Monday, June 4, 2012

Leopoldo Mendéz: Oficio de Grabar by Francisco Reyes Palma

An impressive retrospective of the master printmaker’s art
In his native Mexico, Lepoldo Méndez is highly regarded as one of the country’s great artists, with a stature just below that of the “big three” (Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros). Through a mixture of powerful social realism and biting political satire, his masterful woodcut prints embody the socialist ideals of post-Revolution Mexico, vividly capture the living conditions of the Mexican working class, and fiercely denounce corruption and war.

The text of this book is in Spanish. It gives an excellent overview of Méndez’s life and career, from his early work in the Futurist-inspired Stridentist movement to his participation in the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (LEAR) to his leadership of the revolutionary print collective Taller Gráfica Popular (TGP). Also discussed in detail are the influence of José Guadalupe Posada on his art, and Méndez’s work in the field of movie titles. The book also reproduces two articles that Méndez wrote, one from 1926 about mural painting and one from 1947 on Mexican art in general. It ends with a chronology of Méndez’s life which is so rich in detail it could serve as a biography in its own right.

This book contains 125 illustrations of Méndez’s work, spanning his entire career, all beautifully reproduced, in high contrast black and white or in full color when appropriate. The design and printing of the book is excellent with the exception of the horrible choice of text font (Bodoni bold extra condensed) which, though attractive, is difficult to read.

This book is the best I’ve ever seen on Méndez. For a comprehensive study of the man and his work, probably the only real competition is Deborah Caplow’s book Leopoldo Méndez: Revolutionary Art and the Mexican Print. That book is currently in print, and the text is in English, but the illustrations in the Reyes Palma book are far superior in quality. Even if you can’t read Spanish, if you love Méndez's prints you won't find a more beautiful collection of his work than this one.

Leopoldo Méndez, Fusilamiento (Firing Squad), for the film Un Día de Vida, 1950, linoleum cut print, 41.8 x 30.4 cm
Leopoldo Méndez, Portada para carpeta de grabados (Cover for a portfolio of prints), 1944, 30.4 x 41.8 cm

Leopoldo Méndez, Lo que puede venir, 1945, wood engraving, 17 x 30.4 cm

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