Julio Galán – He Who Comes Must Go (1988)

Julio Galán has often been compared to Frida Kahlo, for they both hailed from Mexico, painted Surrealistic works and chose deeply personal subjects and symbols for their art. There was a big difference though. While Kahlo’s sensitivity and pain shone through as the essence of her art, with Galán you get the impression that he was objectively analyzing his self as the sum of various parts of his past and present, and his conscious and subconscious.

This outer, deconstructive perspective that the Mexican artist pursued was borderline narcissistic, where his own self became the object of adoration and arousal. When he painted women, they were also self-portraits in disguise. This aspect of his work, combined with his tendency to portray himself as a young boy, showed a desire to be if not asexual, like a prepubescent child, then at least androgynous, so that the gender rules of traditional masculinity wouldn’t apply to him.

Julio Galan - El Que Se Viene Se Va
Julio Galán – He Who Comes Must Go (El Que Se Viene Se Va), 1988, oil on canvas

Overwhelmingly autobiographical, Galán’s artworks are a search for identity while exploring emotionally-charged and seemingly contradictory themes like homosexuality, Catholicism and the occult. With its dream-like allure, He Who Comes Must Go (El Que Se Viene Se Va) is a representative painting for the Mexican artist, showing him as a young boy in deep waters to the left, with traditional and sexual motifs presented in the right half, like a collage. The title is a saying that in Mexico also has sexual connotations. In English, it might very well be translated as easy come, easy go.

The overall composition is reminiscent of a painted ex-voto, short for ex voto suscepto (Latin, “from the vow made”), a Catholic offering to symbolize the vow made and gratitude for the granted miracle. This is where Galán’s art becomes truly enrapturing, by blending religion and tradition with sexuality and modernism. The right half of the painting shows seemingly unrelated elements, such as the mysterious town in the middle of the desert and the bouquet of pansies, suggesting femininity and open sexuality. The Spanish title El Que Se Viene Se Va is overlaid on the flowers, with other illegible words farther down, adding to the unexplained mystery of the art piece. Interestingly enough, the word pansies in Spanish (pensamientos) also means thoughts. The flowers thus become a metaphor for Galán’s sexual thoughts, which in the chimeric atmosphere could very well indicate an erotic dream.

The boy to the left, Galán’s younger self, is swimming in deep waters and looking up at the flowers, a sign of his confusion and frustration in trying to decipher his sexuality and gender role. The painting almost resembles a diptych, as marked by the different shades of blue covering the background of the two vertical halves: darker and more mysterious to the left, lighter to the right. Between the two dimensions, there is an unknown element that signals the transition (zoom in here). It looks like the erased and fragmented version of a sitting boy, looking down at Galán’s younger self, with two graffiti-like black antennae over his head.

The whole scene makes me think of a dream (or of Galán’s subconscious) in which he’s struggling with his sexual identity and his desires, while also being aware of this subconscious battle. In other words, he’s dreaming but, at the same time, he’s acutely aware that he’s dreaming. He’s in the painting, deeply immersed, but also looking at himself from an outsider’s perspective and deconstructing his inner universe. This objectification of himself and persistent sexual self-exploration, a constant in many of his paintings, is what rendered Galán the reputation of a narcissist and what continues to fascinate us to this day.

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