A look at iconic printmaker José Guadalupe Posada and Albuquerque Museum’s current exhibition of his work.
December 19, 2020–May 23, 2021
Albuquerque Museum of Art, Albuquerque
José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), the Mexican printmaker, is one of the most influential printmakers of the Americas, at least in popular culture. He is not so famous outside of Mexico, but he is a legend to those who know of him. If you have seen a skeleton on a beer bottle or a music poster, like those of the Grateful Dead, they are influenced by Posada’s calaveras (satiric skeletons). He was not the first artist to use skeletons in art—both the Indigenous cultures of Mexico and medieval European artists did so—but his jaunty, endearing calaveras riding bicycles, gleefully waving swords, or tilting lances at tumbling enemies as Don Quixote, tend to stick in the mind, as do his dynamic compositions and strong political points of view. His political bent was not exactly revolutionary; while sympathetic to suffering, he satirized all modern trends in Mexico City, from electricity to women wearing short hairstyles.
The madly prolific Posada, who is estimated to have made some 20,000 prints, worked in nearly every genre of illustration: religious imagery, children’s board games, natural disasters, political cartoons, and the news of the day. He documented the beginnings of the internecine Mexican Revolution in 1910, though he did not live to see its end. He died three years later and was buried in a mass grave.
The current exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum presents some of his work in its original sensational “red press” broadsides, now faded and tinted in green, ochre, or brown, which will thrill the heart of any history buff. Posada worked in lead engravings, cut by hand, and in acid etchings, the original metal blocks are also on display.
A fascinating section of this exhibition is in the back, showcasing works by artists from the 1930s to the present day who have been directly influenced by Posada’s prints, and who expanded on his motifs and his example to produce powerful works of their own: Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, the collective Taller de Gráfica Popular, the 1960s Chicano Art Movement, Psychedelic artists Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley who produced posters for the Grateful Dead, Ester Hernandez, and many others. There are even prints of Posada the man himself. It is a testament to the influence that one artist, living far from Paris or Vienna, can have on other artists—the most flattering testimony an artist can receive.