Thursday, November 12, 2015

Jean Charlot -Mexico's Brethren Printmaker

The prints of Jean Charlot reveal a man in love with foreign culture, and the exotic indigenous peoples who inhabit them. Charlot originally hailed from Europe, but he came to live in the Americas and embraced the culture, the food, women, the innocence of youth and the nurturing of family life.

He loved to portray daily rituals and embraced small moments in one’s life. The gentle simplicity of his compositions and blended colors vibrate life under the surface of one’s skin. The gentle kiss of a mother to her infant, and the intimacy of watching a mother combing a young girl’s hair are examples of an artist who is presently witnessing the event. He is not a voyeur sneaking a peak, at an intimate moment. He is part of the activity, and so are we.

Charlot’s compositions are closely cropped to his subjects. There isn’t a lot of excessive space around his figures, and their short, squat stances pull us closer to them, as though they are children to be cared for, looked after, and protected. Charlot’s Hawaiian-inspired images show mythic figure which look like statues, or personified spirits in the natural settings. His colors are flatter and more colorful that the previous Mexican-inspired work. The later pieces express more peacefulness and a oneness with the environment.

In all, Charlot brings small moments of observation to a grander level of tranquility and internal peace. I hope you enjoy seeing these prints, and reading more about his life, which was fairly instrumental in re-introducing Jose Guadalupe Posada’s work to the Mexican people; and bringing Posada’s skeleton figures to such joyful prominence every year when we celebrate the Day of the Dead.

Jean Charlot (1898 –1979) was a French/ American artist, who worked in Mexico and the United States. Charlot was born in Paris, but he claimed to have Aztec roots. This was because his mother was from Mexico, his grandfather was a French-Indian mestizo, and his Spanish great grandfather had married a woman who was half Aztec.

Charlot was fascinated with pre-Columbian artifacts and Mexican manuscripts. He studied art in Paris before serving in the French Army during WWI. In 1921, Charlot and his mother went to Mexico City, where he met Fernando Leal, Diego Rivera, Dorothy “Zohmah” Day and Pablo O'Higgins. He later married Day, who had originally moved to Mexico to be involved with the Mexican art movement.
Charlot is credited for having brought the work of Mexican printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada, to international acclaim. Posada was prolific, having produced more than 15 thousand political satirical prints and lithographs, which were known from Mexico’s pre-revolutionary newspapers. Because Charlot was impressed with Posada’s cartoon-esque style, he sought out Posada's former publisher and in 1928 and1930, he published catalogs of Posada’s prints. Posada's images ultimately influenced several great Mexican artists like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Pablo O'Higgins, and still is a major influence on today’s younger Mexican artists.

After the Mexican Revolution, mural painting became one of the more accessible visual means to convey the government’s messages about social justice. Charlot participated in this mural art movement with his fresco called "Massacre in the Templo Mayor".
From 1926 to 1928, he spent time at Chichen Itza, helping to excavate, trace and copy bas-reliefs and painted surfaces from their newly revealed ancient Mayan temples. This had a major influence upon his own art.

While Charlot lived in the US, he also did some commissions for the Work Projects Administration's Federal Arts Project. In 1947, he moved to Colorado and spent two years teaching fresco painting and making lithographs at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. He then moved to Hawaii to teach art at the University of Hawaii. His latter works reflect images from his thirty years’ living on the island, and they exude his fascination with nature and the Hawaiian people.

Public Collections:
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Cleveland Museum of Art
Hawaii State Art Museum
Honolulu Museum of Art
University of Hawaii at Manoa

1940 - illustrated Tito's Hats, which was written by Mel Ferrer.
1972 - published "An Artist on Art: Collected Essays of Jean Charlot", on Mexican art history.

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