There are two related works by the artist also titled Rosas envidiosas and executed in 1987, a pastel on paper and a ceramic sculpture.
Julio Galán spent much of his childhood, a constant reference in his artwork, in the small Mexican mining and ranching town of Múzquiz, Coahuila. At the age of ten his parents moved him and his siblings to Monterrey, Nuevo León. There he pursued architecture at the University of Monterrey from 1978-84 while presenting his first solo exhibitions with his long-time friend and supporter, gallerist Guillermo Sepúlveda at the local Galería Arte Actual Mexicano and at the same time becoming known in Mexico City through his success in national competitions. On the advice of Lowery Stokes Sims, then curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Galán took up residence in New York City from 1984 through 1990 where he met Andy Warhol, whose close associate Paige Powell helped Galán secure representation with Annina Nosei. Galán's 1980s production, that includes Rosas envidiosas (Envious Roses), and which is situated within international neo-Expressionism, is encouraged by Pop Art and the flamboyance of Andy Warhol. Likewise it participates in neo-Mexicanism's critical examination of identity. Of further note is Galán's unavoidable comparison with Frida Kahlo in the similar self-scrutinizing and self-referential aspect of their work, as well as their interest in costuming, masking, and their debt to Colonial devotional art.
Galán continually reveals, explores, and pushes the boundaries that separate the sacred from the profane. The question "How do Catholic expectations and (homo) sexual inclinations co-exist?" seems to lie at the root of his investigations. Galán uses juxtaposition, cancellation, and at times violation (of the canvas and his imagery) as means of challenging cultural and societal conventions.
Rosas envidiosas displays two vases standing on an altar that doubles as a desert landscape; the left-hand vase holds nine cut roses in full bloom, four of them dyed unnatural shades of blue, all bearing red leaves and stems that sit in a white liquid, while a spotlit single rose and a pansy emerge from the right-hand, trumpet cone vase containing a carmine red liquid. On the ground between these monumental flower arrangements is the lone figure of a young wrestler wearing a jade green singlet; he strikes a bridge pose as the single rose above him spews rivulets likely of semen and blood, the latter forming innumerable beads on the mantel/sand. The boy's face and outstretched right arm are obliterated as, in his state of sexual arousal, he perhaps merges with the object of his desire, the rose. "Even flowers are so desirous of love that envy and rivalry exist among them," commented Galán to Sepúlveda. Galán's sister Lissi recounts her brother's explanation that in Rosas envidiosas the artist-as-wrestler (ever the protagonist of his work) is in love with the single rose, thereby making the others envious. The rose, universal symbol of purity, beauty, and pain, and in Mexico specifically related to the Virgin of Guadalupe, here is sexualized and unexpectedly undone by lust.
Galán, who died in 2006 at the much too young age of forty-eight, left a provocative and enigmatic oeuvre. Autobiographical in nature, but hardly offering direct narrative, Galán's canvases are populated with his own image--be it the child, adolescent, girlfriend, sister, Tehuana, China poblana, charro, bear, dog, cat, landscape, or wrestler. He once stated his belief that the public should be interested in, not the artist's life, but rather, the artwork; he also affirmed, however, that each of his paintings represented a chapter in his life. Galán created a body of work in constant transformation; as Rosas envidiosas evidences, his canvasses are a labyrinth of juxtapositions where devotion, striving, melancholy, longing, nostalgia, and palpable desire, seek relief.
Teresa Eckmann, Assistant Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas, San Antonio
1) Nicole Miller, e-mail from Janey Evett to the author, October 13, 2010.
2) See Edward J. Sullivan, "Sacred and Profane: The Art of Julio Galán," Arts Magazine 64.10 (Summer 1990): 51-55 and Francesco Pellizzi, "On the Border" in the exhibition catalogue Julio Galán (New York: Annina Nosei, 1989), n.p.
3) Guillermo Sepúlveda, e-mail to the author, February 29, 2012.
4) Lissi Galán, telephone conversation with the author on February 29, 2012.
5) Quoted in Braulio Peralta, "Galán: escribir con imágenes," La Jornada (January 27, 1994): 25. "No creo que a nadie le importe la vida de un pintor, porque lo que importa es la obra."
6) See Luis Mario Schneider, "Julio Galán en el hechizo de su universo" in the exhibition catalogue Julio Galán (Mexico: Grupo Financiero Serfín, 1993), 29. "Sí veo que sus cuadros [Frida Kahlo] son cada uno como un capítulo de lo que le iba pasando. En mi caso sucede igual, pero yo lo expreso de manera muy distinta."