The works in this section depict human and animal bodies. Although created with different artistic techniques and styles, they all suggest a tense, agitated condition or sense of restlessness.
Francisco da Silva, an indigenous Brazilian painter from the Amazon, created a bestiary of bright colors and contorted lines, referring to mystical visions of nature. The movements of the birds in da Silva’s work parallels the human figures represented in the paintings of Jesús “Chucho” Reyes and Eloy Blanco which depict balance, motion, and the deconstruction of body parts. Both works refer to prehistoric cave paintings in their flattened perspective.
Gregorio Marzán, an artisan and former toy factory worker, claimed that he could reproduce everything that he could see, which is why he did not consider himself an artist. Winged animals were among his favorite creatures; Marzán captured them in his three-dimensional collaged sculptures made out of glossy materials which resemble theater or carnival props.
This image selection seeks to highlight the link between humans and other animals in order to break from Western, This selection seeks to highlight the link between humans and other animals in order to break from Western, anthropocentric ways of seeing that promote a false idea of human superiority over nature.
In The Creation (1962), the Puerto Rican–born, New York–based artist Eloy Blanco painted alternating rounded lines that are almost touching, with a simplified figure holding a stick in the top left corner. Blanco’s use of enamel and oil paints provoked the sponge-like patterns of glowing blues and almost transparent patches of vivid greens and pinks. His training with the abstract expressionist William Baziotes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School in the late 1940s and early 1950s animated his use of such paints and the curves in his strokes, aligning him with this art movement. Along with The Creation, Blanco’s oeuvre demonstrates how the artist negotiated the situating of the body within the relationship of time and space during the postwar development of technology.
Blanco responded to midcentury technological advancements in The Creation. The cosmic-like powdering of color recalls an expansive starry night, a sunrise, or a foggy rainbow, resonating with the race for space exploration during the 1950s and 1960s. His stick-like figure and thick black lines and dots echo the cybernetic designs of the early 1960s.1 Like other artists including Baziotes, Blanco expressed in his work feelings of Cold War uncertainties and dislocations through abstracted, post-atomic forms.
Blanco elaborated the depiction of the stick figure in his early 1980s paintings. As the title indicates, 4000 on Green (1982) unites such a large number of small figures that the composition gains a pointillist appearance from afar, evoking the repetitive language in computer programming as well as the interconnected, complex web of the internet. Similarly, Untitled (non-dated) contains stick figures that bend in all directions, the lines expanding on the painting’s yellow background instead of a green one, both of which are reminiscent of 1980s graffiti and urban art in New York City by artists such as Keith Haring. In both works, the figures’ unpredictable orientation—whether upside down or distorted in unnatural positions—as well as their proximity create a chaotic and claustrophobic atmosphere that translates the failed attempt to change locations. This unsettled spatial experience relates to the challenges of migration experienced by Blanco, who arrived to the Bronx from Puerto Rico at the age of five.2 The simplicity and malleability of the stick figure may have provided an outlet for him to look for place during the rise of the digital world and universal computer languages.
Abigail Lapin Dardashti, San Francisco State University
- For more about cybernetics and art, see John Curley, Global Art and the Cold War (London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd., 2018), 65.
- Patricia Wilson-Cryer, introduction to Eloy Blanco: “Faces and Figures”; A Retrospective (New York: El Museo del Barrio, 1983), 2.
About the artists
Born in 1933 in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
Died in 1984 in New York City.
When he was five, Blanco's father moved the family to New York City, where the future artist would remain throughout his life. For Blanco, moving to a new country with a different language was a difficult transition, and he began drawing as part of his treatment in speech therapy. When he was fourteen, Blanco received a scholarship to the Brooklyn Museum School of Art, where he briefly studied under German expressionist Max Beckman as well as the American painter William Baziotes, who encouraged Blanco's experiments with texture. Considered somewhat of a prodigy, he had a solo exhibition in the school gallery when he was only fifteen and continued to concentrate on developing his art while working odd jobs to support himself. Blanco first met other Puerto Rican artists in 1976, when he had a one-man exhibition at the Cayman Gallery. This experience made him aware of his own Puerto Rican heritage, and he became interested in his Taíno roots and showed this influence in his artworks. Blanco experimented with many different styles and techniques and created an enormous output, ranging from portraits to metaphysical abstractions to his characteristic "Hombres de Palo" (stick figure) canvases. Through his paintings, he claimed, “I found myself a thousand times.” Featured in numerous exhibitions at El Museo del Barrio, the museum organized a retrospective of the artist's work, Eloy Blanco: Faces and Figures, in 1983.
