‘The style of these paintings – and to some extent, its male character – was directly borrowed from street advertisements encountered in my neighbourhood in the Centro Histórico [in Mexico City]. These metal sheets painted by sign painters are propped on sidewalks or hung over storefronts and they immediately seduced me by the communicative power of their iconography.'
Francis Alÿs’ Untitled (1995) is a stunning rare example of the artist’s Sign Painting Project: a diptych painted by the artist himself. One of the very few diptychs of the entire series painted by Alÿs alone, this work is among the very last entries in its set, representing a concluding vision of one of the project’s cycles of imagery. A symmetrical composition of captivating simplicity, rendered with the bright, blocky colours and idiosyncratic graphic clarity, the work presents a perplexing, strangely comic scene, as an anonymous man, his face half-obscured by the edge of the painting, clutches three pillows between his arms and legs.
Continued for several years during the mid-1990s, in Sign Painting Project Alÿs enlisted the help of Juan Garcia, Emilio Rivera and Enrique Huerta, three sign painters, or rótulistas, working in Mexico City; adopting the shared style of these commercial painters, distinctive to the city’s advertising boards and shop fronts, Alÿs initiated a communal project among the painters. Beginning with an original on canvas by Alÿs, the rótulistas would each produce a larger version of this painting on the metal sheets of their trade, while subtly changing some of its elements: over time, series of gradually altering paintings were painted. The works tend towards slightly surreal domestic scenes, always featuring a man in a suit – a figure derived from the sign-painters’ own practice of painting advertisements for tailors; they seem to offer oneiric reformulations of this desirable, aspirational figure, each instalment subtly shifting the physical emphasis of the painting.