A series of 5 Mexican artists you might not know but should

Abraham Ángel, 1905-1924

Abraham Ángel was a Mexican painter known for his vivid and evocative portraits. Ángel was considered one of the foremost painters of his generation in the bohemian world of 1920s Mexico City, and his work explored themes of modernity, identity, and urban life whilst reflecting and responding to the cultural shifts Mexico was undergoing after its violent revolution. Ángel faced a number of challenges in his life, which was cut tragically short at the age of 19, as a result, there are only around 25 known works of this artist, all of which are coveted by museums and collectors.

Son of a Welsh miner and explorer who abandoned the household, Ángel’s brother became head of the family and continued a strict Protestant regime after relocating to Mexico City. At age 16, against the wishes of his older brother, he studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes– as a result, Ángel was ousted from the family.

During his studies Ángel had begun a romance with his tutor Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, who after two years chose a young Julio Castellanos as his apprentice, abandoning and humiliating Ángel. He was later found dead in Lozano’s studio in circumstances that were never entirely clear, which has only contributed to the legend and mystery of this incredibly talented young painter.

Aurora Reyes Flores, 1908–1985

Aurora Reyes Flores (also Aurora Reyes) was known as the first female muralist in Mexico as well as an accomplished poet. As a child, Reyes’s family faced serious hardship and lived in poverty after 1913 as they were forced to leave their home following the start of the Mexican Revolution. In 1921 she began studying at the Escuela Preparatoria Nacional (where she met lifelong friend Frida Kahlo) but was expelled after a conflict with another student over her family’s political associations with Communism and Diego Rivera. She then went on to study at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes until 1924.

Throughout her life Flores was a staunch advocate and political activist for women’s rights, the working class and people who remained in poverty after the Revolution. Nicknamed  “Magnolia Iracunda” (Fiery Magnolia) her intricate and powerful large-scale works reflected these beliefs, creating 7 murals in her lifetime on a range of issues from the rights of rural school teachers, the history of Spanish Imperialism, how capitalism was fueling the violence of Mexican society, the rights of women in Mexico to vote and hold elected civil positions, extensions on maternity leave, and the creation of daycare centers for the children of school teachers.

Gilberto Aceves Navarro, 1931 – 2019

Gilberto Aceves Navarro was a prolific Mexican artist who worked across various mediums including painting, drawing,  sculpture, murals, theatre and poetry and held over two hundred individual exhibitions over his lifetime. His expressionistic and energetic paintings, almost always featuring a figurative element (albeit sometimes incredibly distorted) appear immediately psychological and existential in their atmosphere, speaking to the inescapable emotional element of the human experience. 

Painting into his 80s and having never retired, he referred to painting and drawing as not simply a fundamental to life, not simply a “pleasant vocation” but rather a necessity and a kind of mental exercise. His direct and vigorous approach to his work reflected his interest in representing things immediately, a belief which sent him out into the streets to draw from life, in search of that impulsive and immediate connection to the world around him. 

Manuel Felguerez, 1928-2020

Manuel Felguerez was a Mexican artist whose career spanned many shifting styles, approaches and mediums.  His first contact with an academic art institution ended abruptly, as he didn’t agree with the importance placed on Mexican Muralism which he saw as outdated and overly political. He did eventually win a scholarship to study at two Parisian academies in the 1950s, where he was exposed to other more open-ended approaches to painting, particularly cubism which would heavily influence his approach.

Upon his return to Mexico, he became a part of the ‘Generación de la Ruptura’, a national movement of Mexican artists who rallied against the established ideals of the Mexican School of Painting, which they considered formulaic, dogmatic and too nationalistic. This new generation of artists was unrestricted by style and focused on the more personal and psychological elements of painting, and were influenced by a number of new international movements in art such as abstract expressionism and surrealism.

Felguerez went on to have a distinguished career as both an artist and educator which included teaching at Cornell University and working as a researcher at Harvard University. As an artist he considered himself a “producer and seller of aesthetic pleasure” as he pursued an interdisciplinary approach, moving between incredible large-scale abstract painting, murals and sculpture. Always developing and evolving his style, he often included basic geometric shapes in varying combinations with his own interventions to form what he considered his own language that never referred to death because, to Felguerez, art was “life”.For those interested to experience the works of Manuel Felguerez, you can do so at the wonderful Museo de Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguerez in Zacatecas.

Sofía Bassi, 1913-1998

Sofía Bassi was a Mexican surrealist painter whose profile is now rising in the Mexican public consciousness.

Bassi’s stunning ethereal and dreamlike works feature mysterious figures (often females or the male motif of her son) placed in ghostly interactions within anthropomorphic terrains that appear as mythical landscapes or haunted psychological realms. 

Bassi had an extremely colourful personal life, which included five years in prison from 1968 after she was charged with the murder of her daughter’s husband (however, Bassi claimed it was an accidental shooting). Whilst in prison Bassi continued to paint, inscribing those works with ELC (en la cancel) next to her signature.

Released after 5 years, Bassi wrote a book about the episode in 1978, (there is also a documentary available on youtube titled Acapulco 68) and was an active participant in conferences, TV shows and radio where she engaged in conversations on artistic and academic topics. Bassi lived out her remaining years in Mexico City with her daughter, painting and writing up until her death in 1998.