About Alfredo Zalce's
INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTWORK
REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction is different
from the original artwork?
The image on the computer is a digitized image taken from a photographic
slide of the original woodcut. The original woodcut is 15" high x
CONDITION: What can I determine about the condition of the artwork?
The original work is in generally good condition except that there is
a triangular-shaped discoloration in the middle area (just in front of
and slightly including the nose of the locomotive) which is reflected in
the digitized image.
SUBJECT MATTER: What can I determine about what the artwork depicts,
The woodcut depicts a scene containing well-known features of the Mexican
Revolution of 1910-1919. In the foreground lies a humble, wounded Mexican
revolutionary of Indian stock. He wears the traditional dress and sandals
(called huaraches) of the Mexican peasant. His head wound is being
tended to by his barefoot female companion. She is identified as one of
the rieleras (camp followers, riding the comandeered trains with
their male revolutionary counterparts) through reference to the locomotive
that fills the upper left background. In the right foreground, rifles are
arrayed in a self-supporting tripod, in the middle of which is a large
cache of ammunition, including cartridge belts. In the right background
appear Mexican peasants. One is a male revolutionary with a rifle and three
are women carrying loads.
TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can I learn about how the artwork
Alfredo Zalce's woodcut is an example of one of the earliest methods
of making prints from a relief surface, dating from at least the 5th century
AD in China. A woodcut print is one of a series of multiple original artworks
all printed from the same woodblock. The artist cuts into the surface of
a block of wood using a gouge. The gouge cuts more smoothly and easily
with than against the linear grain of the wood. The predominance of horizontal
lines in Zalce's print (in the sky, on the ground, and on the train and
its tracks) suggest that the grain in his block ran horizonatally. Straight
lines are easier than curved lines to cut into a hard wooden surface. Zalce
executed even curved forms, like the woman's arms and the folds of her
clothing with rather angular lines.
After the artist completes the image on the block it is printed onto
a sheet of paper. The artist applies ink to the surface of the block with
a brayer (roller). The brayer rolls across the uncut surfaces of the block
distributing ink, but does not reach down to ink the gouged areas. The
artist places a sheet of paper over the inked block and applies pressure.
When the paper is removed it presents a reverse image of the block.
Zalce's brown (now discolored) paper was larger than the block. The
block was only as large as the outermost areas of black on the print. The
brown areas of Zalce's print are untouched paper. The black areas were
printed with the ink from the uncut top surfaces of the block. When Zalce
planned his print he had to work backwards, making marks where there would
be untouched paper in his print and placing guns on the left, if he wanted
them to appear on the right in his final print.
As a form of print permitting editions of multi-originals, the woodcut
gained popularity in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s through the
illustrations of Rockwell Kent and the artists working in the Work Projects
Administration that was established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during
the Great Depression. Similarly, in Mexico the Taller de Gráfica
Popular (TGP) was established by the Mexican government as part of a national
printing program and a workshop for popular graphic arts. Alfredo Zalce
was one of the cofounders of TGP and worked occasionally in the medium
of the woodcut.
||Sensory Lesson Index|
What visual elements do I see?
Texture is often the dominant sensory quality in woodcuts. Zalce's print
includes a variety of textured areas, for example, thin, parallel straight
lines in the train engine; long, slightly curved tapered gouges in the
sky; shorter gouges in many directions in the mounatins; and quite short,
almost triangular gouges on the ground.
FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together?
There is a strong formal contrast between, on the one hand, vertical
and horizontal lines, and on the other, diagonals. The vertical and horizontal
lines are prominent in the recumbant, ailing revolutionary, the horizontal
railroad tracks, and the locomotive. Set against these and somewhat in
opposition to them are the diagonals that characterize the rifles and the
woman. The diagonals that frame the woman especially contrast with the
horizontals that set off the man. In this formal use of line, in the subject
matter (a woman nursing a wounded man with a bandage), and in the dynamic
posture of the woman, caught in mid-movement, partially kneeling and steadied
by her covered right leg and tense left foot which is supporting her weight,
there is an echo of the Pietás and similar images of women comforting
Christ or a saint that was common to the Old Masters.
