1st Quarter 2014

In the School of Carlos Mérida (1891-1984)

Carlos Mérida

"His painting is music for the eyes of subtle delicacy." - Paul Westheim

Carlos Mérida was born in 1891 in Guatemala City to a country in transition. The Liberal Revolution had brought modernization, the reign of the coffee bean, and dreams of a unified Central America. It was also attracting foreign investment, most notably the United Fruit Company, which would own 40% of the country's arable land by 1930. Mérida's family was of Maya and Zapotec heritage and he would grow up in the high western mountain valley of Quetzaltenango. This intimate link to the indigenous community would constitute the thematic foundation for his work.

In 1912, Mérida accompanied Carlos Valenti to Paris, where he studied art and mixed with Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and other leaders of the European avant-garde. Upon his return to Guatemala in 1914, Mérida held his first one-man exhibition, and with the help of Yela Günther, launched the first Pro-Indian art movement in pursuit of an expression that was authentically "American." Mérida wed in 1919, but the disapproval of his new wife's family would lead the couple to settle in Mexico. Inspired by the social revolution there, Mérida participated in Mexico's mural painting renaissance alongside Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo, producing what are considered to be many of his best works.

The 1920's would see a partnership with Rivera to paint the murals of the Simón Bolívar Amphitheater in Mexico City, Mérida's first commission as a solo artist for the Children's Library of the Ministry of Public Education, and another stint in Paris. There he would meet Paul Klee, Joan Miró and Wassily Kandinsky and study with Kees van Dongen and Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa. Soon after his first New York exhibition in 1926, Mérida left behind the figurative style that characterized his early works (1907-1926) and gravitated toward the biomorphic forms of Surrealism (late 1920's to early 1940's). Later in his life (1950-1984), Mérida fused distinctly American themes and pre-Colombian forms with the sensibilities of the European modernists and a geometricity influenced by modern architecture and Cubism. Intrigued by Constructivism, he experimented with indigenous barkwood paper (papel amate), silkscreens and lithographs, and created glass mosaic murals in Mexico, Guatemala, and the United States.

In his long career, Mérida produced such definitive works as the murals for the Benito Juárez housing development in Mexico City (1952) and the Municipal Building in Guatemala City (1956). Paul Westheim's characterization of Mérida's painting as "music for the eyes" is perhaps appropriate for the work of a man whose first love was music. A pioneer of the Latin American modernista movement, Mérida died in 1984.

Cuatro Personajes
Color pencil on vellum, 1970
6“x 8”

wool tapestry, 1977
54“x 88”

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