José Luis Cuevas

Mexico, 1933


Jose Luis Cuevas was born in Mexico City in 1930. Cuevas began drawing at an early age. While convalescing from a serious boyhood illness he became a voracious reader. At the age of 10 he enrolled as an irregular student at the School of Painting and Sculpture 'La Esmeralda' in Mexico City. He began exhibiting in the early 1950s and is regarded as one of the foremost representatives of the neo-figurative movements that emerged in Latin America from the late 1950s onwards. Cuevas specialized in incisive satirical ink, wash and pencil drawings of grotesque creatures and degraded humanity, often including self-portraits in his compositions. Although he followed the tradition of Gaya, his work was strongly flavored by 19th and 20th century literature, contemporary life and horror and detective films. He made many drawings in insane institutions and represented the poor children and prostitutes of Mexico City. His distaste for the 'Mexican nationalism' of RIVERA and SIQUEIROS, and his rebellion against the Miraclist establishment in Mexico, led him to coin the expression 'the Cactus Curtain'. However, he acknowledged a debt to Orozco whose own satirical sense, expressed in his murals and his early cartoons, perpetuates a Mexican tradition of black humor popularized by Jose Guadalupe Posada in the 19th and early 20th c. Following a first exhibition in a vacant lot, Cuevas had his first gallery exhibition at the co-operative Gal. Prisse in 1953 in Mexico City. In 1954 the Cuban art critic Jose Gomez Sicre organized an exhibition of his work at the Pan American Union in Washington, which launched the artist abroad. When he exhibited at the Gal. Edouard Loeb in Paris in 1955 Picasso bought two of his drawings. From then on he exhibited regularly in the U.S.A., Europe and Latin America. He won the first international prize for drawing for his series Funeral of a Dictator (1958) in the Sao Paulo Bienale in 1959 and the same year showed at the Gal. Bonino in Buenos Aires. In 1960 he exhibited at the Art Center in Fort Worth and the Philadelphia Mus. of Art. His series The World of Kafka and Cuevas(1957) is in the collection of the latter museum. In 1962 he exhibited his series Cuevas Por Cuevas (also the title of an autobiography published in Mexico City in 1965) at the Gal. Silvan Simone in Los Angeles and in 1963 at the Andrew-Morris Gal. in New York. He participated in several group exhibitions of a polemical nature such as 'The Insiders' in New York and Los Angeles in 1960. The exhibitions were named after Selden Rodman's book of that title, in which the author praises the work of Cuevas and other neo-figurative artists as representative of a new humanism. In 1961 Cuevas participated in an exhibition with Mathias Goeritz and Pedro Friedeberg at the Gal. Antonio Souza in Mexico City entitled 'Los Hartos' (The Fed-Ups) as an indictment of the 'vacuity' of much modern art. Cuevas denounced the elegant Paris school especially. The French critic Jean Cassou found his work very Mexican in its 'passionate, cruel sense of truth' and, according to the Argentinean critic Marta Traba, Cuevas took part in a 'resistance' movement against international art-market demands by establishing a Latin American identity as an artist. Cuevas also designed theatrical sets and participated in many symposia and wrote two other autobiographies. Cuevario and Cuevas Contra Cuevas. He also illustrated numerous books, including Recollection of Childhood (1962) and Crime by Cuevas (1968). His work is in public and private collections in Latin America, the U.S.A. and France.

Artworks by José Luis Cuevas