Mexico City

Maria Izquierdo

Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo | Mexico City

Maria Izquierdo began her art school training in 1928 at the Academia de Pintura y Escultura in Mexico City, where Diego Rivera was appointed director the following year. Rivera was so taken with her work that she provoked the envy of several students, who attacked Izquierdo by drenching her with water. Shattered by the experience, she left the school, never to return. Soon after this incident, Rivera organized a one-person show for her at the then-unfinished Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Izquierdo’s four-year relationship with the artist Rufino Tamayo brought out her explosive genius, as she began to learn about the painterly value of objects. Izquierdo lived in a period of nationalistic reawakening, rooted in once-suppressed pre-Columbian art, crafts, and folklore. She lived and absorbed these phenomena, along with other feminist artists of the time such as Tina Modotti, Frida Kahlo, Maria Asunsolo, and Lola Alvarez Bravo. As she painted objects, she brought back her world, her intimate surroundings, so that they retained all their color and fragrance.

Izquierdo soon became a prominent figure on the international scene. Her work was included in the “Mexican Arts” exhibition of 1930 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and in the “Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art” show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940.

Her paintings revolve around four basic genres: the circus image, the landscape, the still life, and the portrait. Her portraits, generally of women, show Izquierdo at her most expressive. They are homages, both to woman in general and to the self. The circus images show all the thrill, emotion, and excitement of the spectacle. Izquierdo lets her love for the circus fly into fantasy. The mobility of elements in these works contrasts sharply with the portraits, which are generally static and serious. The landscapes are surreal and, almost always, nearly empty. They emanate a tremendous atmosphere of calm and solitude. The light in them is gloomy, despite its being one of intense yellow at times, stormy gray at others. The still lifes, particularly those depicting “pantries” full of precious objects, may be her best work. Izquierdo arranges artifacts—colorful jewels, assorted fruits, clay and glass toys, and other objects dear to her—so that they resemble altars. Several of these center on Viernes Dolores, the Day of Our Lady of Sorrows; they include Seville oranges, bright flags, and flower pots germinating with mastrano and chamomille. They are highly sophisticated and create in the spectator a strong sense of devotion.

Maria Izquierdo’s work stages major dramas through natural and simple means. Her personal approach to seeing and painting made her an important and influential artist in the Mexican art scene. This retrospective is the most comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work thus far. The 160 extremely diverse works on display here show evidence of a masterly painter.

Rubén Bautista