Saturday, November 24, 2012

La Reconquista: from Church to Corporations

Hello Everyone! Hope you are all doing well as you read these lines. I wanted to share with you, one of my latest works which I intend to present at Red Dot Miami. I am currently working on a project titled "Devocionales: Neo-Colonial Retablos from an archetypal perspective". This has taken most of my time these days and they are looking good. But I shall not reveal any more images from this project, at least not for the moment. Instead, I wish to share on this blog some other works that I have been working on and that perfectly fit into the same themes that have informed all of my work.  I also consider it best to keep the next blogs as short as possible but with more images of the work and the process. Please feel free to comment on this or any other issue you would like to read about. I am more than open to your suggestions.

La Reconquista (2012) Oil on wood triptych 18" x 24" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Available at Jane Sauer Gallery

One of my most recent retablo painitings is titled La Reconquista. It was painted with oils on a wood triptych I designed and had carved in Antigua, Guatemala. The fact that it is painted on this format reinforces the message. As in most of my work, the idea is to bring to mind the Spanish colonial art and iconography as we encounter a Neo-Colonial narrative. Neo-Colonialism can be defined as a new form of colonization which is done by socio-economic and cultural means. Even though my main interest lies with the Americas (from Canada to Tierra del Fuego) we can see numerous cases of Neo-Colonialism all around the globalized world. Big banks and transnational corporations are now the new conquistadors who project themselves as the new saints and saviours of the "free world".

Detail of La Reconquista (2012) Oil on wood triptych 18" x 24" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

On La Reconquista the image of Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moor-Slayer) acquires new meaning as he is confronted with new adversaries. Traditionally this saint was depicted killing moors and indigenous peoples. The image of Saint James was one of the first to be brought to the Americas in order to subdue and convert the native population to the will of the conquistadors. To this day he is recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church and is Spain’s patron saint.

Detail of La Reconquista (2012) Oil on wood triptych 18" x 24" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

On this triptych he carries a banner in defense of powerful corporations and is accompanied by Saint “King” and Saint “Ronald”. The enemies in this occasion are all of those who oppose the “Free Market” policies of the Corporatocracy. The upper escutcheon crowning this piece contains the logos of the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, three powerful financial institutions that control and determine the rules of the current Global economy. The inscription below reads: “Santiago Apostol, defensor de la Conquista, Protege nuestras corporaciones de indigenistas, comunistas, ecologistas y terroristas” (Saint James the Apostle, defender of the Conquest, Protect our corporations of Pro-Indigenous, Communists, Ecologists and Terrorists).  By presenting these new and old saints together in a triptych painting that recalls Latin American Colonial Iconography I am able to respond to our current Neo-Colonial paradigm.
 Side wing of La Reconquista depicting Saint Ronald with fat child holding holy milkshake and burger

Side wing of La Reconquista depicting Saint King holding a banner that reads : "Always, low prices".
This retablo painting as well as other works will be on display at Jane Sauer Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Jane Sauer will be presenting these works and the work of other artists at Red Dot Miami Art Fair Dec 4-9, 2012. I plan to be present from the 7th to the 9th to share and talk about my work. Hope you can be there and Happy Holidays to you all!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Chosen People: A Transoceanic Voyage for our Blessed Corporations

Greetings to all and welcome once again to my blog. Recently I've been working on new retablo paintings that besides responding to our times they are based directly on the iconography of Latin American colonial paintings. The reason I do this is simple. In these times it seems as if we are living under a new form of colonialism, an economic colonialism dominated by big banks and transnational corporations. The world is in turmoil as a consequence of this failed neo-liberal economic model. Uprisings in European countries, the Arab spring and the Occupy movement are clear signs of inconformity to the status quo. Artists should not me immune to the world they live in. We are agents of change and can make a difference with our art. 

 Protest and reactions amid the Greek Economic Crisis 2012

The Spanish American Philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. We should pay close attention to the implications of his words for we are seeing history repeat itself right as renewed economic challenges unfold in front of us.  Basically the same colonial doctrines from the past are being appropriated and implemented today by powerful economic institutions that rule unquestioned. 

