Paint the Revolution

Troubled Waters, 1949 José Chávez Morado, Mexican, 1909–2002

Troubled Waters, 1949
José Chávez Morado, Mexican, 1909–2002

Leopoldo Méndez, Mexican, 1902 - 1969

Leopoldo Méndez, Mexican, 1902 – 1969

Cloud of Lies. José Chávez Morado, Mexican, 1909 - 2002.

Cloud of Lies.
José Chávez Morado, Mexican, 1909 – 2002.

Retrato de la burguesía. David Alfaro Siqueiros. 1939.

Retrato de la burguesía. 1939.
David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Deportation to Death. Leopoldo Méndez, Mexican, 1902 - 1969.

Deportation to Death.
Leopoldo Méndez, Mexican, 1902 – 1969.

I just managed to catch Philadelphia’s Mexican Modernism show before it closed in early January. When I saw it I was mostly struck by the way it illustrates the development of a Mexican national identity—my notes are all about this process and the way that artists experimented in multiple styles and subjects as they developed what mexicanismo meant and looked like.

However, writing this post a month later put me a few weeks past inauguration day and into a completely different state of mind. I expected to be writing about the development of a certain look. Instead what I remembered most about the show was how quickly and strongly the Mexican artistic identity expressed itself as anti-fascist and anti-colonialist.

Mexican artists embraced an indigeneity where the peasants and the poor are now Indians being used and abused by urbanists, capitalists, and internationalists. In so many of the paintings and murals, modern society is a huge, military-industrial complex which uses the people as the literal raw material for making money. They’re busy and dark in how they blend flesh and machine, and labor and technology as components of the new way of things.

Where fascism is “colonialist procedures…applied to Europe,” Mexico has had a mixture of both power-hungry leadership and international interference which is disturbingly relevant now. That its artists have chosen to self-identify as “Indian” in order to frame and fight this dynamic is extremely interesting compared to the way that resistance in the United States still struggles with recognizing the nature of oppression that Indians and Slavery have suffered here.*

*Comparing the Mexican appropriation of either generic or Aztec indigeneity to the way Indian Nations work in the United States is something which is so far out of my area of expertise that I’m a little uncomfortable even mentioning it at all. But I feel like it’s important to acknowledge that I can’t help but see that the entire system in each country has to be different.

US resistance often feels like protesting because “if we don’t protest now it could happen to us too”—where “we” and “us” are the white middle class. It’s protesting because of something “unprecedented” happening—where the only thing unprecedented is in the who it happened to this time. There’s a disconnect where only certain protesters and victims count.

Looking at the Mexican art shows no such problems. The people are the natives whose land has been stolen and whose labor built the country. There’s no question about who the correct victims should be. The poor people. The laborers. The ones doing the most work for the least pay in the hardest conditions. They‘re all worth fighting for. All of them.

And the bad guys. Fascists are overseas trying to spread fascism across the globe. Fascists are at home killing or jailing anyone who threatens their power. Colonialists are trying to interfere in Mexican affairs so as to procure better trade relations or industrial positions. Capitalists and industrialist are getting rich by squeezing their workers as much as they can. They’re all bad and they’re all worth fighting against. All of them.

It’s a shame that the show closed right when we, as a country, can use all the references about fighting this crap that we can get. While seeing the full-size projections of the Rivera, Orozco, and Siquieros murals is impressive and there’s a ton of drama in the paintings, what I loved most was all the prints and ephemera with their multitude of pro-worker, anti-fascist messages on display.

Over and over again we see variations on the themes of fighting fascism abroad, staying educated at home, and decrying oppressions carried out by the government. That they’re on yellowing fragile paper shows how these messages were intended to be available for everyone in a way that paintings and murals, even when accessible to the public, can never be. Print is the democratic medium here and it’s exciting to see so much of it on display.

The sheer volume and variety of the prints demonstrate how deep Mexico’s visual culture is—to the point where it became obvious how Princeton’s Itinerant Languages of Photography show just scratched the surface of Mexico’s visual literacy in constantly remixing, repurposing, and recontextualizing imagery.