On the left side, the locomotive which appears in midground, blocks
off the foreground. In the right half of the print a traveling Mexican
male and female peasants are in the background against the backdrop of
mountains or large hills.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTMAKER
Alfredo Zalce was born January 12, 1908 in Patzcuaro, Michoacán,
Mexico. His father and mother were both professional photographers. Zalce
attended elementary and high school in Mexico City; during these years
he also helped his parents develop film. He studied art (supporting himself
as a photographer) at the Escuela Central de Artes Plásticas, which
later was to be named the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. At the age
of 20 his works were exhibited in the Mexican pavilion of the Exposición
de Artes e Industrias, Seville, Spain (1928), where he won second place
in the category of painting.
In 1930 the Mexican government gave him the assignment to found a painting
school in Taxco, Guerrero. In 1931 he began attending the lithography workshop
of Emilio Amero together with other artists including Carlos Orozco Romero,
Carlos Mérida, and Francisco Dosamantes, and he has produced numerous
lithographs dating from that year. In 1932 he became an art teacher working
for the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education and he completed two al
fresco murals at two separate public schools.
His first one man show (both graphic arts and painting) was in 1932
at the Sala de Arte de la Secretaría de Educación Pública.
The following year he exhibited in Chicago.
Zalce was a very active member of politically-progressive groups including
the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (League of Revolutionary
Writers and Artists, 1933-dissolved in 1937), and in 1937 he was one of
the cofounders of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (Workshop of the
People's Graphics), together with other important artists including Leopoldo
Méndez (1902-1969), Pablo O'Higgins (1904-1983), and Luis Arenal
Between 1937-1950, Zalce painted four murals on the walls of schools
in the states of Colima, Puebla, Michoacán, and in Mexico City.
In 1945 he completed one of his most famous works, the portfolio Estampas
de Yucatán after spending four months in southern Mexico. In
1948 he had a major exhibition at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes
that was subsequently offered in his home state of Michoacán at
the Museo Michoacano de Morelia.
In 1950 he became the director of the Escuela Popular de Bellas Artes
de Morelia (sponsored by the University of Michoacán) and the Escuela
de Pintura y Artesanías de Morelia (sponsored by the Instituto Nacional
de Bellas Artes). He has worked primarily in Morelia from that date. In
the 1950s he completed major commissions including the Chamber of Deputies
of the State of Michoacán and the City Hall of Morelia.
In 1960, seventeen of his prints formed part of the collective exhibition
of the TGP, "450 años de lucha. Homenaje al pueblo mexicano."
In 1981, the Museo de Arte Moderno de Chapultepec (Mexico City) had a major
retrospective celebrating 50 years of his work in which were exhibited
200 works of painting, sculpture, textiles, drawings, and graphics.
NATURAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about the natural environment where
the artwork was made?
The work reflects the essentially dry, barren area of northern Mexico
with great, relatively uninhabited spaces. This region that mostly experienced
the commandering of trains for revolutionary purposes as well as the rielera
(female camp follower and occasionally revolutionary fighter) phenomenon
during the Revolution of 1910.
It should be noted that the natural context of the work in this project
is not typical of Zalce's work generally. Zalce himself was born in one
of the lushest parts of Mexico, at its most famous lake (Pátzcuaro)
and he worked primarily in a lush, subtropical environment of Morelia and
most of his art reflects those physical qualities.
FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?
The work is printed with only one color, black, on brown paper which
lends itself to inexpensive duplication and distribution among ordinary
The work reflects what Art historian Raquel Tibol calls Alfredo Zalce's
"missionary sense of art." That mission was to instruct the younger
generation in the achievements of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, to continue
to stir the people to revolutionary zeal, and to help the Mexican people
see their potential for progressing through concerted political action.
Tibol goes on to observe, "If the Revolution [of 1910] had provided
to artists a way to combat a framework of sanctioned traditions and national
landscapes, the cultural mission of these artists reflected their understanding
of the needs of the people who aspired to conquer an elemental level of
human dignity. The artistic result was a humanism without poses, the intimate
humanism of artists like Zalce, Leopoldo Mendez, Angel Bracho, and Pablo
O'Higgins. (translation, Gary D. Keller Cárdenas). Raquel Tibol,
Gráficas y neográficas en México. Mexico City:
Secretaría de Educación Pública/Universidad Nacional
Autónoma de México, 1987, pp. 187-8.
CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed,
or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?
Beginning with the administration of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940)
and running at least until the massive student protests against Mexico
and the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) at the time of
the Olympic games in Mexico City (1968), there was close collaboration
between the government and artists' groups. The PRI considered itself and
was accepted by the vast majority of Mexicans as the political inheritor
of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. With official government support, images
of the Mexican Revolution abounded and were directed primarily at instructing
the post-revolutionary generations about the glories of that Revolution.
