José Guadalupe Posada:
An Online Exhibit of the Fernando Gamboa Collection


INTRODUCTION

 

 
Posada (right) Standing Outside of his Mexico City Workshop

Following is an inventory of the José Guadalupe Posada Collection formed by Fernando Gamboa. The Gamboa collection consists of lithographs, etchings, and engravings by Posada and his school. The collection contains 361 items: broadsides (108), bullfighter portrait series (5), chapbooks (9), leaflets (19), chapbook covers (12), and restrikes (208). The Gamboa Collection of works by Posada is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections in private hands. Gamboa, the noted Mexican art historian, collected early and avidly, and he helped organize several exhibits on Posada, including the important exhibit held in 1944 at the Art Institute of Chicago. The condition of the prints is for the most part very fine, whereas more often Posada's prints are found in deplorable condition because of deterioration of the cheap paper on which the prints were made. Some prints are on colored paper, a desirable state for exhibit and other purposes. The Gamboa collection offers many avenues for research and exhibit, including art history, Mexican history, the Mexican Revolution, social history, popular heroes, popular culture, music, theatre, and poetry.

The importance of Posada's work and his influence on 20th century American art is well established. A. Hyatt Mayor in his Popular Prints of the Americas (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1973, pp. 47-48) wrote of Posada:

In 1852...an Indian boy, José Guadalupe Posada, the son of a baker, was born in the central Mexican town of Aguascalientes (Hot Springs). While still a child he worked at pottery for an uncle, and then helped a schoolteacher brother by instructing his pupils in drawing. At fifteen, a census listed him as a painter, though none of his paintings have been identified. The next year he began to lithograph cigar-box labels, diplomas, letterheads, and illustrations for a local printer who had studied at the Aguascalientes Academy of Fine Arts and must have passed on the rudiments of factual rendering, as well as the techniques of lithography and woodcutting. By 1871 Posada was already lithographing neat satires for the local paper El Jicote (The Hornet), and in 1876 he bought his employer's Hoe press with six lithographic stones, which had been moved to the busier town of León de los Aldamas. Then in 1888 a spring flood drowned Leon, and Posada left for Mexico City for the rest of his life.

A year or so after settling in the capital, he began a lifelong association with Mexico's leading publisher of popular literature, Antonio Vinegas [sic] Arroyo, who had begun in 1880 to do for Mexico what the Beadle Brothers' dime publications had done in 1860 for the United States. Vinegas [sic] Arroyo's advertisement covers the range of subjects that Posada was called on to illustrate: 'This year's songs, collections of compliments, magic tricks, riddles, parlor games, booklets on cooking, candy and pastry making, toasts, rhymes for jokers, patriotic speeches, plays for children or puppets, entertaining stories; The New Oracle, or The Book of the Future; How to Tell Fortunes with Cards; The New Mexican Fortune Teller; Black and White Magic, or The Book of Sorcerers.' Vinegas [sic] Arroyo also published broadsides on orange, green, or raspberry tissue paper with poems for night watchmen to give to their clients on New Year's Day as a reminder to pay them, with funny ballads, with details of yesterday's murder or suicide, and with so many executions under Porfirio Díaz's dictatorship that a typical cut of a firing squad was kept ready printed for hastily dubbing in the latest victim's end. Until his death in 1913 Posada worked for Vinegas [sic] Arroyo from his own shop in the sanguinary turbulence of the slums, where his window glass was patched with paper, his workroom was stacked helter-skelter with thousands of engraved blocks, and his narrow street front barely squeezed in the huge letters that advertised:

ILLUSTRATIONS FOR PERIODICALS, BOOKS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS

He had himself photographed lounging in the doorway—a big man of sedentary corpulence, in a wrinkled middle-class suit, with the flush, compact features, and the prominent eyes of the colossal stone heads that the Olmecs had carved southeast of his birthplace two thousand years before.

