María Izquierdo

Alegoría del trabajo, 1936

Acuarela y temple/papel
21 x 27.5 cm

Izquierdo's Alegoría del trabajo is one of the strongest examples of the esoteric phase of her work, inspired by the 1936 visit of the French surrealist Antonin Artaud to Mexico. Artaud believed that Mexico's landscape was a powerful, even threatening zone that resonated with fire, and his interest in prehispanic rites of ritual sacrifice and astrology informed his rather romanticised desire to learn from contemporary indigenous groups. Artaud likely met Izquierdo shortly after his arrival in Mexico, and the two appear to have developed a strong friendship. Luis Cardoza y Aragón later recalled that "La unica época que lo vi [Artaud] calmado fue cuando vivía en casa de María Izquierdo. Parecía feliz, como en familia, tranquilo". While Izquierdo's small watercolours and gouaches had already evoked a mysterious rural realm of nudes among ruins from the early 1930s on, it was with paintings such as Alegoría del trabajo, that Izquierdo achieved an unusual mysticism. Influenced by Artaud’s thoughts on prehispanic culture, her paintings became distinguished by a new emphasis on violent interactions between nude women, cosmic bodies and orange-gold rays of fire. In Alegoría del trabajo, a desperate nude crouches and covers her face in her hands in a wide landscape of red and gold hills. Towering over the woman is a god-like figure: a menacing pair of male legs that emerges from the cloudy skies and is connected to a golden sphere covered with symbols of the moon and stars. The sphere shoots rays of fire, which extend over the landscape. The title and imagery of the painting are mysterious. What kind of 'work' is being untaken here? The cowering woman and the highly sexual, threatening masculine presence may indicate that this is an allegorical commentary on the exploitation of women.

Terri Geis, Arte Moderno de México. Colección Andrés Blaisten, Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005.

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