San Francisco

Jose Posada

Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento

A selected group of 100 wood engravings by a printmaker who, for the better part of his life, was a salaried employee of a Mexican publisher and conducted a sort of picture journalism of his own for the illiterate peons of his time. It is estimated that he produced more than 20,000 engravings, with a single design running in some cases to as many as 5 million prints.

In using his work to satirize contemporary Mexican life, Posada wielded a forceful and vitriolic weapon. As a prophet of revolution he paralleled Spain’s Goya and France’s Daumier. The limitations of the medium plus the vehement nature of his audience, one inordinately responsive to visual stimulation, led Posada (1852–1896) to develop a style and a system of symbols that expressed his times with a penetrating clarity.

Recognizing that death was a potential participant in every gathering, he made sardonic use of the calavera in drawings about the living in terms of the dead, depicting political scandals, crimes, fires and accidents. He played to its utmost the theme of man in gambol or gamble with death, and the Death’s Head became his most popular figure. Yet despite the bloodshed, turmoil and horror throughout his work, he sometimes made strangely sensitive observations about children and their games, love letters and the people who read them, and even designed covers for sentimental songs.

The Sacramento selection gives a good cross section of his life’s work.

Elizabeth M. Polley