When Posada first arrived in the capital he drew almost his last lithographs for a periodical in 1888 and 1889. Then, perhaps to fit in with Vinegas [sic] Arroyo's way of illustrating his cheap little books, he specialized in various kinds of relief blocks. He often used the process line block, invented in Paris in the 1870s by which zinc is marked with lines of a material that resists acid. These protected lines are then left in relief when acid eats down the surrounding naked metal. The resulting relief block looks like a rubber stamp, and can be printed in the same press and at the same time as type, instead of requiring a special press like the lithographic stone.... His years of rendering precisely and factually on the lithographic stone had trained him to such a command of hand that he was able to juggle the line block's ragged-edged, syrupy line for a delicate vividness of expression. Posada also used gravers and gouges to scoop white lines in buttery type metal, often saving time with a multiple tool that cuts several parallel white lines at one stroke. These summary relief processes that admit no fine detail thereby force a shorthand simplification that challenged Posada to his greatest achievements. He visualized his intended image so exactly that he made no preliminary drawing to guide him before attacking the relief block. One day, as he was discussing a commission with a new client, he picked up a little block and began to make a few passes at it with a tool, now and then glancing at the visitor as they talked. Presently he went to his press and printed an unforgettable summation of his new friend.

When Posada left the provinces for the capital, he left small-town gentility for the volcano of the overcrowded city. He plunged headlong into his new neighborhood of rape, murder, and suicide with no shyness, no false modesty, or inhibitions to check his grand abandon to life's drama. Everywhere around him he saw, not tragedy, but passion; not death, but life. His many skeletons and skulls (calaveras) do not seem morbid in Mexico, where images of death have been a part of life since Aztec times. Halloween is as much a feast for the Mexican children as it is for children in the United Sates. With a sanguinary hilarity, Mexican children disguise themselves as ghosts and skeletons, and eat sugar-candy skulls with tinsel eye sockets, and a sweetheart's name dribbled in bright icing across the forehead.

Out of the volcano of his neighbors' lives Posada drew an energy that, after his death, was to stir Mexican painters of the 1920s and 1930s into becoming the sparkling center of all the Americas. Diego Rivera called Posada the 'boiler' that drove art in Mexico. This reversed the usual direction of influence, whereby 'high' art tends to rusticate into folk art, just as court fashions fossilize into peasant costumes. But by the sheer force of his personality Posada became the only folk artist to animate a whole school of 'high' art.

Posada is the one true genius among the many strong personalities that mark American popular printmaking [emphasis added].

Octavio Paz, in his introduction to Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries, says of Posada:

His subject was the great theater of the world of man, at once drama and farce. He was the engraver and chronicler of the daily scene. His work is vast and diverse, not diffuse. Even with the quantity and variety of his work, he maintained stylistic unity.... Posada's art has humble origins among the caricaturists who illustrated nineteenth-century Mexican newspapers and who were in turn influenced by European caricaturists, especially the French. Posada soon created his own style, endlessly enriched with surprising variations. How to define his technique? A minimum of lines and maximum of expression. By birthright Posada belongs to a manner that has left its stamp on the twentieth century: Expressionism. Unlike the majority of Expressionist artists, however, Posada never took himself seriously.

When André Breton saw Posada's engravings for the first time, he commented that he had discovered one of the originators of black humor in the visual arts. I do not know whether Posada's humor is black, green or violet; probably it is every color. I do know that his humor is imbued with sympathy for the weakness and folly of man. It is not a judgement but a wink that is simultaneously one of mockery and complicity. Velasco sought the constancy of nature even in storms; Posada was fascinated by the incredible variety in human nature. He was a true moralist. By that I mean a moralist who did not set out to be one, nor to teach us a great lesson. An involuntary moralist; he shows without instructing.


More Information

For more information on this collection see the following pages. Click on any of the small pictures to get a bigger one.

Broadsides

Bullfighter portrait series: Click Here

Chapbooks: Click Here

Chapbook Covers: Click Here

Posada Leaflets: Click Here

Restrikes:

Bibliography: Click Here