On the development of a National identity

Man and Woman Rufino Tamayo, Mexican, 1899 - 1991

Man and Woman
Rufino Tamayo, Mexican, 1899 – 1991

Portrait of Mrs. J. Stogdell Stokes José Diego María Rivera, Mexican, 1886 - 1957

Portrait of Mrs. J. Stogdell Stokes
José Diego María Rivera, Mexican, 1886 – 1957

Self-Portrait with Popocatépetl Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo), Mexican, 1875 - 1964

Self-Portrait with Popocatépetl
Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo), Mexican, 1875 – 1964

Untitled (Dancer) Emilio Amero, Mexican, 1901 - 1976

Untitled (Dancer)
Emilio Amero, Mexican, 1901 – 1976

The blog post I was originally going to write is dead but it’s still worth expanding on the notes I took. A lot of the pre 1920s work is trying different things. This is especially obvious in Diego Rivera’s work—most of which looks nothing like what he is associated with—but with all the artists there’s a lot of working within European techniques and esthetics but applying them to Mexican subjects and landscapes.

We get to see artists like Adolfo Best Maugard and Dr. Atl* develop more Mexican-specific techniques and styles. That these styles also involve appropriating pre-colonial design elements only encouraged the development of the national identity to be one which understands how colonialism is still at work everywhere in the country.

*I especially liked that Atl Color is considered a distinct medium in and of itself.

Other notes

Pottery Vendors, 1934 Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Mexican, 1871–1946

Pottery Vendors, 1934
Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Mexican, 1871–1946

Beneath the Maguey. José Clemente Orozco

Beneath the Maguey, 1927
José Clemente Orozco

I was struck by how many of the paintings were under glass. This made sense with the pastels but I didn’t see the point of having that extra layer with many of the other works. I really liked how many of the paintings are on cardboard or other “cheap” materials.* This gave a certain vitality to the work since it suggested that the creation and the image was more important than the object itself.

*Like in the case of Alfredo Ramos Martínez, on pages of the Los Angeles Times.

I enjoyed seeing and thinking about how photography interacted with the painting and printmaking. While there were many non-Mexican photographers working in Mexico in the 1920s, their work doesn’t suggest that there’s a revolution going on. I couldn’t help but look at José Clemente Orozco’s Beneath the Maguey and not think of Weston’s Maguey—especially since both images are from the same time period. While that Weston image wasn’t in the show, I was pleased to see other images of his there and I was especially excited to see a lot of Tina Modotti as well.

August Backlog

Continuing from July.

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Magcloud

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Continuing my magazine experiments, this time I figured I’d give Magcloud a whirl. I was happy with Blurb’s magazines but I wanted to try smaller formats and experiment with saddlestitching. Magcloud’s 5.25″×8.25″ format looked ideal since it’s a decent size for vertical photos and the saddlestitch format is much more forgiving for crossovers so I can use similar-sized horizontal or square photos as well.

I’m pretty happy with the results. Magcloud uses very-good toner-based printing technology and the results are about as good as I’d expect from that. They do still show the typical telltale heavy-gloss in high-coverage areas* though so the overall result doesn’t feel as high quality to me as Blurb’s printing. But the print quality itself—screening, color, etc.—is plenty good.

*This is admittedly something I’m sensitive to and it only shows up in certain lighting situations anyway.

The only other thing which caught my attention is that Magcloud’s bindery operation is pretty loose. They want an eighth of an inch for bleeds and they mean it. I had a few photos where I could only spare a sixteenth of an inch for bleed and that wasn’t nearly enough, Magcloud needs the full eighth of an inch. Similarly, while the crossovers are mostly satisfactory, there’s a decent amount of play—over a sixteenth of an inch again—in terms of where the center fold is.

These aren’t complaints as the price is more than fair and the results are still fine. But they‘re worth keeping in mind so I don‘t expect anything better than that and treat these as the mini-projects/project dummies that they are. I don’t expect any of my magazines to be the final form of the projects, they’re just waypoints which scratch my urge to get things printed and which I can live with and look through until I’m ready to take the next step.

