Francisco Toledo

Francisco Toledo is considered to be one of the most influential Mexican artists in modern history. Born the son of a shoemaker in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Toledo’s family was of Zapotec heritage, a pre-Hispanic culture whose fables and folklore became the primary source of inspiration for his work. He studied graphic arts at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Oaxaca and the Centro Superior de Artes Aplicadas del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Mexico before continuing his studies in Paris in 1960, where he met artists Rufino Tamayo and Octavio Paz.

Tamayo’s embossed canvases and use of sand in his work heavily influenced Toledo, who would go on to utilize texture in his paintings for the rest of his career. By 1965, Toledo was drawn back to his home country by, in his own words, nostalgia. After his return, he began to draw a great deal of inspiration from indigenous Zapotec culture and myths, incorporating a menagerie of animals–often in a process of metamorphosis–into the visual vocabulary for which he is best known. Over the course of his career he would work in various media, including pottery, sculpture, weaving, graphic arts, and painting.

Later in his life, Toledo became famous for his social activism and philanthropy just as much as for his art. Concerns about his home state of Oaxaca, where he settled permanently in the 1980s, led him to participate in establishing an art library at the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO) as well as to assist the founding of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO), the Patronato Pro-Defensa y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural de Oaxaca, a library for the blind, a photographic center, and the Eduardo Mata Music Library. Toledo was also instrumental in the fight against the building of a McDonald’s in Oaxaca City and he led protests to prevent the construction of a convention center on a local mountain.

Toledo’s career spanned seven decades and he became known in his home country as “El Maestro” (The Master). His contributions to Mexican art and culture were incomparable; upon his death in 2019, Mexico’s president declared that “art is in mourning.” Toledo produced thousands of works of art during his life and his creations were exhibited throughout the world, including a retrospective at the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Chicago, the Venice Biennale, the Whitechapel Gallery, London, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid. In 2017, the Fondo Cultural Banamex published a four-volume catalog of his work, the culmination of a five-year search to track pieces in museums, galleries, and private collections worldwide.

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