                       Theodore De Bry Illustration for Bartolome de las Casas:  
                                        A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

Since the time of Santayana, corporations have gained significant constitutional rights and legal privileges. From the 14th amendment in 1868 to the CitizensUnited ruling of 2010, corporations have expanded their influence and redefined their identity. Today besides enjoying the status of “personhood”, but with far more rights that ordinary citizens, they are also called “The Makers” or “The Job Creators” as if we were talking of venerable figures that deserve great gratitude and respect. This gradual upgrading of their status and total unaccountability moved me to re-think my work in terms of how to represent corporations not just as “people” but as “new saints” in a Neo-Colonial pantheon preaching the holy gospel of the free market enterprise.  

 The Chosen People (2012) Oil and metal leaf on wood panel 24" x 47" By Patrick McGrath Muñiz Available at Jane Sauer Gallery

The Chosen People one of my largest retablo paintings is inspired in Latin American Colonial Art. As the title suggests, the painting depicts a group of people in a ship who believe to be chosen by God to fulfill his purpose. The use of the ship as a metaphor or allegory can be traced back to Plato’s “Ship of State”. There are a number of paintings in art history where the allegorical ship is used to describe human society, the church or one’s own soul, from the “Ship of fools” to “The Ark of Salvation”.

 Ship of Fools (1490-1500) Oil on Wood 22.8" x 13" By Hieronymus Bosch

 For this painting I studied “Ship of Patience” also known as the “Ship of Christianity” a 17th century engraving by Gerhard Altzenbach that was imported, widely disseminated and copied throughout the Spanish colonies from Mexico to Peru. 

 Navis Patientiae engraving by Gerhard Altzenbach (1607-1672)

In Altzenbach’s original engraving we are presented with a ship crewed by the Virgin Mary, Saints and a Crucified Christ on a Cross that is also a mast. The composition is loaded with Christian symbolism and was thought by the clergy to be easier for an indigenous audience to understand. 

Ship of Patience 18th century Oil on canvas, unknown workshop, Cuzco, Peru

 Center piece detail of The Chosen People (2012)  Oil and metal leaf on wood panel 24" x 47"

 In this contemporary version of the “Ship of Patience” I have chosen other “people” to replace the colonial saints. Since corporations are considered people, why not assume their mascots and iconic characters are as real as anyone else? In this new Odyssey, they encounter some economic perils. In the upper right part of the dark sky a small communist demon blows fire at them.  On the upper left side a corporate angel blows wind to counter attack this effect.  A displeased Christ and Virgin remain on board as they seem to be taken as primary inspiration by the new crew. After all, the Church may be considered as a corporate pioneer by spreading its trademark and products around the globe since colonial times. 

 Detail of The Chosen People (2012)

Colonial Baroque paintings are often loaded with symbols and icons that may seem quite literal and illustrative at first but also have a hidden esoteric side not easily read just like our current world economy. Although I appropriate imagery from Christian iconography, it is imbued with new meaning relevant to our globalized economy


  Upper section of The Chosen People (2012)

Allegories like this can serve as devices in order to creatively explain more abstract and difficult matters such as the world economy, the same way Catholic missionaries used paintings to explain the Christian mysteries to the native population of the Americas.   

Lower section of The Chosen People (2012)

Overall, the characters may have changed but the strategies are still the same. Below I have included a legend describing some of the most noteworthy characters and elements in this painting.

