Rodolfo Morales - Latin America New York Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Private Collection, California
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    The work of Rodolfo Morales, embodied by this vibrant and opulent painting, has left a resounding legacy for future Mexican artists: a unique vision of an intimate quotidian reality, mingled with fantastical elements of Surrealism. Ultimately the message conveyed is one of a specific reality visible to only the artist, which he formulated from his experiences in Mexico City, Oaxaca and his home town of Ocatlán. Although his work exudes a certain naïvete, on a deeper level it reflects a profound understanding of art history coupled with masterful technique.

    To understand Rodolfo Morales’s work, it is essential to contextualize his painting within the Mexican art world from the 1950s through the 1970s. During this time, there was a certain feeling of disillusionment within the art establishment of Mexico, expressed by a rejection of the state supported vision of mexicanidad in the visual arts, such as paintings glorifying the lives of the common people and other staples of Mexican aesthetics that were now beginning to be viewed with skepticism and disregard. Artists now wanted to be accepted and viewed at an international level and to surpass the legacy of “Los tres grandes” (Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco), whose murals had dominated the idea of Mexican art for decades. Concurrently, the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the United States portended the end of Europe, and particularly Paris, as being seen as the center of the art world. Thus, this tension in addition to a number of outside influences created a movement within Mexico in which a myriad of artistic approaches flourished and came to be known as La ruptura (The Rupture). La ruptura proved to be incredibly experimental and was made up of a myriad of styles and ideologies. The only clear principle that unified all Mexican artists within this group was a desire to be avant-garde by breaking away from the “typical Mexican art,” which was becoming increasingly considered passé.

    Within this context, Rodolfo Morales was already building a remarkable body of work that was considered anything but the norm. He had studied at the famous Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City, where he taught drawing classes for thirty two years to an average of three hundred students at a time. It was not until a mature age that he staged his first one-person exhibition at the Palacio Provincial in Málaga, Spain and two years later at the Casa de las Campanas in Cuernavaca. This attention to Morales’s art was in many ways thanks to Rufino Tamayo who discovered the artist and encouraged him to exhibit. Tamayo championed Morales’s work and announced in the catalogues of these first exhibitions that Morales brought a breath of fresh air to Mexican painting. The essence of his work lies in the fact that his subject matter always dealt with his own realities and the quotidian aspects of his life in Oaxaca, Mexico City and Ocotlán in particular. He began dedicating himself full time to painting in 1950, and his personal style was already evinced in these early works, echoing domestic scenes of his native town of Ocotlán. The women of Ocatlán, in particular, would become a constant and enduring element throughout his oeuvre.

    To further understand the worlds that Morales created in his baroque canvases, such as the present lot, it is essential to visualize his hometown of Ocatlán, located at the crossroads of several highways, which only comes alive during an important market day held every Friday. Other than this day, the town could be considered rather lifeless. Morales remembered that during his childhood the liveliest place in Ocatlán was the town jail, where boisterous prisoners would craft handmade baskets. Morales himself lived in a large 17th century house in the center of town, which he often depicted in his paintings. One of the artist’s major influences was Marc Chagall who, like Morales, relied on his childhood memories of his village of Vitebsk for much of his inspiration. In the present work, the protagonist, a female figure, is rendered in many ways and in several different vignettes. The majority of the figures are looking sideways, drawn in profile in a contemplative manner. The painting also features several buildings, all of which are located around a square and one of which is likely his childhood home. Also present are mysterious shadows emerging from doorways in two of the compositional windows, inserted - without a doubt - due to an affinity he shared with Giorgio de Chirico who was known for his use of threatening shadows emerging from classical structures. The conflation of scenes painted in isolated windows offers the viewer an abnormal perspective and an undeniable feeling of unanticipated, bizarre events, all evincing the artist’s surrealist discourse.

    This dazzling painting evokes a profound sense of nostalgia that emerges from an extensive introspection through which Morales’s trained sight imparts on the viewer the notion of remembering early moments in one’s personal life. As stated by Carlos Monsivais in his seminal book on the artist, Morales “redefines, childhood myths, folk legends and popular stories so that they might have relevance for an audience in the late 20th century". (Monsivais, Rodolfo Morales, 1992, p. 190)



oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 60 3/4 in. (120 x 154.3 cm)
Signed "RODOLFO MORALES" lower right.

$150,000 - 200,000 

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York 26 May 2015 4pm