Published On: Thu, Jul 18th, 2019

Mexico’s Graphic Artistry

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The dominance of Hollywood imagery in pop culture often obscured Mexico’s rich graphic images of the early 1900s.  The gradual rediscovery of these populist images reveal a range and sophistication of graphics. 

Much of the Mexican graphic material being unearthed is the by-product of Spanish and French printing processes around since the 16th century to create devotional images for the Church.  Printed art began with zest with the creator of the Catrina image, Jose Guadalupe Posada, now regarded as the father of Mexican print art.

By the early 1900s, the widespread distribution of pulp magazines, newspapers, product packaging and posters of bull fights to wrestling provided imagery to a broader public forum than ever before.  Once called low-brow art these images are sought by designers and collectors of print-based graphic art.

The tourist industry provided another effusive source of printed matter.  Brochures offered the glories of Mexico illustrating its natural beauty, architecture, landmarks and local charm. 

While foreign artists focused on stereotypes like a sleeping Mexican man or senoritas dressed in Spanish garb, Mexican artists preferred an authentic, if often exaggerated Mexico. Nationalist pride featured Mexico as a land of abundance:  freedom, fruit, and femininity.

The most distinctive mages to emerge from graphics are 1930s and 40s calendars.  Here Mexican life, mythology, customs, dress and folklore are featured.  The calendars, given for free by businesses, were often a home’s primary piece of art becoming a central piece of interior design alongside family photos and religious icons.  Calendars models included Guadalupe, historical figures and movies stars.  (Where else but a Mexican calendar could you view Oz’s Dorothy as a folklore dancer or Chinese-American actress, Anna May Wong, as an indigenous princess?)  Calendar art built a past and present of Mexico understood by all levels of society.

Graphic design on posters and packaging of the early 1900s through to today feature common elements including:

  • Animals – Anthropomorphized animals such as donkeys, roosters, and jaguars are very common in marketing as branding elements adding personality and playfulness to a design appealing to both adults and children.
  • Hand drawn elements – Having imperfections is humanizing and can be very refreshing in an industry fixated on perfection.
  • Bold colors – Clashing colors used in excess create wonderfully cheerful designs.
  • Flag Colors – The colors of the Mexican flag are showcase patriotism with green signifying hope and prosperity, white represents peace and harmony and the red symbolizes the blood of Mexican heroes.
  • Cacti – Found on everything from stationery to textiles, injecting the color and fun of the native flora.
  • Skulls – Very different from the Western symbolism of skulls being macabre, skulls are lively and celebratory intended to celebrate life.
  • The Devil – Depicted as comical and child-like appropriate for all ages, unlike the scary image featured in the North.
  • Fine Art – Fine artists such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and José Guadalupe Posada are among many artists designers inspire to this day.

Sadly, vast amounts of Mexican images have been lost to time and indifference though there are riches to be discovered.  Hopefully the popularity of these visuals continue and new images emerge as graphic art again is enjoyed in the cultural fabric of Mexico.

JOSEPH TOONE JUNE 2016

Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series.  All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays.  Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA.  Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkingTours.com, and JosephTooneTours.com.



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