Francisco Toledo (b. 1940)
Francisco Toledo (b. 1940)

El cangrejo y la garza

Francisco Toledo (b. 1940)
El cangrejo y la garza
signed ‘Toledo’ (lower left) signed again and titled ‘Toledo, El cangrejo y la garza’ (on the reverse)
gouache on paper
22 ¼ x 30 1/8 in. (56.5 x 76.5 cm.)
Executed in 1974.
Private collection, New York.
Private collection, Dubai (by descent from the above).

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Graciela Toledo and the artist for their assistance cataloguing and confirming the authenticity of this work.

“Everything was forest,” Toledo has recalled of his childhood in Veracruz. “Forests and marsh surrounded us and there were all sorts of animals.”[1] The beginnings of his fantastic zoology date to these adolescent years, redolent with memories of roaming the land and encounters with the storied animals—monkeys and crabs, grasshoppers and crocodiles—held sacred within Oaxacan tradition. Toledo studied lithography at the Taller Libre de Grabado in Mexico City in the late 1950s before moving in 1960 to Paris, encountering there Octavio Paz and Rufino Tamayo; he returned to Juchitán, his birthplace, in 1965. Associated with the postwar Ruptura generation, which broke with the political mission of Mexican muralism in favor of experimental and sometimes abstract expressionism, his work is contemporary with such artists as Pedro Coronel, Alberto Gironella, and Rodolfo Nieto. Like Tamayo and Rodolfo Morales deeply invested in the cultural patrimony of the Isthmus and Pacific coast, Toledo has long since based himself in Oaxaca, his work and identity richly imbricated within its historical landscape and ecology. Toledo’s remittance of the customary tequio, a voluntary form of village taxation, has come in the form of sizable support for local institutions, notably the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, as well as for libraries and the cultural and environmental conservancy Pro-OAX. A major retrospective of his work was organized by the Whitechapel Art Gallery, with the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, in 2000; the first two volumes of his catalogue raisonné were published in 2016.

Toledo has drawn amply from ancient American mythology and its animistic worldview, populating his images with sagacious and otherworldly anthropomorphic beings. “The pre-Hispanic world has been a source of inspiration,” he explains. “There are certain solutions that are decorative that come from pre-Hispanic art and at the same time there is much primitive art that is refined or simple but also very modern. It also comes from what I read—many fables from the Americas and other parts of the world.”[2] His paintings celebrate the syncretic spirituality of the indigenous world, depicting fantastic creatures in myriad states of metamorphosis and in intimate rituals of creation and consummation. Animals were privileged and miraculous beings in Zapotec legend, the “connecting link between nature and society, mediators between man and the sacred energies of the natural ambience,” Erika Billeter has explained. “Animals were the real character of the myth, the sublimation of a whole cosmic imagination.”[3] Toledo’s work swarms with the fauna of the natural and phantasmagorical worlds, from the Borgesian insectarium to the primeval panther and the capricious cat. His animals inhabit a charmed reality and have become, over the course of the artist’s career, an extended metaphor for the supernatural mysteries of the world.

“Toledo’s work offers us an interpretation of reality that is not rational,” Jorge Alberto Manrique has remarked, “but rather a world perceived by way of sensations produced by that reality and the relationships between the different figures that appear to be joined or fused into a single one.”[4] That ecstatic homomorphism permeates his creatures, their bodies and surfaces commingled and suggestively camouflaged within their environment. The eponymous subjects of The Crab and the Crane are characteristically incorporeal, their forms coolly translucent against a rich, prismatic background. This tessellated ground is seen in numerous paintings from the 1970s, among them El perro ladra (1974), Onagre (1976), Fin de otoño (1978), and El chivo equivocado (c. 1979); here in the present work, in a panoply of tawny colors from mahogany to raw umber, the pattern suggests the crystalline textures of sand. A coastal setting befits its subjects, both denizens of the southern coast from Oaxaca to the Isthmus. Toledo portrays them at a fraught, existential moment: the crane holds the crab in its beak; the crab resists with its claw. The vitalism of their encounter is conveyed through the plasticity of their bodies and the assimilation of color and shape within the all-over, kaleidoscopic field.

“Toledo’s work is painting transformed into a body,” Verónica Volkow observes. “Surfaces become tissue, the swelling of volumes are almost pregnant…. There is a materiality that acquires the expressive definiteness, the strength, and the surprising versatility of the body.” The somatic presences of The Crab and the Crane flow beyond their outlined forms, their pellucid materiality absorbed within the ecology of the painted surface, aglow with a mineral-like sheen. This space, Volkow reflects, “envelops us, caresses, devours, threatens, seduces, guides us and is always alive, injected with the body’s sap.”[5] This syncretism of Toledo’s graphic imagination radiates across his charismatic subjects, their bodies reciprocally connected within the evolutionary rhythms of the natural universe.

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

1 Francisco Toledo, quoted in George Mead Moore, “Francisco Toledo,” Bomb 70 (Winter 2000): 114.
2Ibid., 115.
3 Erika Billeter, “In the Cosmos of the Animals—The Adventure of the Fantasy,” in Zoología Fantástica: Toledo, Borges (Mexico City: Prisma Editorial, 2003), 25.
4 Jorge Alberto Manrique, “Toledo: The Joy for Life,” in Francisco Toledo (Los Morales Polanco, Mex.: Smurfit Cartón y Papel de México, 2002), 20.
5 Verónica Volkow, “In the Beginning, the World Became Body,” in Francisco Toledo, 40, 42-3.

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