María Izquierdo

El teléfono, 1931

Oleo / tela
40.5 x 40.5 cm

To describe this glowing and unusual composition as a "still life" opens up interesting questions about the ways this traditional genre was re-invented in the early decades of the 20th century. Maria Izquierdo follows the convention of placing familiar objects on a table isolated against a neutral background, but there the similarity with conventions originating with Dutch 17th century painters and the 18th century French artist Chardin ends. Both her manner of painting and choice of objects reveal a highly original approach which puzzled her critics at the time but point to her absorption of the complex strands of avant-garde art within a Mexican context. Her subject is the modern telephone, its listening and speaking trumpets standing out in metallic greys against earthy browns, reds and ochres. One of the arms of a sharply outlined compass perfectly follows the horizontal line of the table edge. This precision contrasts with the deliberate denial of perspective in the treatment of the tabletop itself. Rather than using rules of perspective, which would have the edges of the table receding, they diverge outwards, away from the spectator. This was a device that was sometimes used by the cubist painters to disturb the conventions of pictorial illusionism, or equally it could be a feature of naïve painters uncertain of academic rules. Izquierdo was sensitive to the rejection of academic painting that turned young artists’ attention to more spontaneous and apparently untutored modes of expression; she was also fully aware of the explosion of avant-garde styles in Europe. A 1929 article by Gustavo Cruz Hernán defined the two main current artistic trends as pure art and art with social content. While "pure art" signified probably a range of avant-garde styles, it is possible that Izquierdo was aware of Purism, founded in 1920 by Ozenfant and Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), which, rather than adopting abstraction, advocated a "machine aesthetic" focused on objects with pure geometric shapes. While El teléfono is not a purist painting, its emphasis on strong, almost architectural shapes and the echoes of the circular forms produce a constructive vitality that Izquierdo, typically, underlines with her inclusion of the pair of compasses. Close at this stage of her career to Rufino Tamayo, this work shares with Tamayo an emphasis on the direct application of paint and deep rich colours with the frequent use of black in the heavy shading.

Dawn Ades, Arte Moderno de México. Colección Andrés Blaisten, Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005.

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