Wild Dreams and Rainbow Faces: The Famous Alebrije Artists of Mexico
You take to drinking during the slow times, and business doesnt get any better. As the years pass, you drink more and more, and your health spirals down, down, down. One bitterly cold Mexico City night, drunk and wandering the empty, lonely streets, your body finally can take no more of the abuse. Collapsed, your soul slips away from your dying, twitching body, and begins to make its way down the long, torturous black river to hell. You offer no resistance.
But soon you encounter strange, terrifying creatures, the likes of which youve never seen before. They rear up toward you out of the blackness from both sides of the river, snarling and flashing hideously evil eyes and vicious claws at your face. Some are massive, twisted, evil insects. Others appear as animals, snakes, and birds gone very awry. One after the other, they appear out of the darkness before you, each more grotesque than the next. So terrified, you are actually shocked back to life.
Thats one of the many legends youll hear on the streets of Mexico about how the late Pedro Linares invented his phantasmagorical alebrijes strange, elaborate paper maché creatures that skyrocketed him to international fame in the art world and secured his place in history as one of Mexicos most celebrated artists of all time.
Linares son and grandson -- both named Felipe -- chuckled as I recounted what Ive heard about their familys notorious late patriarch.
That first Linares alebrije caught the eye of a gallery owner in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The gallery soon commissioned additional pieces. Eventually, museums around the world purchased the extraordinary, one-of-a-kind alebrijes, and Linares traveled to participate in exhibitions throughout Latin America, The United States, and Europe.
"It occurred to me to turn the bodies into animals, fish, birds, and serpent forms," he said. "I would see a chicken or a snake and get the idea to incorporate those elements into an alebrije. I added chicken feet and claws to the body of a butterfly, for example. The creatures became wilder and wilder."
Connoisseurs and art critics began to buzz about Felipes "exceptional creativity." Felipes works can now also be found in major museums -- his Leon Mariposa (Lion Butterfly) is on permanent display at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.The family continued to work as a team, preparing substantial orders for exhibitions worldwide.
In 1991, Pedro Linares received Mexicos National Award for Science and Art, presented to him by then President Salinas de Gortari. One of Mexicos luchadores (wrestlers) honored the Linares family by naming himself Alebrije. And if imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then the Linares are constantly being flattered by artists throughout Mexico who have been strongly influenced by the familys work.
"We are very excited," Felipe added. "We really like to travel. It has been very interesting to get to know the world, especially in the context of exhibiting our work. Weve had the opportunity to meet so many fascinating people."
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