There was a political calculus in the Mexican government to foster art
that helped perpetuate its position of almost absolute authority, that
reinforced its revolutionary image (although the promise of the Revolution
of 1910 had long since been highly attenuated) and also, to a certain degree
that stirred up nationalist sentiment, particularly directed toward the
United States. It wasn't until decades later, especially beginning in 1968,
that the stagnation of the PRI and for the most part, its corrupt betrayal
of ordinary Mexicans became apparent. In the 1940s the artists of the Taller
de Gráfica Popular, depicted the Revolution or other images of workers,
peasants, and ordinary Mexicans without self-consciousness or a sense that
they were being coopted for public relations purposes by the Mexican government.
Similarly, the Mexican public strongly supported the PRI, even though essentially
it reflected a one-party system in Mexico.
The Taller de Gráfica Popular emerged out of the earlier Liga
de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (League of Revolutionary Writers
and Artists, 1933-1937), as a leftwing, progressive group of artists in
response to and encouraged by the administration of Mexican president Lázaro
Cárdenas. This was a period of intense nationalism. Cárdenas
is best known in the United States for having expropriated the interests
of American oil companies and nationalized the industry under a Mexican
government oil company. It was also a period of official government anti-fascisim,
leading up to Mexico's involvement on the part of the Republican side during
the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and the Mexican declaration of war against
the Axis in 1942.
ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs, and
activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was
This was a period where there was a close correlation between the creation
of art and political activities. The "Declaration of Principles"
of the Taller de Gráfica Popular makes that clear, stating: "The
T.G.P. undergoes a constant effort, in order to benefit by its works the
progressive and democratic people, especially in the fight against fascist
reaction. Considering that the social aim of plastic art is inseparable
from good artistic quality, the T.G.P. strives to develop the individual
technical capacity of its members. The T.G.P. lends its professional cooperation
to similar workshops and cultural institutions, to popular or labor organizations
and to all progressive movements and institutions." TGP Mexico:
El Taller de Gráfica Popular: doce años de obra artística
colectiva/The Workshop for Popular Graphic Art: A Record of Twelve
Years of Collective Work, (Mexico City: La Estampa Mexicana, 1949),
VIEWPOINTS FOR INTERPRETATION
MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork
to look the way it does?
Writing in 1947, Alfredo Zalce expressed his general views about the
goals of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP). That statement well
summarizes the artist's intention about the work digitally reproduced in
this project: "The goals of those of us who founded the TGP were to
do graphics for the people: our clients were workers organizations. Prints
had an established function and a real consumer, not a hypothetical client.
The TGP did not enter contests nor did we win prizes or honorifics. We
did not follow fashions because our work was vital. With all frankness,
if a print was not liked by those who had asked for it or by other members
of the TGP, it was redone and that was that. If critics liked it or didn't
like our art was of no importance because our efforts reflected our participation
in an anti-Nazi celebration, the founding of a school, or a First of May
celebration. A specific social climate caused our art to flower."
Alfredo Zalce letter to Antonio Rodríguez, 1949, in Raquel Tibol,
Gráficas y neográficas en México, Mexico City:
Secretaría de Educación Pública/Universidad Nacional
de México, 1987, 179 (Transl. from the Spanish by Gary D. Keller
||Viewer Lesson Index|
|ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine
about how the viewer, patron, or user understood the artwork?
The viewers for which the work was created were the common or humble
Mexican workers and peasants, both men and women. The work has a certain
didactic purpose, to illustrate a liberating aspect of the Mexican revolution
in which men and women worked together for a common purpose.
With official support from the Mexican government and its ruling party,
the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, this work and many others like
it were widely circulated at exhibitions or printed in books and on posters
in order to evoke the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and instruct the generation
that immediately followed about its achievements.
CULTURAL IMPACT: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood
within culture in which it was made?