The magazines I made are all working through a bunch of small projects which I’m not sure what to do with yet. There are two which are photos from Powwow—one of the Aztec dancers, the other of the powwow itself.

There are two which are photos from Obon—one of San José Taiko, the other of the obon odori.

And there’s one which consists of photos from all the bounce house birthday parties I’ve been to.

Some of those projects I don’t expect to be adding to. Others might get a photo here or there each summer but I’m reaching the point where I’ll want to replace existing photos rather than add to the project overall. In all cases though I expect I’ll be heading back to Magcloud to do some more small projects and see how they work together.

Hawai‘i Travel

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I drove more on this vacation than any other vacation I’ve taken. When I returned our rental car* it turned out that I’d driven about 850 miles over eight days. I’m not used to driving that much in general** let alone spending a couple hours each day in the car while on vacation. But there’s really no other way to see the island. And the roads themselves are often spectacular in terms of the views they offer.

*A Nissan Versa which did pretty well.

**When I was working and commuting it was ~70 miles per day and maybe 90 minutes on the road total.

Flying-wise, the Kailua-Kona/KOA airport is a wonderful throwback. I miss being able to walk outside and board the planes via stair from the tarmac at San José/SJC. KOA takes that a step farther and is entirely outside. Yes it’s hot. And yes you sweat a lot while waiting to go through security. But I love the old-school nature of it and it reminds me both of a time when flying was not the chore it is now and how much I loved the Honolulu airport* when I was a kid.

*Which is also open-air and used to smelled of plumeria because of all the leis in the concourse. Not being able to meet, or send off, passengers at the gate now means that the last couple of time I was in Honolulu the airport smelled like every other airport.

Anyway, while I’ve organized the photos and posts based on subject matter, it’s also nice to be able to see my trip based on a per-day itinerary. Given the amount of driving I did, I felt like putting each day on a map would be useful for me memory.

Day 1: Kailua-Kona Airport to Waikoloa

Day 2: Based in Waikoloa

  1. Petroglyphs
  2. Kaloko-Honokōhau
  3. Kailua-Kona
  4. King’s Road

Day 3: Based in Waikoloa

  1. Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau and 1871 Trail.
  2. Kailua-Kona

Day 4: Based in Waikoloa

  1. Mo‘okini Heiau and Kamehameha Akahi ‘Āina Hānau
  2. Pololu Lookout
  3. Pu‘ukoholā Heiau

Day 5: Waikoloa to Hilo

  1. Pololu Lookout
  2. Waipi‘o Lookout
  3. Akaka Falls
  4. Mauna Kea Visitor Center

Day 6: Volcanos National Park

  1. Kīlauea Iki Crater
  2. Chain of Craters Road
  3. Halema‘uma‘u Lookout

Day 7: Based in Hilo

  1. Punalu‘u Beach
  2. Ka‘u Coffee Plantation

Day 8: Hilo to Kailua-Kona Airport

  1. Rainbow Falls
  2. Kailua-Kona

Punalu‘u

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In our last full day on Hawai‘i we set off early to go see Punalu‘u beach. Obvious but obligatory since I’d also always wanted to see a black sand beach ever since I was a little kid.* Punalu‘u is the easiest to access on the island plus I’d previously scanned a photo of my grandmother taken when she visited there around 1940.

*Also Papakōlea’s green sand but taking the walk (or hiring a drive) to South Point was a bit more than I was ready to undertake.

It is indeed very pretty and even past the color difference the sand is very different than the sand I’m used to. Rather than being the soft, rounded and eroded sand we have on beaches in California,* the black sand is rough and abrasive since it’s powdered lava. Rather than being formed by wave action on solid lava rock, it’s a result of explosions when the molten lava hits the ocean water. It doesn’t hurt to walk in but your feet do get exfoliated a bit. After all the walking we did the previous day this wasn’t a bad thing.

*Or even the coarser sand made of broken shells in Waikoloa.

We even saw a few honu here. We’d seen one on our first excursion to Kaloko-Honokōhau so it was nice to be able to say goodbye as well.

