DALLAS — “I personally consider that supplies have a soul of their very own,” the Mexico-born, Texas-based artist Octavio Medellín wrote in 1978. “My mission,” he continued, “was to go looking in them their habits in order that I [could] talk with them.” Whether or not he was utilizing wooden, stone, steel, or clay, supplies mattered to Medellín. The artist noticed these as entities that he would, in his phrases, “develop into a part of” and rework into one thing common. All through his lengthy profession, Medellín mixed his supplies’ essence together with his personal artistic imaginative and prescient.
Octavio Medellín: Spirit and Kind on the Dallas Museum of Artwork is the artist’s first museum retrospective. Curated by Mark Castro, the exhibition options roughly 80 works, together with sculptures, drawings, prints, and images from Medellín’s preliminary experiments within the Nineteen Twenties to items accomplished simply earlier than his loss of life in 1999. As a prolific artist and beloved instructor, Medellín helped outline the Texas artwork scene for six many years. His work lives on in his many public commissions at institutional and spiritual areas throughout Texas, and within the Inventive Arts Heart, which he based in Dallas in 1966. Castro’s exhibition is a considerate tribute to Medellín’s lifelong pursuit of craft and his honest seek for connection.
Born in 1907 in Matehuala, Mexico to a big household of Otomí ancestry, Medellín’s early years had been marked by the unrest of the Mexican Revolution. To flee the battle, his household immigrated to San Antonio, Texas, the place Medellín took on odd jobs to assist his newly widowed mom. Alongside the way in which, the artist found wooden carving. “I didn’t know what sort of instruments I ought to use,” he mentioned in a later interview. “To me, that was unimportant. I simply used hope.”
Journeys again to Mexico proved pivotal to Medellín’s inventive growth. In 1929, after assembly Frida Kahlo, Carlos Mérida, and different artists in Mexico Metropolis, he toured the nation’s’ Gulf Coast on foot. “As he was visiting historic ruins and taking a look at historic stone carvings, he was additionally actually taken by what he described as artwork being made by actual individuals residing within the small villages he handed by,” Castro instructed Hyperallergic on a latest tour of the exhibition. “They labored with clay and stone in a manner that was extremely direct, and lacked any of the type of artwork world pretensions that he noticed in American artwork. These native artists impressed him to create one thing that was very tied to neighborhood, place, and id.”
Medellín returned to Mexico together with his younger household in 1938 to sketch and research the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, and different websites. The aid carvings he noticed there later impressed numerous initiatives, together with a sequence of linocut prints, drawings, and different works. Many of those are on show within the exhibition, permitting viewers to understand Medellín’s traditionally referenced items in two dimensions.
The artist’s work from historic sources coincided with extra modern and political themes. Medellín’s hanging, solemn sculpture “The Hanged Man” (1939), of a shirtless younger man hanging from a noose, echoes the brutality of each the artist’s childhood, and of his current day. “The hanged determine seems in lots of artwork depicting the Mexican Revolution, and we all know that it was a typical sight for individuals in the course of the battle,” Castro defined. “However he additionally carved this in 1939 in Denton, Texas, which was nonetheless deep in Jim Crow. There was a big presence within the space of KKK exercise and violence, so for me, there’s a resonance between this work and depictions of the lynchings of Black males within the American South.” Tragically, lynchings had been nonetheless ocurring in Texas when Medellín carved this piece.
All through his profession, Medellín struggled with the ways in which he and his paintings had been acquired by others. The artist lived in Texas for many of his life and have become a United States citizen in 1942. Nevertheless, he was not all the time thought of an American artist, and his work was generally racialized and even known as “primitive.” Later in life, Medellín described himself as “an American of Mexican heritage,” however he usually rejected labels. For instance, as Chicano activism gained traction within the US, the artist was uneasy about his work being utilized in publications concerning the motion. Medellín’s flip to abstraction in his later work may need been a manner of additional resisting categorization.
“He’s wrestling with the identical downside that folks nonetheless wrestle with: being recognized a sure manner,” Castro famous. “Medellín believed within the universality of artwork. Whereas an id would possibly deliver helpful consideration to his work, he additionally apprehensive that it may pigeonhole or restrict him.” Greater than something, Medellín wished his work to talk for itself, and to talk extensively. As he wrote in 1980, “Artwork is admittedly common and belongs to all individuals.”
Octavio Medellín: Spirit and Kind continues on the Dallas Museum of Artwork (1717 N Harwood Avenue, Dallas) by January 15, 2023. The exhibition was curated by Mark Castro.