JULIO GALÁN (1958-2006)
JULIO GALÁN (1958-2006)
JULIO GALÁN (1958-2006)
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JULIO GALÁN (1958-2006)
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JULIO GALÁN (1958-2006)

Vida Mara-villosa

JULIO GALÁN (1958-2006)
Vida Mara-villosa
signed 'Julio Galán, 96' (lower left)
oil, fabric, paper, zipper, beads and fabric appliques on canvas
74 x 50 ¼ in. (188 x 127.6 cm.)
Executed in 1996.
Galerie Barbara Farber, Amsterdam.
Wim Beeren for the Peter Stuyvesant Collection (acquired from the above, 1996).
Sale; Sotheby's, Amsterdam, 8 March 2010, lot 143.
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
Amsterdam, Galerie Barbara Farber, Julio Galán Paintings, April-May 1996 (illustrated in color).
Mexico City, Confederación de Educadores Americanos, Tres generaciones: Rodolfo Morales, Francisco Toledo, Julio Galán, 1997, p. 109 (illustrated in color).
Amsterdam, BAT offices, Growth in the Peter Stuyvesant Collection, 1997, no. 23.

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Lot Essay

La vida y la obra de Julio Galán tienen un cerco luminoso, un halo de fantasias y leyendas terribles y maravillosas. (Julio Galán’s life and artwork evidence a luminous circle, a halo of fantasies and legends at once horrible and marvelous).

–José Garza, “Julio Galán: Soy adicto a mi” in Fuego a un museo: Perfiles y entrevistas con pintores contemporáneos (Sinaloa: Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa, 2013), 68.

By the mid-1990s Julio Galán had developed a collage approach to his paintings, as confirmed by Vida Mara-Villosa, whereby he layered image fragments—whether painted, found object, or at times, photographic—and a variety of textures, choreographing a dynamic dance of visual and conceptual relationships. Galán has torn apart, cut out, and rearranged loosely into an overall cruciform shape, a painted landscape likely salvaged from a flea market or antique store; these fragments he anchored with areas of ochre and steel blue brushwork, evoking land, and sky. Into this constructed environment he has placed his central subject, a figure who disconcertedly both appears an immobile doll, and life-like, eyes bright, brimming with human intelligence. Clown stickers affixed to the canvas stand in for protective putti angels. With a certain preciousness, Galán has carefully decorated his surface with beads, sequins, and costume jewelry. In a provocative, puzzle-like manner, the artist has merged landscape, narrative, and portraiture.

In the earliest phase of Galán’s painting career, from 1979-81, the doll was his primary subject in at least thirty paintings. He would isolate the doll figure on his canvas devoid of environment beyond the floating objects, fragments, or human limbs that would surround them. These canvases he treated as a kind-of secular retablo (colonial-era devotional image) whose imagery at times read as milagros (religious charms). Through the dress he assigned his dolls and their accompanying toys, Galán considered imposed gender expectations. Their bodies at times broken, his dolls spoke of vulnerability and a place between innocence and sexual awakening.

Similarly, Galán has merged the secular and the sacred in the central figure of Vida Mara-Villosa, which both evokes a child’s everyday toy, as well as Catholic ritual. Androgynous, the bejeweled figure recalls a Niño Dios (baby Jesus) or Marian Virgin. For the annual February 2 Candelaria (Candlemas) celebration in Mexico, baby Jesus dolls dressed in an assortment of different outfits, all in tunic-shape, are traditionally sold in popular mercados. Moreover, Galán has individualized the figure by creating a portrait where, with naturalism, he has merged his own facial features with those of his young friend, Mara Sepúlveda, the daughter of his long-time gallery representative in Monterrey, Mexico, and director of Arte Actual Mexicano, the late Guillermo “Memo” Sepúlveda. To her, as Memo pointed out, Galán dedicated three paintings: Mara y sus juguetes (Mara and Her Toys, ca. 1981) before her birth; Mara Looking at the Sea (1995) where a disembodied head with Galán’s and Mara’s combined features floats above emerald-green water; and Avvertenza baleno (1996), another image of the ocean with an empty red cape floating before it (Interview by author, May 15, 2013). Mara explained that when she turned 15 years of age, the artist gifted her a ring inscribed with the words “Esposa del mar porque tu puedes con todas las tormentas” (Wife of the sea, because you can [weather] all storms) [Interview by author, January 24, 2024]; Galán saw in Mara the strength of the Greek goddess Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon.

Galán most often extends the meaning of his imagery through the title that he assigns his artworks. Here he juggles the words “mar” (sea), “maravilla” (marvel), “hermosa” (beautiful), and “Mara” (his muse and friend); through title and image, Galán points to the spectrum of human experience—one that is awesome, marvelous, and magical, as well as ominous, dangerous, and painful. Memo Sepúlveda pointed out the proximity of “Mara” to the word “amargura” (bitter) [Sepúlveda, interview]; in Galán’s world of opposites and word play, “Mara-villosa” (marvelous), the term of endearment with which he addressed Mara in his letters to her, also has a dark side, one that he expands upon in another painting related by title, Predestinación maravillosa (Marvelous Predestination).

In Vida Mara-Villosa that dark side is present in the figure of the elk or buck. As Galán revealed to interviewer Sylvia Cherem in 2001, he abhorred the macho hunting culture enjoyed by the men in his family as he grew up on a ranch in Múzquiz, Coahuila, the area a natural reserve for the black bear and populated with deer (“Julio Galán: Sus días en Múzquiz,” El Norte, May 21, 2C). Instead, he identified with the hunted, the persecuted, by embodying the deer in paintings such as Adovenad (1985), Piensa en mi (1991), and You Didn’t Take me Into Account (1995), among others. Additionally, a physical zipper stretched across the center of Vida Mara-Villosa further suggests containment and wounding. Mara reflects that resting at the level of the doll’s heart, the zipper could symbolically reference the scars on her torso from the heart surgeries that she survived as a child (Mara Sepúlveda, interview). Empowered, in her hand is a baton, or perhaps a magic wand, or the suggestion of Amphitrite’s trident.

Galán painted Vida Mara-Villosa contemporaneously with other large-scale portraits inspired by females surrounding him, close friends, family, and muses, as exemplified by his Silenzio and Si tu te vas, yo me quedo hasta el final, auctioned through Christies in recent years. A whirlwind, productive winter of 1995-96 spent in his studio in Monterrey and in New York City, led to back-to-back solo exhibitions at Annina Nosei Gallery in April of 1996 that included the former paintings, and Barbara Farber Gallery Amsterdam in May of 1996 where Vida Mara-Villosa hung among a group of paintings in which Galán further contemplated innocence, beauty, dream, death, loss, and love.

Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio

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