1.       A corporate angel blows while a Latin inscription below reads: “Offshoring Dei Gratia”
2.      A red flag with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund logos along with some dice standing for a speculative world economy.
3.       A crucified Christ serving as a mast  with a sign above that reads “INC” (Incorporated)
4.     A demon with uniform blows fire while an inscription above reads “ “El diablo rojo acecha” (The red devil on the lookout)
5.       On the horizon Spanish caravels signify past colonization.
6.       An offshore oil platform and melting ice in the sea stand for current colonization.
7.       The common people and illegal immigrants or “Takers” as Fox News calls them.
8.       Ronald McDonald one of the “Makers” is praying.
9.       Mickey Mouse showing a “Disneyfied” image of Pocahontas
10.   Don Juan Valdez from The National Coffee Growers of Colombia having a cup of coffee
11.   A Wal-Mart employee wearing a Columbus cap and rowing
12.   Sun Maid from California Raisins holds her basket of grapes which happens to be a symbol of the blood of Christ.
13.   Mario Bros. from Nintendo is also rowing
14.   La Dolorosa or Virgin of sorrows with a sword through her heart
15.   Chiquita formerly known as the United Fruit Company presents the scene
16.   On the side of a sail an inscription reads “Esperanza de la remuneración eterna” (Hope of eternal payment) this line is an unaltered quote from the original piece by Altzenbach.
17.   The Quaker man from the Quaker Oats Company appears to be rowing.
18.   Mr. Clean inspired and rowing.
19.   Tony the tiger shows us his new cereal “Chimpeoos”
20.   Santa Claus holding a bottle of Coca Cola.
21.   On the other side of the sail another inscription reads “God Bless American Corporations”
22.   The Coke Polar bear indifferent to the melting of his own home.
23.   Popeye holds the anchor.
24.   A drowning Big Bird stands for public education and funding
25.    A polluted skeleton with gas mask about to shoot his deadly arrow at the ship.
26.   A Pelican, victim of an oil spill flees from a mutant sea monster.

Detail of The Chosen People (2012) Oil and metal leaf on wood panel 24" x 47" 

By appropriating the visual vocabulary of colonial art from Latin America and aided by sarcasms and parody I respond to our prevalent economic neo-colonial dilemma. The “Job Creators” ability to outsource and escape economic collapse is a suggested interpretation for this depiction of a transoceanic epic voyage.

This piece will be available at Jane Sauer Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico but  will be exhibited for the first time at RedDot Miami Dec 4-9, 2012 along with other new pieces that have not been seen by the public yet.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"La Papisa" feminine archetype in Latin American Art & History

Hello all and welcome back to my blog! In the past month I have been working on several paintings that are not part of the project "Devocionales: Neo-colonial retablo paintings from an archetypal perspective" but they are related in many ways. I will be posting images of this new work on FB and my website very soon. There are many issues that have occupied my mind recently (besides politics of course) but I wish to come back and follow up on the theme of archetypes in Latin American art and culture which is at the heart of "Devocionales". As I mentioned before "Devocionales" is my current project  made up of 22 retablo paintings where I re-interpret the archetypes found in the Tarot by studying Colonial Latin America and recontextualizing them with current Neo-Colonial issues.  Previously I discussed my explorations on the Tarot Archetypes of "El Loco" and "El Mago" and how I interpret these in light of Latin American history, arts and popular culture. I shall now briefly explore the various meanings behind "La Papisa" (The Popess also known as the High Priestess).

"La Papisa" from the "Neo-Colonial Tarot of the Americas" ink on card
By Patrick McGrath Muniz

Traditionally "La Papisa" known as "La Papesse" in the Tarot of Marseille carries different meanings that have evolved over time. As we can see in the image below from the Major Arcana 2 from the Tarot of Marseille represents a female pope. This image corresponds to the story of the legendary Pope Joan who disguised as a man was elected pope during the 850's. Her story has been buried and denied by the Church Patriarchy. Joan's amazing erudition was her most powerful weapon and without it she wouldn't have been seated at the Church throne. For this reason, she is shown holding a book, learning being her greatest sin. Women for most part of history have been excluded from the male dominated religious and intellectual circles. This archetype  therefore represents a challenge to the established religion, in this case, Christianity.

