With his extensive travels through Europe and the Americas, Carlos Mérida was lucky enough to experience two very different approaches to painting. On one hand, there was the European avant-garde with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Paul Klee who were moving towards an abstraction of art. On the other hand, there was the resurgence in national pride amid Latin Americans, which translated into using folkloric motifs and cultural references in painting. The Guatemalan artist thus became particularly interested in alluding to the Maya and Aztec civilizations while resorting to an increasingly geometric abstraction.
One thing that is rather striking about Mérida is that there is often an inherent rhythm in his works. In his most orderly paintings, the shapes take their place quietly in the composition like notes on a music sheet. But more often than not, there is an enchanting music reverberating from his art, with its interlocking forms and poignant use of line.
Such is the case for The Eighth Heaven (El Octavo Cielo), an abstract artwork revealing highly geometrized figures, overlapping in their display. We can tell from the eye-resembling ellipses that we’re looking at the profiles of at least five different figures, though it’s difficult to tell them apart. According to Aztec mythology, the eighth heaven (out of thirteen) is the place of storms and thunder, “where the obsidian knives are creaking”. Ruled by Itztlacoliuhqui, the god of frost, darkness, storms and disease, it is said that the deities who couldn’t climb to the higher heavens gathered here. These included the married god and goddess of death (Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl), as well as the god of thunder, rain and the earth (Tlaloc) with his wife (or sister, by some accounts), the goddess of freshwaters (Chalchiuhtlicue). The presence of these grim deities might explain the limited and somber color palette that Mérida uses. It’s an unlikely heaven from a Western perspective, filled with obsidian knives and tempests, but fascinating nonetheless for the power and rhythm it exudes.
Next time: Femme damnée