A massive football player, his uniform black, heavy, robotic, runs through a modern city, a flutter of torn books beneath spiked shoes.
He carries a graduation cap in one hand, stolen from the head of a statued scholar, the other hand extended in an evil claw toward a group of diminutive young children sitting at simple desk — a hawk ready to pluck his prey. The city ignores the indignity; it crowds the horizon with shiny righteousness, a new stadium earning center stage, separating education from progress.
Jess Escobedo’s futuristic woodcut print, “Escuelas Pobres,” examines the conflict between education and the big money of state-supported sports. Born in 1918 in El Oro, a poor town in the state of Mexico where his father worked as a miner, Escobedo entered the Santiago Revuill Open-Air School of Painting at 10 years of age. His work speaks of the passion of education, often featuring wide-eyed young children in difficult situations.
Escobedo follows the artistic tradition of Jos Guadalupe Posada, whose widely distributed satirical prints and cartoons made use of folk images to parody the doings of the rich and powerful, to denounce injustice. Posada’s first illustrations were printed in Pedrozo’s radical weekly El Jicote in 1871, but after 11 issues the magazine was closed down by the authorities on suspicion of inciting riot, and Posada was forced to flee with his employer to Leon in Guanajato.
Posada began to illustrate Antonio Vanegas Arroyo’s broadsheets of sensational news stories — horrific accidents, bold executions and natural disasters as well as chilling urban myths where women gave birth to animals or turned into fireballs. Despite wild popularity, Posada died a pauper in Mexico City, but his work lived and breathed in men and women from Mexico and around the world who copied his broadsheet illustrative style.
Escobedo’s print and a Posada print, “Zapatista Calavera,” along with other political works of Mexican woodcut print artists can be seen through Sept. 24 at the Ray Drew Gallery in an exhibition titled “The History of Mexico, Mexican Political Woodcut Prints, 1900-50.” The show also features a special Gallery Talk at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, September 17, by Dr. Robert Bell, who donated the prints to Highlands University.
“It always amazes people to come in to our gallery and see the wealth of art,” says Ray Drew Gallery curator Bob Read. “Our gallery is one of the little hidden treasures of Las Vegas. We are indebted to Dr. Bell for his generosity. In addition to the prints on display during this exhibition, we have hundreds more works donated by Dr. Bell.”
Considered an engaging and informative lecturer, Bell began collecting prints as a youth. His expert eye is apparent when one circles the gallery. In “La Situacin de Campesino,” artist Leopoldo Mendz criticizes the Bracero Program, a temporary contract labor program initiated by an August 1942 exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Mexico.
An emaciated farmer stands, his body buried to neck in dirt, his mouth just out of reach of an empty bowl. The United States and Mexican gentry look on, heads elegantly shaded from the sun in dapper hats. These prints speak of peasant fear, of rage against the Spanish and American machine, of long, hot years of oppression and cultural captivity.
“Look at Hidalgo,” whispered Las Vegas resident Miguel Baca to his kindergarten-aged son. Father and boy looked at Javier Iniquez’ portrait study of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the Roman Catholic priest who pushed Mexico away from Spain’s wiry grasp. “He was a great man,” Baca continued, “we could learn a lot from him today. It’s time for our country to think about a revolution.”
Designed to confront and threaten the establishment, to call the people to arms, the prints in the show alternately anger and amuse.
Another gallery visitor, Christine Hockmeyer, was visiting Las Vegas from St. Paul, Minn. “I’m so glad I came upon this place. I had no idea Las Vegas was full of this much art and culture. This exhibit is particularly inspiring. I decided to leave town for a couple of weeks while the Republican Convention is going on, and this is the perfect antidote. Just look at the meaning behind ‘Privileges of the Colonists,’” she continued, referring to a highly detailed print by Antonio Pujol depicting men in lush brocade flirting with Mexican peasant girls. “This is what’s happening in our country today. The rich are mesmerizing the poor. It’s wrong.”
“The History of Mexico: Mexican Political Woodcut Prints, 1900-50, now through Sept. 24 at the Ray Drew Gallery, NMHU. Special Gallery Talk by Robert Bell, Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 4 p.m.