Manuel González Serrano

Lo que me encontré en la playa (Esqueleto), ca. 1943-44

Oleo / tela
78.7 x 99 cm

One sunny day, on a deserted beach with eroded cliffs, an artist comes upon part of a large white skeleton, perhaps that of a whale. The skull has disappeared or been buried by the sand and only the rib cage remains. The bones are cracked and broken, covered with delicate bright green vines that provide the only sign of life. A few shells appear here and there, and a sliver of the calm ocean can be seen in the distance. In the quiet heat, the artist makes a sketch to consult later, in the studio. Or, at least, that is what the title of this marine landscape by Manuel González Serrano suggests. González Serrano did not address the sea frequently in his images, though we find enough sailboats, coral and seashells, as well as a nude sunbather—in a picture known as The Fisherman [El pescador] (c. 1944, private collection)—to imagine that he, like many artists of his generation, found time to escape Mexico City for the unspoiled beaches of Guerrero, Veracruz, or his native Jalisco. An untitled (and unpublished) photograph by Lola Alvarez Bravo (1949; private collection) depicts a still life with dolphin’s skeleton, abalone shells and vines, arranged by the photographer on a beach in Acapulco. In both images, the elegant sun-bleached bones are a metaphor for the transience of life, for the power of the elements, and for the passage of time. The bright colors of González Serrano’s painting, however, ameliorate the melancholy nature of his discovery.

Vide James Oles, Arte moderno de México. Colección Andrés Blaisten, Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005.

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