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Chain of Craters

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After walking along Crater Rim Drive to see Halema‘uma‘u and before going to the Jagger Museum, we drove Chain of Craters Road to the Hōlei Sea Arch. We took our time, pulling over whenever we saw something interesting or if there was a pullout to go look at yet another crater. It’s a fun drive out toward the ocean through fresh lava fields. The nice thing about this drive is that each pullout explains the date of the field we would be standing in and describes each eruption, how it occurred, what parts of the road were covered, etc.

In most parts of the world, the geologic history of the land is hidden in the stratigraphy under the earth and only where the stratigraphy is exposed can you figure out what happened there. On Hawai‘i, the lava flows are visible everywhere and tell the story of how the island was built. Because the Chain of Craters road goes through the most-recent flows, it serves as a primer on looking at the landscape in general and allowed us to think about the other parts of the island we’d been to and put together how the lava flows had created and shaped the landscapes everywhere else too.

Our hotel in Hilo had a wonderful map on the wall which marked all the lava flows on the island and included the dates—or where they predated western contact with the islands, the Hawaiian names—of those flows. I’ve been trying, and failing, to find a copy of that map since the lava flows have become one of my most-vivid memories of this trip. It’s not the being on the flows either, it’s the driving along the highway and just seeing dark patches flowing down the mountain side* or noticing that the vegetation has gotten more sparse and recognizing that we were passing through a newer portion of the island and wondering when that flow occurred.

*This was the other thing besides the cinder cones that we kept seeing when we drove over Mauna Kea.

At the end of the road is the Hōlei Sea Arch and a parking lot for the trailhead to go look at the lava from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō as it flowed into the Pacific Ocean. It would’ve been an 8-mile round-trip walk to see the lava. Nothing too strenuous but it would go over rough lava and after having hiked Kīlauea Iki earlier, we were both wary of how sharp the lava could be.

The little kid in me who had always wanted to see volcanos wanted to take that walk. The grown-up part of me thought better of it. The grown-up part of me won.

We’d seen so many people being stupid already by walking close to the edge and trying to get a better view of the ocean that we didn’t want to see them be stupid around lava either. Having already seen Halema‘uma‘u breathe we knew we respected the volcano too much to be with a bunch of tourists messing around with it.

So we enjoyed looking at the ocean and seeing it crash into the lava cliffs. Then we turned around and went back up the ridge to go to the Jagger Museum. Do I still have some “what ifs” and “if onlys”? Absolutely. But I’m also perfectly satisfied with what I did see.

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Halema‘uma‘u

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My first real look at Halema‘uma‘u was walking a closed-to-cars portion of Crater Rim drive,* coming over a ridge, and seeing smoke just billowing out of the earth. It didn’t emerge in one continuous cloud like it does from a fire. Nor was it a small controlled emission like from a smokestack. Instead the earth was breathing and alive and awesome. Impossible to take my eyes off of it. Impossible to even really wrap my brain around it. And that was just seeing the smoke.

*Because it was erupting the road was closed to everyone in the down-wind section. The segment we walked had no good turnaround spot for cars.

We’d noticed clouds at the end of the Kīlauea Iki crater but hadn’t paid them much thought. It was only after driving and walking closer that we realized we’d been seeing evidence of the main vent the entire time. The portion of the road we walked on went through some even-more-recent lava flows and land which is still reeling from getting destroyed by volcanic activity.

We later drove around to the other side of the crater and saw much more of the main vent from the Jaggar Museum.* The photos don’t, can’t do it justice. It’s huge and feels even larger. It’s both compelling and intimidating. I want to go closer yet I can see how powerful it is and that it deserves as much respect as I can give it.** I could have stayed all day on the crater rim and just watched it breathe.

*I’ve not much to say about the museum itself beyond that it’s a good primer on how the islands were formed and how volcanos work.

**As a Californian who’s grown up with a healthy respect for the ocean this falls into the same category of an elemental which I refuse to take my eyes off of because it’s both amazing and dangerous.

We left before it got dark. It would’ve been fantastic to stay and see the smoke light up from the glow of the lava. It would’ve been much less fantastic to drive home in the dark. Plus it had been a long day of hiking so it was also time to go home and rest before it was too late.

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