We are pleased to present new paintings by Ricardo Mazal (b. 1950) known for his expansive bodies of work exploring life, death, transformation and regeneration. Although Mazal is often inspired by his travels to spiritual sites across the globe, his latest series navigates more personal terrain. Centered on ideas of movement and migration, these vibrant paintings stem from the artist’s return to Mexico City, his birthplace, where he recently established a studio after living and working in the U.S. for more than thirty years.
Mazal, whose work has been the subject of five major museum retrospectives in Mexico, has been a noted presence in the country’s contemporary art scene since the 1990s. Over the course of his career, his work has been informed by his far-flung explorations of spiritual rituals around the world. He has circumambulated Tibet’s sacred Mount Kailash, meditated on rituals surrounding death in the peace forest cemetery of Odenwald, Germany, and studied the billowing prayer flags of Bhutan. With this newest body of work, the artist is exploring terrain closer to home, both metaphorically and physically, delving into local traditions of Mexico.
Mazal was inspired to begin this series after encountering a large flock of migrating birds. The dramatic scene of thousands of wings silhouetted against the clear sky resonated with him as he himself was migrating southward. He began researching the epic journey that millions of birds embark upon annually. Soon he started making abstract sketches based on images of migrating birds. Working with oils on monumental canvases, he painted spontaneous white brushstrokes flecked across rich expanses of color.
In stark contrast to the constrained compositions of works he created during the Covid lockdown, these new oil paintings are filled with lightness, freedom and possibility. Mazal begins by creating a luminous surface composed of bands of vibrant colors such as deep blue or crimson, which he applies by pulling foam-rubber blades across the linen canvas. He then adds a flurry of impasto white brushstrokes onto the colored surface.
Mazal, who underwent medical treatment in the midst of working on this series, found that although his body was forced to pause, his brain remained active. He realized that his fascination with avian migration was about more than just a physical phenomenon. He began to reflect on the idea of flight and finding freedom in the mind despite physical circumstances. While he previously drew inspiration from holy and spiritual sites where people flock, these new works pay homage to a quiet pilgrimage within.
In dialogue with this series is a second body of smaller-scale acrylic paintings on handmade silk inspired by an encounter with a family of silk producers in a remote mountain village in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. Mazal was surprised to discover fragments of dyed silk that looked almost identical to some of his paintings and soon decided to experiment with silk as a support.
Mazal visited the village of San Pedro Cajonos, and immersed himself in the process of raising silkworms, spinning and weaving the silk, then finally coloring the fabric using dyes made of natural materials including flowers, tree bark and indigo. “For 400 years this village has been creating silk. I wanted to enter their world and understand it in depth,” says Mazal, who titled the exhibition using the Zapotec language of the region.
By collaborating with the artisans, he sought to celebrate the culture and traditions of the Sierra Norte region, which are fading as many of the craftspeople have migrated to the U.S. Similar to his other series of paintings, he added thick textured white brushstrokes onto the surface of the silk. What resulted is a series of intimate silk paintings infused with a sense of dynamism and movement.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Ricardo Mazal is perhaps best known for his near decade-long investigations into the sacred burial rituals of diverse cultures, from the Mayan Tomb of the Red Queen in Palenque, Mexico, to the Buddhist prayer flags of Bhutan, to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. These studies yielded a succession of large, multidisciplinary bodies of work reflective of the artist’s observations. However, recent bodies of work are imbued with a more personal narrative, as Mazal increasingly transitions from witness to author.
Ricardo Mazal has exhibited extensively in museums and galleries throughout the Americas, Asia and Europe. Since 2000, he has had five museum retrospectives: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey (2000); Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City (2006); Museo de Arte, Querétaro, Mexico (2009); Museo de Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguérez, Zacatecas, Mexico (2010); and the Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe (2018).
His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2002 and 2004); Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City (2004–2005); Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (2006); Centro de las Artes, Monterrey, Mexico (2006); the Mexican Cultural Institute, Washington, DC (2008); the Centro Cultural Estación Indianilla, Mexico City (2012, 2015, 2017 and 2020); and the Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City. His work was also showcased in group exhibitions at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (2016); and Frontiers Reimagined at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015).
Mazal’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona; Fondation Maeght, Paris; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; Museo de Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguérez, Zacatecas, Mexico; Centro de las Artes, Monterrey, Mexico; Cirque du Soleil, Montreal; The Peninsula Hotel, Shanghai; and Deutsche Bank, New York and Germany.
Ricardo Mazal lives and works in Mexico City and Santa Fe, New Mexico.