José Antonio Aguirre

My work is the continuity of a creative expression in Mexican art that has existed for 3,000 years. I always reflect on my culture, the essence of my iconography. It can be traced from my pre-Columbian roots to the religious symbols of the Spanish colony and the contradictory reality of modern Mexico. My colors reflect the richness of Mexican folk art as well as the landscape of the country. The content is inspired by the reality that I live as an individual who has a dual existence between the Mexican reality of the north and south.

Santa Calaca

Carlos Monsivais wrote that my generation is ". . . the first generation of gringos being born in Mexico . . ." This statement reflects on my childhood and adolescent experiences and the circumstance for my migration as a young adult to the United States. It traces the foundation of my creative process and awareness as an artist, which led to my arrival into the peculiarities of style and iconography that characterizes my artwork.

In the early 80s I started exploring the visual meaning of the image of "la Virgen" (the virgin). I questioned the significance and impact that it had, not just as a cultural icon but as a spiritual experience that reflected on a castrating catholic upbringing.

I started analyzing the image in formal terms and decided to experiment with it, to change it, pushing the visual and conceptual limits until there were no boundaries, but still recognizing its essence. My exploration of La Virgen has not stopped and continues to take new turns, reaching new findings and associations. In this artwork I am bringing together two concepts that are culturally essential in the multiple faces of the Mexican being: Death and Sanctity.

Ode to Siqueiros
, 1998
Monoserigraph and mixed media on paper, 168" x 192"

In 1997 I had a conversation with Sister Karen Boccalero in which I expressed my interest to produce a serigraph through the Self-Help Graphics Atelier program. The intention was to honor Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in the centennial of his birth. Sister Karen became very interested in this idea and her enthusiasm led to the "Siqueiros Monumental Serigraph Project," in which Self-Help Graphics invited various Mexican and Chicano artists to create an artwork that was inspired in Siqueiros creative process: experimentation with new media, formats and tools. Also, directed towards a monumental approach that reflected an awareness of the historical moment in the artist's existence. It was suggested that the artworks could include images that contemplated the accomplishments, research and lifetimes of al Maestro (the Master).

For the execution of this artwork, I decided to depart from traditional formats like the square and rectangle and explore my composition as a diamond shape. I based my approach to this process by appropriating some images that Siqueiros conceived and utilized in the creation of his murals and decided to apply some of his formal and conceptual teachings.

My visualization of this piece materialized as a monumental sketch for a mural, integrating a computer scanned photograph of Siqueiros himself that he used as the main element in the composition for the mosaic mural in the façade of the administration building at University of Mexico.

I applied the principles of multiple perspective combined with a sketch that Siqueiros did of his own eye. I appropriated a fragment (el obrero accidentado) of the mural that he painted in La Raza Hospital in Mexico City, changing in my composition the worker for a massacred Tzotzil Indian from Chiapas, intended as a reflection of my historical times, which reflects on turmoil that Mexico had been facing at the close of the XX Century.

Calaca papalote

I was born and raised in Mexico City. Since my birth I have been exposed to the celebration of Day of the Dead. My earliest memories transport me to the beautiful images of skeletons that were painted in the front store windows of my neighborhood panaderias (bakeries).

Their mural size impacted me profoundly and I started drawing them in my school notebooks. For my personal ritual of celebrating la muerte (the death), I did cutouts of skulls from shoeboxes. In the evening, I placed a lighted candle inside to illuminate the box and went with my friends through our barrio streets asking for a "calaverita" (little skull). People gave us some pocket change to buy sugar skulls with our name on them, or little toy skeletons made of ceramic and wire and of course pan de muerto (sweet bread of dead).

When I arrived in the United States I lost contact with this celebration for several years, until 1983, when Mexican artist Felipe Ehrenberg was invited by Objects Gallery in Chicago to do an installation commemorating the Sandinista Revolution as a celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The following year, under Felipe's guidance, some Latino artists and myself decided to start the first Day of the Dead celebration in this city. We organized a CALACA art exhibit at Casa Aztlan in Pilsen, inviting artists to create their own Altares de Muertos (offerings for the dead) in their studios, scheduling visits and tours to their spaces.

Since then I have created artworks and installations that combine traditional elements of this celebration with new perceptions that have been influenced by new technologies and visual concepts, mixed with various media.

This monoserigraph was created as part of a suite exhibited in 1996 at the first Day of the Dead celebration at the Glasgow Print Studio in Scotland.