Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oaxacan alebrijes come to life

Alebrijes, fantastically shaped and colored animal figures, were born of a fever dream of a Mexico City artist in the 1930s. Sick and hallucinating about these figures, he recovered and fashioned these figures he had seen from cardboard and papier-mache. These figures are now a firmly established folk-art form in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca. Artisans there incorporated these new motifs into the local tradition of carving in copal wood. We are always interested how an art form evolves from a copy of another form into its own authentic style; wooden Oaxacan figures are a perfect example of this.

Kate visited some Oaxacan artists on her recent trip. Oaxacan pieces are made by artisan families. Here Narcisso and Ruby work take turns painting a dog.

Kate writes: "Painting this alebrije is trully collaborative. Where Narcisso leaves off, Ruby begins. Back and forth they went, as they went about their afternoon tasks."

 You can see the unpainted copal carvings on Ruby's table in the photo below. To the left, you can see the levels of detail the artists add to their painting. The pieces are signed, and with experience one can identify a particular family's work by sight. The dog Ruby and Narcisso are working on is a piece Kate is bringing home to sell. When it was finished, Kate said, from a distance it looked so chihuahua-like that only the blue color told you it was not a real dog.

Here Julio is at work on the back of a spectacular owl. And here is the owl itself, among some other alebrijes.

We sell Oaxacan figures in all sizes. We have a wide range of price points, although we look for originality and energy in the carving and the painting, and so do not stock the cheaper, tired-looking works. You'll see more Oaxacan creatures on our web site on Kate's return.

-- Lisa Deeley Smith

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