  "La Papesse" from the Tarot of Marseille

With this brief background history in mind we can safely assume we are facing a woman who refuses to be excluded from the highest religious order and defies the rigid patriarchal structures that deny women their rights to learn and be equal with men as spiritual leaders and teachers. This is therefore the "prime feminist principle archetype". In Jungian Psychology she would be considered the "Anima Sophia", the highest expression of the anima , the feminine subconscious personalitySophia  is the Greek term for wisdom and in the gnostic tradition she is the feminine expression of the human soul and one of the feminine aspects of god. In this aspect, wisdom is intuitive, esoteric and sublime. According to A.E. Waite this image represents secrets, mysteries, the unrevealed future, wisdom and science. A clear embodiment of this archetype can be found in one particular woman in the history of colonial Latin America: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was a Mexican scholar, poet and nun who lived during the colonial period In New Spain. She is considered by many as the first feminist of the Americas and defended in her writings women's rights to education. As one can expect, this was not well received  by the Church and most of her works were destroyed. I recently watched a film by Maria Luisa Bemberg about her life titled Yo, La peor de todas (I, the worst of all) and was moved by her story. I had read about her before through Eduardo Galeano and Octavio Paz and find her life deeply inspiring. For her love of books, committed spiritual life and strong conviction on women's rights  I have decided to portray her as "La Papisa" in my next painting.

"La Papisa" work in progress

detail of "La Papisa" holding an e-reader or I-phone (work in progress)

One of my preliminary sketches for the painting "La Papisa"

This archetype teaches us to question male pretentious authority in all fields and to find wisdom in nature and in  the simplest things in life. This feminine rebel spirit was embodied in  Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Kahlo is probably the most famous woman painter in the world. Her self-portraits are iconic, her life inspiring and just like Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Pope Joan, she followed her bliss (painting) and claimed her rightful high chair among the male dominated thrones of their time.  

 Mexican painter Frida Kahlo seated with a book in a similar pose to that of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Frida Kahlo Autorretrato con espinas y colibri

As it is the case with all of the retablos I am currently working on, narratives are complex, deep and crowded with figures, symbols and other visual elements that add to the Neo-Colonial Baroque experience of the work. If I were to transcribe all my journal writings and drawings on this blog, it would simply be too long. There are many women from Latin American history, mythology and religion I find particularly relevant to this specific archetype and shall honor them on this next retablo painting. This will not only be a painting about higher knowledge attained and experienced through the feminine principle, breaking trough obsolete patriarchal institutions that have obstructed humanity's evolution for too long. Hope to finish this painting very soon.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Workers, Artists & Saints: "El Mago" in Latin American Culture

 Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! I am currently working on more than one project at a time so there is much material to cover for this blog. As you may already know, this blog reflects on the  paintings I am working on in my studio and it is also a vital part of my research concerned with archetypes in Latin American culture specially in colonial times. Even though there are many more interesting subjects I wish to share with you here, I am trying to stick for now with the theme of archetypes and how these are represented in the Americas. 
"El Mago" from the "Neo-Colonial Tarot of the Americas" ink on card.
 On this occasion I will briefly present the archetype of "The magician" or "El Mago" with special attention to Latin American cultural expressions of this character. When I encountered this fellow in the Tarot I felt immediatly identified with him. In this first card (numbered #1) we find a man handling tools on a table as if preparing for a performance or trick. He may be identified as an artist, alchemist, magician, pitchman or all of the above. In any case, we are confronted by a "jack of all trades" who wants to show us something. He is in the middle of an act of demonstrating how things work. In this sense he is a master or teacher about to perform for us a lesson.

