It is impossible to adjudicate a specific place to Manuel Rodríguez Lozano in Mexican painting. His pictorial quality, intelligence, rigorous education, fine drawing, and not-so-occasional artistic falls are undeniable. It is also evident how he was denied the recognition he was due during his lifetime. A moral dissident and a disciple of Picasso (in spite of himself), he was an artist with a turbulent life for his time. In his important works, such as the 1924 portrait of writer Andrés Henestrosa, some of the characteristics of his aesthetics are displayed: confrontation of the main figure and the urban landscape, closeness with naif painting, integration of the subject with an atmosphere where the city is simultaneously undiscovered beauty and conglomeration. Of Rodríguez Lozano's portraits completed in the 1920s, Henestrosa's is one of the best because the subject's protagonism confers with that of the landscape.
Rodríguez Lozano's eroticism--his liking of Mexican types that aren't beautiful from the perspective of Greco-Roman canons, but nonetheless desirable from the perspective of unjustified sensuality--is expressed in his paintings dominated by an obsession with statues with Christian references, and populated by naked female and male couples, or two women fighting over a man. An excellent portrait artist, Rodríguez Lozano also chose young models with Indian or mestizo appearance, with features that are strong and "primitive", with the word in quotations to strip it from its racist aggressiveness. He prolongs his desire when painting, extends his plastic ideal while he falls in love. The return to "regional taste"--his fascination with native types, provided by his cultural "enfrenchment"--complements his erotic will.
Not that he needs it, either. Rodríguez Lozano thrives in the love of the surface, the evident, that which cannot be concealed, which can never be confused with love for the superficial. What is there is what you see, but what you can see is also what has never before been seen, from his perspective. He goes from metaphysical painting to the celebration of the physical, convinced--although not in such terms--that in a repressed, sexophobic society, the centre of mystery is nudity. If that which is apparent is so dressed, so attired, whether with the impulse of lordship over painting to please the bourgeoise, or with the epic intent of painting to offer a viewpoint of reality, that which is apparent is unreal and false, and it is necessary to return to naked appearances, unhidden and devoid of meaning, because behind the up-front, uncovered, there can be nothing.
Rodríguez Lozano was always disturbed for being barely acknowledged, being tucked away, for which he was almost forced to blame the muralists (Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco) who relegated his generation with their impulse to make art public. Although never acknowledged, an aspiration to gigantism is present in the work of Rodríguez Lozano, a challenge to muralism made with enormous, vigorous figures. There is, of course, no message, but an appetite for greatness which, according to partisans and demonstrators was more a characteristic of the Mexican School of painting, or muralism.
I am brought back to the portrait of Andrés Henestrosa, one of the four or five most important works of Rodríguez Lozano before his recreations of the male body as the crystallization of desire and, simultaneously, an artistic language that has no need for what he himself on many occasions referred to as "the sexualization of eroticism". In one of his writings, he expressed it thus:
"The strength of painting lies in its own limitation, which is valuable of itself, because of its making, and especially for its poetic contents. If painting, as any other artform, actually had any value as a spiritual stimulant, let it be given thus, authentic, to the people, and then its social function will be broadened."
In the portrait of Henestrosa, the poetic contents is localized in the strength with which the city, in this sense an unexpected pictorial concept in 1924, is shown as a premonition, premature legend and place for the growth of important personalities. This may be read as an interpretation in the distance, but in the painting the city and one of its prominent figures are there, with the strength of singularity, and need no other information than that given to the eye of the observer.
Carlos Monsiváis, Mexico City 2008.