Sunday, 26 September 2021


So, what’s the difference between illustration and “art”?

When asked this question, Maru Aguzzi replies with a wry smile: “Perhaps the price?”

Aguzzi is the curator of Gran Salón México-Paris - Contemporary Mexican Illustration, an exhibition taking place at the Mexican Cultural Institute in the French capital until Oct. 26. The show brings together some 40 illustrators, whose work includes painting, drawing, print-making, video and other genres.

The pieces are strikingly artistic, even if they’re being presented as illustrations. All are “original” works created especially for this exhibition, which is the first in France from Gran Salón México, an annual art fair that Aguzzi created in 2014.

The fair’s mission, she says, is to offer a glimpse into the country’s growing illustration “wave”, and to bring to the public some of the best contemporary works in this category - a field that actually “plays” with the limits of art.

“Saying that price makes the difference is perhaps the funny answer, but you can go deeper and see how illustrators choose to explore content or not,” Aguzzi told SWAN. “The way the work is presented, viewers don’t have to dig for content or meaning as with contemporary art, where the work requires some kind of engagement from the viewer for completion. Illustration has an immediate impact, and viewers can like what they see or not. It’s that simple.”

Gran Salón’s participating illustrators use a variety of media just like their “artist” peers, she said. Works in the show range from oil and acrylic paintings on canvas to charcoal drawings on paper. In between, viewers can enjoy watercolours, collage, animation and digital art.

In fact, some of the illustrators do exhibit in art fairs as well, further blurring distinctions, Aguzzi said. They draw on a long tradition of Mexican artists working in various genres, as did renowned painters Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo - whose influence can be felt in the current show, alongside that of multi-genre Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, for instance.

Picasso and his paintings of women are evoked with a twist in the illustrations of Rocca Luis Cesar (born in Guadalajara in 1986), while the more “veteran” Carlos Rodríguez (born in La Soledad, San Luis Potosí, 1980) draws upon images - such as the watermelon - that appear in the paintings of Tamayo.

Both illustrators convey a strong artistic sensibility, with Rodríguez in particular being inspired by “classical painting, mythology, naïve art and porn” - as his bio states. His two vibrant, erotic paintings in the show were created specifically to conjure a Latin American ambience in Paris, Aguzzi said.

Another notable aspect of the exhibition is its sense of humour or satire, in addition to the addressing of serious topics, such as climate change and language rights. One of the youngest illustrators, María Ponce, born in Oaxaca in 1994, exemplifies this with her colour drawings about daily life and with her “Creciendo juntos” piece, which transmits the message that we have to take care of the environment and trees if we too wish to keep thriving.

Meanwhile, illustrator and filmmaker Gabriela Badillo (born in 1979) uses her work to highlight Mexico’s indigenous languages through her 68 Voces project, a video series with stories told in these languages. Badillo co-founded audiovisual production company Hola Combo with a belief in the social responsibility of media, according to the exhibition, and she and her colleagues have worked with indigenous groups, including children, on creative initiatives. 

Her videos, and other film clips and works of animation, add to the unexpected scope of the Gran Salón show.

“The work that illustrators are producing in Mexico includes numerous genres, and I really wanted to show this range,” Aguzzi told SWAN.

Photos (top to bottom): Maru Aguzzi at the exhibition in Paris, in front of works by Alejandro Magallanes (photo by SWAN); 'Autorretrato' by Rocca Luis Cesar, photo courtesy of Gran Salón México; 'Creciendo juntos' by María Ponce, photo courtesy of Gran Salón México

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