One of Manuel Felguerez’s abstract compositions.
Mohammad Yusuf, Feature Writer
The Embassy of Mexico is currently hosting the eighth art exhibition hosted on its premises. Entitled “Trajectories”, it presents eleven masterpieces by the Mexican artist Manuel Felguerez. It runs until March 27.
Felguerez was a visual artist, pioneer and a major figure in abstract art in Mexico. A tireless and adventurous researcher, he distinguished himself by constant exploration and innovation through comprehensive and multifaceted work.
Felguerez’s career included painting, sculpture planning, thirty years as a teacher, theater and film work, and craft design. He has had over 250 solo exhibitions and over 1,500 with other artists. He considered his most important work to be his carved murals and public sculptures.
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He worked in both painting and sculpture, specializing in combining sculpture as wall painting and created sculpted metal murals for public and private buildings.
Most of these were made early in his career with thirty relief murals, using materials such as scrap iron, stones, sand and shells, and completed in the late 1960s.
During his lifetime, Felguerez garnered the highest recognitions and tributes that a living artist could receive, in his hometown, throughout Mexico and abroad. The scope and singularity of his work shape the Museum of Abstract Art that bears his name, unique in Mexico and Latin America, a true legacy. Returning from a second stay in Paris in the mid-1950s and influenced by the work of sculptors such as Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Brancusi and Ossip Zadkine, Felguerez first decided to be a sculptor.
He began a long journey through art exploring not only sculpture, but also painting, drawing, murals and public sculpture. He also ventured into scenography, being a pioneer of digital art in Mexico and working in the field of research and teaching. At the Abu Dhabi exhibition, some of the most representative stages of his artistic production are presented, with a selection of oil paintings and prints, spanning nearly six decades.
Felguerez was born in Valparaiso and dedicated his life to sculpture and painting. At a very young age, he refused the traditional Mexican technique of landscaping taught at the famous Academy of San Carlos and settled in the National School of Plastic Arts La Esmeralda, before traveling abroad to study in Paris. “To speak of Felguerez is to enter the mind of an artist who has created his own formal universe in the visual arts which reveals a polysemous, avant-garde, dissident and inexhaustible ideology”, specify the animators.
Felguerez became a member of the so-called Generacion de la Ruptura (Breakaway Generation), which brought together artists of varying stylistic orientations, who agreed on the renovation of the arts against the traditional Mexican landscape style. His artistic proposal has ceased to be a social chronicle to become an expression of individual freedom through various themes, resources and mediums working in combination with technology, science and everyday life. In his group, Felguerez occupied a fundamental position and was a main representative of the movement, while working his way to become one of the most prominent Mexican artists of all time. The formation of Felguerez’s style and imagery is closely tied to the various European movements incorporating Geometric Constructivism, Informalism and Abstract Expressionism, to which he was exposed early in his training.
He merged these elements into his own style. His work often contains basic geometric figures such as circles, triangles, rectangles and squares, in combinations to form his own “language”. It has been compared to that of Picasso and the Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo. He claimed many influences, but followed no one in particular. His creations never refer to death, because for him art is life. He did not believe that art was necessarily cathartic and his emotions were not reflected in his work. He characterized himself as a person of constant experimentation, as he believed that constant evolution distinguishes the artist from the craftsman, who repeats styles and forms. He focuses on aesthetics and paints more with his head than with his hands. Felguerez describes himself as a “producer and seller of aesthetic pleasure”.
His work from the mid-1970s involved the use of computer processes; the subject continues to be geometric shapes. He used computers to program designs, experimenting with them as a new medium. At eighty, he still spent eight hours a day experimenting and working on his art as well as traveling for exhibitions. In the late 1980s, Felguerez received the National Science and Arts Award and in 2016, the Fine Arts Medal for his career of constant innovation. For more than seven decades he was a key figure in the development and evolution of abstract art in Mexico and Latin America.
In collaboration with the National Institute of Fine Arts and many artists, he donated an extensive collection of works to create the Manuel Felguerez Museum of Abstract Art, located in the city of Zacatecas. The collection includes paintings, prints, huge murals and public sculptures that are the legacy of a boundless spirit. During his career, Felguerez received various national and international prizes and distinctions, among which the Grand Prix d’Honneur of the XIII Biennial of Sao Paulo, Brazil (1975); the National Prize for the Arts of Mexico (1988) and the Commission of the Isabel La Católica Order, from the Spanish Government (2006). He died in Mexico City in 2020.