Le Bateleur or Magician from the Tarot of Marseille
"The Artisan" from the Mantegna Tarocchi by Ladenspelder Cologne artist ca. 1550
Guatemalan Marimba player
Coconut Water Vendor from El Salvador
If we take this archetype and try to understand it in sociological terms, he would be "the worker". In Latin America and also in the United States, many people struggle everyday in order to make ends meet, survive and provide for their families. In a way we can call this person "an alchemist" because he or she makes something out of nothing or from very little. This person is able to transform situations into opportunities. There is so much we can learn from someone like "El mago" and every one of us holds this potential within. "El Mago" knows no limitations and always re-invents him or herself learning new skills and becoming an expert at it.
Mcolonial Citizen: El Artista (2011) Oil on wood 11" X 24"
El Cronista (1999) Oil on canvas  (detail)
Often this archetype is expressed as a spark of genius or thought coming from the mind and informing the  hands on how to play an instrument, hold a brush to paint, a pen to write a poem or to perform any task that involves an acquired specialized skill.

It is not uncommon to find images of this archetype identified with that of the wizard holding a magic wand, a crystal ball and wearing a tall hat. Harry Potter comes to mind or this guy:
Ian Mckellen played the role of Gandalf, the wizard in the epic film triology "The Lord of the Rings" directed by Peter Jackson and based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien 
In astrology, he is associated with Mercury, the planet of commerce, industry, enterprise, travel and communications. This is a highly creative archetype that can be focused, clever, multi-tasked, dexterous and practical and a workaholic.
Albert Einstein (1879- 1955) German born physicist, famous for his theory of relativity
Often The Magician or "El Mago" archetype can  be found in individuals that excel with their minds becoming unique specimens in human history. Great artists and geniuses like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo or scientists like Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla  revolutionized with their creations and discoveries. "El Mago" can become an enlightened being that reveals deep and complex truths trough arduous study and creative insight.
Leonardo Da Vinci , (1452-1519) Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer.
When it comes to the Catholic Pantheon, every saint can be considered a "mago" for they have been known to have performed one or more magical or supernatural acts known in Christian terms as  miracles. I find the Magician from the Tarot of the Saints an interesting example to study. This Tarot was created by artist and author Robert Place. He has very good reasons behind the selection of the image of Saint Nicholas to represent "the magician". The magical reputation of this saint survives to this day in the guise of Santa Claus.
1. St. Nicholas, the Magician from the Tarot of the Saints by Robert Place
Interestingly there are three other mystical winter holiday characters that embody the archetype perfectly well.  The three wise men or the Biblical "Magi" in Puerto Rico are known as "Los tres santos reyes magos"  This Spanish tradition is celebrated in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Uruguay and other parts of Latin America as part of the Christmas festivities. It also forms part of the Puerto Rican tradition of "Santos" in which an image of the "Magi" on horseback  with gifts is carved on wood and venerated.
"Three Kings" talla de Jose Roman Ramos (1988) on display at the  Museo De Ponce
"The Astronomer, Theurgist and Alchemist" Ink and tempera on paper

Contemporary Byzantine interpretation of the Iconic image of San Martin de Porres

In Colonial Latin America there is one individual that seems to be the perfect embodiment for this archetype of "el mago".  San Martin de Porres a very popular saint in the Americas. Martin De Porres was a Dominican friar  in colonial Lima, Peru. He worked on behalf of the poor and lived in austerity. The image of Martin just spoke to me after having read about his life dedicated to the service to others while performing magical-like acts like bilocation, levitation and miraculous cures among other numerous miracles. I felt inspired by his story and simply had to honor him again this time with  a contemporary "retablo painting". Below is a preview of the painting I just finished. It is set in a fast food restaurant counter. Notice that Martin is "serving" us a "veggie burger" in correspondence to his ethical values (He was a vegetarian). I have included three workers with crowns in the background recalling "the magi".
"Humilde Servidor a.k.a. expendable employee" (2012) Oil on wood panel 24" x 45"
"Humilde Servidor a.k.a. expendable employee" (2012) (detail)
On this piece I have connected the every day life of a worker at any fast food restaurant with that of a saint and magician. From factories to fields, from studios to monasteries, from laboratories to classrooms, the magician is performing  mysterious and creative acts trough all of us in one way or another. On my next blog entry I will talk write about "La Papisa" (The Popess) the feminist principle and how it has been embodied from Sor Juan Ines to Frida Kahlo.