EDWARD AND MEXICO

Jean Charlot

It was the good fortune of Mexico to be visited in 1923, at a time when the plastic vocabulary of the mural renaissance was still tender and amenable to suggestions, by Edward Weston, one of the authentic masters bred in the United States. 

Edward helped us unravel the web of Paris-bred scruples that slowed our effort.  The mural artist of the twenties needed to revise drastically contemporary relative estimates of subjective and objective if he were to champion objectivity in paint at a time when the best informed critical opinion, indeed the best gifted artists, praised only subjectivity.  The example of the old masters should have been sufficient.  They had validly solved similar problems of uniting nature and esthetic investigations, but had done so in a society different from ours.  Our acutely contemporary social consciousness would have felt ill at ease––in period clothes, as it were––if it had relied on their example exclusively. 

Weston's camera produced art, though it lacked all elements listed by contemporary critics as ingredients of art.  The camera eye was incapacitated for subjective vision, devoid of a passion that distorts the model, showed no inclination toward escapism, had no means of leaving out of the picture even an iota of the physical world.  Weston's photographs illustrated in terms of today the belief in the validity of representational art that the seventeenth century academies had upheld.  Looking at these photographs cleansed objectivity of its Victorian connotations.  The problems of geometric bulk that the Mexican muralists had worked on, under the spell of cubism and of Aztec carvings, appeared superficial compared to Weston's approach.  He dealt with problems of substance, weight, tactile surfaces, and biological thrusts which laid bare the roots of Mexican culture.  

This pragmatic estimate, based on our local needs of the nineteen-twenties, does not constitute a rounded judgment of Weston's art.  He had not come to Mexico to help us out of our subjective-objective impasse, but to work.  Breughel needed to make the trip to Italy to know that his roots were north.  The Americanism of  Weston grew its backbone in front of the hieroglyphs of another civilization.  Magueys, palm trees, pyramids helped him shed, sooner then he would have otherwise, his esthetic adolescence.  It was in front of a round smooth palm tree trunk in Cuernavaca that he realized the clean elegance of northern factory chimneys.  Teotihuacn, with its steep skyward pyramidal ascent, taught him how to love his own countrys skyscrapers.  

While Rivera was painting The Day of the Deed in the City in the second court of the Ministry of Education, we talked about Weston.  I said that his work was precious for us in that it delineated the limitations of our craft and staked out optical plots forbidden forever to the brush.  But Diego, rendering meanwhile a wood texture with the precise skill and speed of a sign painter, countered that in his opinion Weston did blaze a path to a better way of seeing, and, as a corollary, of painting.  It is with such humility at heart that Rivera had painted––with a brush in one hand and a Weston photograph in the other––his self-portrait in the staircase of the Ministry. (Fig.)