Born in Juchitán to a Zapotec family, Francisco Toledo has for over fifty years rekindled the original primitive feeling of his Oaxacan roots in his work. Like Rufino Tamayo and Rodolfo Morales deeply imbued with the psychic mysticism of the Oaxacan universe, Toledo has drawn deeply from Mexico's pre-Hispanic mythos, populating his images with sagacious and otherworldly anthropomorphic beings. Although he has spent important periods abroad in New York, Paris, and Barcelona, Toledo has deliberately rooted himself and his work within the Mexican world, settling permanently in Oaxaca in 1989 and cultivating regional audiences through his support of art museums, libraries, and cultural conservancies. Considered one of Mexico's greatest living artists, Toledo has carried forward the modern patrimony of Tamayo and the artists of La Ruptura, channeling their cosmic motifs and richly brushed color into charismatic images of the natural world.
Toledo's paintings celebrate the animistic spirituality of the indigenous Americas, 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." Toledo's work swarms with the fauna of the natural and the 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 life and of creation.
The precocious protagonist of the present Gato stares assertively through bright red eyes toward its imagined interlocutor, suggestively teasing us with an invitation to play or to pounce. With ears jauntily perked and an expressively smiling mouth, the cat projects a keen intelligence and majesty that animates the space of the painting; the intensity of its unflinching gaze is alluring and fantastically real. The kinship between the cat and the natural world--or even, the imaginary world--is visually insinuated by the seamless integration of its figure and the ground against which it stands. Decoratively patterned brushstrokes structure a graphic, allover zigzag pattern that subsumes the body of the cat within a rhythmic design of snaking curves and dynamic angles. Richly saturated shades of burnt umber and russet brown are set off against the mineral-like texture of sand and the repeated red circles, which optically punctuate and vitalize the surface.
"I know of no other modern artist who is so naturally penetrated with a sacred conception of the universe and a sacred sense of life, who has approached myth and magic with such seriousness and simplicity and who is so purely inspired by ritual and fable," the French critic André Pieyre de Mandiargues declared upon his encounter with Toledo's work. In Gato, Toledo brings his signature, joyous animism to bear on a notoriously enigmatic and magical being. Clever and curious, associated with stealth and superstition, the cat emerges here as a disarming and spirited symbol of Toledo's imaginarium and of the enchantments of his natural world.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1) Erika Billeter, "In the Cosmos of the Animals -- The Adventure of the Fantasy," in Zoología Fantástica: Toledo, Borges (México, D.F.: Prisma Editorial, 2003), 25.
2) André Pieyre de Mandiarges, quoted in George Mead Moore and Francisco Toledo, "Francisco Toledo," BOMB 70 (Winter 2000): 112.