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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Honoring the Soul of Posada

El Mosquito Americano.  An illustration and verse critical
of U.S. imperialism where the U.S. is likened to a mosquito.
Artists, like writers, can be important political tools.  Both often are punished for their work, and they often die penniless, unnoticed, and never knowing what effect their work has had on the overall scheme of things.  One of these unsung champions is José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), a Mexican artist, illustrator and cartoonist.
Importantisimo milagro.  A miracle performed by
the Virgin of Guadalupe in response to the pleas
of a devout man, Nicolas Gutierrez, on behalf
of his wife who was suffering from chest pains.

Posada learned engraving and lithography as a young teenager, and while still a teen worked for a local newspaper, El Jicote (The Bumblebee), as a political cartoonist.  As the story goes, one of his cartoons so inflamed a local politician, Jesús Gómez Portugal, that the newspaper was shut down after eleven issues.
Explotador del Pueblo.  This political print deals with
labor abuses and the concentration of power.  The central
figure is likely a specific hacendado (landowner) of the
time.  Two caricatured men ride away on a donkey
while laborers toil in the background.
He moved to a new town and set up a print shop, where he became involved in commercial work, book illustration, and printing posters of religious and historical figures.  He also taught lithography at a local school.  When the town was flooded in 1888, he relocated to Mexico City.  He got work at a publishing company of the famous liberal journalist Ireneo Paz, whose grandson is the Nobel Prize-winning author, Octavio Paz

Corrido de la vida de Santanón (1911).  Pictoral broadside with an 
image and corrido narrative ballad addressing the life of
Rodríguez (Santamón) - a Mexican Robin Hood-style
bandit in the state of Veracruz during the Porfirian era 

who was eventually captured by rurales (campesinos ).
El Dulcero Mexicano.  This is the cover
for a 16 page chapbook containing
recipes for Mexican desserts, depicting
a man wearing an apron, making sweets
in a kitchen.

In 1892, he went to work for Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, a publisher of newspapers, periodicals, and chapbooks for the general public.  These were cheap and distributed by the thousands, although not many have survived.  Because they were illustrated even the illiterate could understand them. During this time Posada moved away from lithography, using instead zinc, wood and type metal for the purpose of a cheaper way of printmaking.  Posada worked prodigiously for Arroyo and on his own, and had to open two more workshops.  Although he was never considered a “fine” artist, his work was important to the general public, giving historians a nice glimpse into their lives and thoughts.  He never went to an art academy, having learned his skills through apprenticeships, so was not regarded a “real” artist by his contemporary art world.

José Guadalupe Posada by Leopoldo Méndez (1960) An offset lithograph from the portfolio 
450 Years of Struggle: Homage to the Mexican People honoring Posada, who initiated the
printmaking tradition in Mexico.  Here he is depicted in his workshop capturing the scene of
military oppression taking place outside of his window.  
Untitled (Guadalupe after Posada)Rafael López Castro, 1984.
This serigraph is based on Posada's
A Nuestra Señora de
showing her surrounded by four medallions that
illustrate her apparitions.  Besides adding color to the original
black and white print, Castro substituted the image of
Emiliano Zapata for the supporting angel.

The Porfirio Díaz dictatorship was the target of a number of authors and illustrators who  delivered anti-establishment messages and cartoons to the public. Díaz was originally a liberal and progressive, but during his 35-year dictatorship he focused on the elite landowners and ignored the underprivileged lower classes.  Posada was a very outspoken critic of the Díaz government, and used his skills in political satire.  He supported Emiliano Zapata, and portrayed him as a noble hero.  Using the Dia de los Muertos festivities as a theme, Posada staged shows with puppet skeletons who were dressed in the latest fashions, emulating the rich.  His shows and artwork used macabre humor to skewer politics and the elite class, and he was jailed several times for these satires.

Despotados al Valle Nacional.  Indigenous 
men and women are being herded 
by men in military uniforms towards a train.  
Forgotten by the time of his death, he received some international attention in the 1920s when the French artist Jean Charlot discovered his work.  Diego Rivera and the muralist José  Clemente Orozco claimed Posada as an influence, as well as other more modern artists.  Posada was given a pauper’s burial, and his bones were eventually dug up and dispensed with.  Sadly, the man most associated with Dia de los Muertos was not and can never be honored at a gravesite during this commemoration.  I chose to honor him with this post.

(Images courtesy of the University of New Mexico’s


  1. Posada's "Calavera de la Catrina" is well known, but the man and the real political nature of his work is not. He is indeed an unsung champion, and it's so fitting that you chose to honor him today...

  2. I agree he was an amazing man. Hopefully more people will learn of him in time.