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A new book by the San Antonio publisher Material Media, edited by Elizabeth Cauthorn, focuses on the work of Mexican artist Raymundo Gonzalez. It is titled “Raymundo Gonzalez: Magical Realism in Mexico” and is available in stores and online now.
I first spoke with the artist by phone in early October as he was preparing for his visit to San Antonio this week for the launch of the book (see schedule of events below). From the beginning, it was evident that Gonzalez is a man with a deep appreciation and concern for his country.
As he spoke in Spanish, the artist described some of the challenges that Mexico is faced with in the 21st century. He worries that young people in Mexico today are not aware of the rich cultural heritage they have inherited. He spoke of diminishing cultures, and traditions being eclipse by modernity; of young people who leave their native towns for the big cities of Europe and the United States; and of a changing value system where Spanish is at times considered inferior to the English language.
“I don’t want to be one of the last artists to paint what is unique to Mexico,” he said.
In the prologue to the book, Marion Oettinger, curator of Latin American art at the San Antonio Museum of Art, begins by placing Gonzalez within an historical context:
“Gonzalez is an active subscriber to Latin American Magic Realism, especially the Oaxacan School. Like Oaxacans Francisco Toledo and the late Rodolfo Morales, Gonzalez frequently places landscapes, people, and animals within mystical settings that allude to regional myths and folklore.”
Working from his home in Cuernavaca, Gonzalez aims to capture the history and traditions of his beloved country with an imaginative eye. “I’m not merely documenting what I see, but as an artist, I am able to incorporate fantasy into my work,” he said. Mexican cityscapes, carnivals, fiestas, and marketplaces are the settings for Gonzalez’s work. An array of recurring characters such as angels, Guadalupanas, masked figures, roosters, and bulls fill those settings.
Gonzalez, however, does not only paint scenes of celebrations and daily life in Mexico. At times, referencing both the historical and the spiritual, Gonzalez’s work may demand a deeper level of understanding from its viewers. In “El Omnibus de Maximilian” (2011) the artist depicts a bright red bus, propelled by dozens of tiny wings, as it hovers over a star-lit city. Inside, the Emperor Maximilian and his entourage are visible through its windows. It is an image of a modern bus in a bygone era. Here, Mexico’s present is indistinguishable from its past.
“In Mexico, the bus is a symbol of democracy,” Gonzalez said, “because everyone can get on it.” As evidenced by the front cover of the book, brightly colored Mexican buses are another recurring theme in Gonzalez’s work.
As our conversation continued, he spoke of various influences on his work, from the writings of Gabriel García Márquez and Octavio Paz, to the great Spanish masters Goya and Picasso. He also spoke of his early education as an architect. After graduating from the Autonomous University of Morelos School of Architecture, Gonzalez began working as an architect but would eventually commit to working as a full-time artist.
With pride, Gonzalez reveals that he lives a “simple life” in the state of Morelos, which he values more than “fame and fortune.” He says he finds great joy in being able to walk through the streets of his hometown while observing the people in the markets and in their homes. Certainly, the artist’s joyful attitude is reflected in the many artworks featured in “Magical Realism in Mexico.” Despite the country facing turbulent times, Gonzalez’s work remains optimistic.
In preparation for the book, local artist Mark Menjivar photographed more than 70 of Gonzalez’s paintings.
“I also spent four days photographing in Cuernavaca. One of those days was spent with Raymundo in his studio,” Menjivar said. “It was great to see him working and see how he continually changes his house by painting directly on every wall. While walking around the city, I tried to focus on the everyday things that I often saw in his paintings.”
“Working with Elizabeth Cauthorn and Andrea Caillouet on this project was wonderful,” Menjivar said of his efforts alongside the women who helped with the design of the book. “They gave me complete freedom to photograph how and what I wanted, and we worked closely together on the final edit. Every book is a miracle and I am super thankful to have gotten to work with such a great team on this one.”
Along with Menjivar’s photography, the book also features essays by local writers Wendy Atwell, Margaret Schellenberg, Amy Niederhauser, and Fredericka Younger.
Younger, who is also the artist’s U.S. representative, first fell in love with Gonzalez’s work during a trip to Cuernavaca many years ago. “He’s a wonderful man,” she said.
For Gonzalez, the recent publication of a book focusing on his paintings is a chance to reach a new audience that may not be familiar with his work.
“The book serves to give an idea of who I am— that I’m not just doing random things, that I’m not trying to copy anyone,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not trying to be Picasso, even though I enjoy Picasso, but I am doing things that are my own— I try to be Raymundo.”
With drawings and paintings spanning the past decade, the book captures the breadth of Gonzalez’s artistic abilities.
“I hope to live many more years and be able to see my work evolve further. I’m not going to stay in the same place,” he said of his artistic process.
For anyone who has ever visited the city of Cuernavaca, the book is sure to bring back memories of a city still rich in culture and tradition. For those unfamiliar, “Magical Realism in Mexico” provides a wonderful introduction to both Gonzalez, and the cultural traditions of his country.
“I love Mexico and it is important to me that it is understood,” Gonzalez states.
For more information on the artist and his work, visit www.quetelate.com.
“Raymundo Gonzalez: Magical Realism in Mexico“ is available at the Twig Bookstore, Viva Bookstore, the San Antonio Museum of Art gift shop, and at www.materialmedia.com.
Raymundo Gonzalez’ local appearances and book signings this week:
- Wednesday, Nov. 5: 1111 Austin Highway, event hosted by Guillermo Nicolas, 6-8 p.m.
- Thursday, Nov. 6: The Twig Book Shop, 6-8 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 7: First Friday at the Steel House Lofts and the Frutería, 7-9 p.m.
- Saturday, Nov. 8: San Antonio Museum of Art, 11 a.m.- 3:30 p.m.
- Saturday Nov. 8: COSAS (in Boerne), 5:30-8 p.m.
*Featured/top image: The cover for “Raymundo Gonzalez: Magical Realism in Mexico” features “Omnibus de la democracia (Bus of Democracy),” 2008, acrylic on canvas, 63 x 77 inches, by Raymundo Gonzalez.