographs inspired by the Popol Vuh, an ancient K’iche’ Maya creation story, from present-day Guatemala, about a set of twins. Matte colors—forest green, banana yellow, tan, cobalt blue—swirl beneath thick black lines, accentuating forms that slip in and out of coherent representation: almost-fetal twins, snakes, rivers, legs, a lightning bolt, faces in profile, pipes, and birds. Mérida’s rich compositions might have been pulled out of a primordial, abstract soup. Although the artist produced them in 1943, the prints have an appropriately timeless quality. Excerpts of the creation story (in English translation) are paired with the works, serving as reminders of Mérida’s source material and the viewer’s distance from it.

Mérida was a Guatemalan print maker, muralist, and painter based in Mexico City who pioneered modernist ideas. After spending his formative years in Paris, with artists such as Picasso and Modigliani, he returned to Latin America and worked as Diego Rivera’s assistant on the murals of the Anfiteatro Simón Bolivar in Mexico City, which were completed in 1922. That same year, Mérida and Rivera, with other painters such as José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, founded the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors, which aimed to embody the essence of Mexican art.

Between 1908 and 1984, Mérida completed three bodies of work: figurative, surrealist, and geometric. A portfolio of prints that falls into the first category, “Trajes Regionales Mexicanos, 1945, is also on view here. These comparatively rigid compositions feature pairs of stylized figures that, like paper dolls, lack distinctive bodily features and are dressed in regional attire that was customary in Mérida’s lifetime. While “Estampas del Popol Vuh” tries to capture the birth of consciousness, a time before culture and convention, “Traces Regionales Mexicanos indexes the customs of established society. Both projects use anthropology as a route to develop more expansive visions.