The artwork was part of a government-supported and sanctioned corpus
of popular, widely-circulated revolutionary images. While the images were
stirring, militant, and often violent, they were not controversial. The
Mexican citizenry of the 1930s and 1940s reflected back on its Revolution
with great pride and for the most part strongly supported the Mexican government
and the PRI which had inherited that Revolution
Jean Charlot, one of the major Mexican artists of the period has stated:
"President Lázaro Cárdenas was a man of good faith,
sworn to implement the goals so much talked of, so much fought for, of
the past revolution: education, repartition of farm lands, expropriation
of foreign oil interests. The newly created graphic workshop, eager to
help, took it upon itself to act as image maker to the government. Pamphlets,
penny sheets, portfolios--each played its role in a plannng that was both
vast enough to embrace a nation and minute enought that, however isolated,
no Indian minority group was slighted. When World War II loomed imminent,
it added as targets three puppet-figures, international dictators that
no image maker could resist: Mussolini, Hitler, Franco." Jean Charlot,
"José Guadalupe Posada and His Successors," in Posada's
Mexico, ed. Ron Tyler (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress; Fort
Worth: Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, 1979), 51.
CONNECTIONS AMONG ARTWORKS
STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?
The print has an immediacy that permits the ordinary Mexican to readily
recognize the subject matter. The revolutionary and his caring woman, the
locomotive, the railroad tracks, the rifles, and the cartridge belts are
all represented large and sharply so that the Mexican proletariat and peasantry
can easily identify the subject matter as a representation of the participation
of two of their own class in the Mexican Revolution of 1910. This revolution
has had the status of the premier liberating event of the 20th century
for economically disenfranchised Mexicans.
The characteristics of immediacy, illustrative images quite readily
understood even by illiterate Mexican workers or peasants, and relative
accessibility through the printing of inexpensive editions, was the trademark
of the Taller de Gráfica Popular. During the years from 1937-1949,
the TGP published 555 portfolios and 46,750 prints. Over the years there
were 26 active members.
The work is comparable in techniques and themes to several other major
artists of TGP including Luis Arenal (b. 1908), the African-American Elizabeth
Catlett (b. 1919, in the U.S. who became a naturalized Mexican citizen),
Francisco Dosamantes (b. 1911), Leopoldo Méndez (1902-1069), Francisco
Mora (b. 1922), José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), and Everardo Ramírez
(1906-date of death unknown).
INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this
artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?
The artists of the Taller de Gráfica Popular, founded in 1937,
saw Daumier, Goya, and the great master of 19th and early 20th century
popular Mexican art, José
Guadalupe Posada, as their precursors. About Posada, Alfredo Zalce
stated in an interview: "The Taller de Gráfica Popular was
inspired by the philosophy and ideas of Posada. Our goal was to transform
our art into a means of social education and reform." Roger Crossgrove,
"An Interview with Alfredo Zalce," Artists Proof VII (1967),
It has been noted by Paul Schimmel, curator of the "Calfifornia
Collects: El Taller de Gráfica Popular en México exhibit
of the Newport Harbor Art Museum, May 14 through June 27, 1982, who writes
in the exhibit catalog, that recently "woodblock prints are emerging
again as a major grpahic media in contemporary art" and that for this
reason, "artists are looking back at German Expressionism and popular
Mexican graphics as a source for a rejuvenated graphic art that addresses
human issues. The return to the medium of woodcuts is characteristic of
a few Chicano artists, most notably Carlos
Cortez "Koyokuikatl" whose image of Ricardo
Flores-Magón shows the direct influence of the Taller de Gráfica
Popular with which it also shares the political goals of solidarity and
consciousness-raising among common people.
THEMES: What general ideas connect this artwork to other artworks?
The theme of the artwork is the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1919 as realized
not by generals and commanders but by Mexican peasant men and women, humble
people who make use of the advanced technology of the times for combat.
Both the subject matter, e.g., a Mexican peasant woman comforting a man
and the way it is composed reinforces the theme in a direct, understandable,
and immediate way that permits common or humble Mexican workers and peasants,
both men and women, to identify with that Revolution. The specific technological
aspect that is depicted is the comandeering of trains by the Mexican revolutionaries
of 1910 of both sexes. The print shows that through the use of trains a
quicker, less difficult mode of military transportation is established,
thus permitting revolutionary action that is enhanced and extended to women,
including in the form of physical combat.
The elements of relief and comfort relate Zalce's print to Luis Jiménez
and other pietás such as Michelangelo's Vatican and Rondanini pietás.
However, the subject matter radically departs from traditional representations
of comfort in that divine or exalted figures are not present. Instead,
two humble Mexican peasants are depicted. This presentation highlights
the theme of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 as a mass movement that incorporated
both humble men and women, almost a family movement.