Born in 1906 in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.
Died in 1997 in New York City.
As a teenager, Marzán learned carpentry and earned his living making wooden frames for suitcases. In 1937, he moved to New York City in pursuit of economic opportunities. He first worked as a civil defense contractor and then in toy factories on West 23rd Street, where he helped make dolls and stuffed toys for overt thirty years. After his retirement in 1971, he began building sculptures with materials found in his neighborhood of El Barrio, supplemented with purchases from wig and discount stores in Harlem and on Canal Street. The variety of themes in Marzán's colorful sculptures range from animals that might refer back to his years as a toymaker and include the pets of El Barrio and animals of the Central Park Zoo to more imaginative creatures, portrait busts, and architectural landmarks such as the Empire State Building. He also worked on a series about the Statue of Liberty, part of which now belongs to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.
Marzán's relationship with El Museo del Barrio began when he tried to sell his artworks in the museum's store. Jack Agüeros, the museum's director at the time, felt that the pieces should be represented in the museum's collection as well. Agüeros encouraged Marzán to continue to bring pieces to the museum and today El Museo has a collection of twenty-eight of his sculptures. His art has been presented in numerous shows at El Museo, including ¡Folklore! (1988), 25th Anniversary Exhibition Part II — Recovering Popular Culture (1994), Voces y Visiones (2003–2005), and Testimonios (2012).
Born in 1880 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Died in 1977 in Mexico City.
In addition to his work as a painter, José de Jesús Buenaventura de los Reyes y Ferreira, or simply Chucho Reyes, as he was known in art circles, was also a decorator, stage designer, and antiquarian. The child of a historian and art critic, he was familiar with the Mexican art scene since childhood and critics associated him with artists and intellectuals such as Mathias Goeritz, Juan Soriano, Luis Barragan, David Alfaro Siquieros, and Octavio Paz, among others. Chucho Reyes is known for his bold painting on unconventional materials, including tissue (crêpe) paper and cardboard, a unique practice that draws on both expressionism and Mexican popular culture and tradition. His most well-known subjects are still lifes, fantastic animals, and mystical figures. In 1961, he participated in the ground-breaking avant-garde exhibition Los Hartos (The Fed-Ups). His artworks were the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at many museums and galleries in Mexico, including the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes (1962 and 2018), Galeria Pecanins (1975), Museo Rufino Tamayo (1984), and Museo de Arte Moderno (2002) in Mexico City.
Born in 1910 in Cruzeiro do Sul, Brazil.
Died in 1985 in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Francisco Domingos da Silva, better known as Chico da Silva, was born in the upper Tejo River region in the Brazilian State of Acre, close to the border with Peru. Today, this area is the Alto Juruá Extractive Reserve, home to the Arara Shawãdawa, Kuntanawa, Ashaninka, and other Indigenous peoples of the Panoan language who may constitute the artist's ethnic background. Da Silva's early work consisted of charcoal and chalk murals in the fishing villages near Fortaleza, capital of the northeastern state of Ceará. The Swiss art critic and painter Jean-Pierre Chabloz, then based in Fortaleza, was the first to promote da Silva's work. The works of the two artists were exhibited together in 1945 in Rio de Janeiro's Askanazy gallery. Produced in gouache on paper, his paintings constitute a bestiary of animals of Amazonian inspiration, represented with acid colors and psychedelic shapes, which can be associated with the use of hallucinogenic plants by the Indigenous people from his natal region. Da Silva worked at Museu de Arte do Ceará between 1961 and 1963. He participated in the Brazilian representation at the Venice Biennale in 1966 and at the ninth São Paulo International Biennial in 1968. In the 1970s his work became increasingly popular in the art market, generating a high demand that eventually led to questions about the authenticity of part of his production. More recently, his work was included in the 2014 exhibition Pororoca — A Amazônia no MAR at Museu de Arte do Rio in Rio de Janeiro.