Artist Spotlight: Francisco Toledo
Photo by Regina Mejia courtesy of Amigos del IAGO
Francisco Toledo is widely regarded as one of the most influential artists in modern Mexican history. He was born in 1940, one of seven children of a shoemaker turned sugar merchant. His father sent him to secondary school in Oaxaca in the hope that he would become a lawyer, but he studied instead at the Escuela de Bellas Artes. He moved to Mexico City at age 17 to study printmaking. In 1960 he moved to Paris for further study and began to enjoy success on the Parisian art scene.
When he became nostalgic for home, he returned to Mexico and began drawing heavily on subjects from the myths of his Indigenous Zapotec culture. In ancient times, the Zapotec civilization was one of the highly developed cultures of Mesoamerica, including a system of writing. The present-day Zapotec population is concentrated in Oaxaca and neighboring states.
Francisco Toledo: Paper Fables is on view May 5-August 21, 2022, in the Kasser Family Wing of Latin American Art.
In later life, Toledo became known for his social activism and philanthropy almost as much as his art. He planned and helped finance the opening of a number of cultural institutions in the city of Oaxaca, including the Oaxaca Museum of Contemporary Art, the Graphic Arts Institute of Oaxaca, the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photographic Centre, and the Jorge Luis Borges Library for the Blind. He worked tirelessly to preserve and promote his heritage, including the historic center in the city of Oaxaca. His activism played an instrumental role in transforming bringing Oaxaca into the international art community.
In a career spanning nearly 70 years, Toledo explored every available visual medium and produced around 9,000 artworks. In 1997 he was featured at the Venice Biennale—the oldest and most prestigious international art exhibition. An exhibition of over 90 of his works was shown at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid in 2000. In 2017 the Fondo Cultural Banamex published a four-volume catalogue of Toledo’s work following a five-year search to locate pieces held in museums, galleries and private collections around the world.
In Mexico, Toledo went by the nickname of “El Maestro” (The Master). He died in September 2019 at the age of 79, prompting Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to declare that “art is in mourning.”
To learn more about Toledo, see the biography provided by the Francisco Toledo Foundation here: