Upon return to Mexico, Toledo expanded his production to include media from painting and printmaking to ceramics, tapestry, painted turtle shells, magazine covers, bronzes, polaroids, book illustrations, digital collages, wall paintings and ephemeral adobe reliefs. Immersed in the culture of his childhood, he synthesized the diverse influences of the Paris years (including the work of Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, Francisco Goya and James Ensor) with the rich natural world and Zapotec myths and tales that surrounded him. His works are characterized, like Meu Xubi, by swirling galaxies of animal and human life and activity; iguanas, dogs, cats, fish, cows, deer, rabbits, people, scorpions, centipedes and turtles are born, die, copulate and transform into one another in an endless cycle. Toledo’s probing at the intersection of human and animal has multiple origins. It is directly traceable to the Mesoamerican tradition of the Nagual, a human endowed with the power to shift into animal form, but also to the work of Goya and Kafka, in which blurred lines between animal and human forms to speak to the ambiguity and ambivalence of our deeper nature. “In Toledo’s pictures, that exchange of identities happens in uncountable disguises, ranging from indigenous symbolism to metaphor to fable” (Joachim Homann, “Francisco Toledo: The History of the Eye,” in ibid., p. 20).
In Meu Xubi, roiling rivers of scorpions carry along patterned turtles whose shells morph into sexual organs; lavender clouds rise from the surface of the canvas with a glittering intensity that derives from the sand embedded in Toledo’s pigment. The rich, generative energy of these sexual forms hangs in precarious balance with the fatal, destructive power of the scorpions, threatening yet transfixingly rendered in forms that echo the sign for infinity. Eternal battles between opposing forces of life and death, good and evil unfold before us in a vision of collective energy; "Individuality explodes, it rips, it actually multiplies, by the powerful push of the chain of life. [In Toledo’s work] The body may open itself up to cosmic space like a radar, it belongs to both the stars and to the stones” (Verónica Volkow, Francisco Toledo, Mexico City, 2002, p. 48).
Toledo’s artistic praxis was expansive and regenerative not only in his imagery and mastery across media but in his activism. While in some ways harkening the democratic intent of Los Tres Grandes of Mexico’s Muralist movement (Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros), Toledo’s political work has always been more personal than performative; one of his most memorable acts was to halting the sale of a seventeenth-century Oaxacan church by the Mexican government to a hotel chain by placing “For Sale” signs in all of the city’s historic churches. Over his 79 years, Toledo established a network of thriving artistic institutions in Oaxaca City, including the Instituto de Artes Gráficas of Oaxaca, Centro Fotográfico Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Biblioteca Jorge Luis Borges, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, Fábrica de Papel de San Agustín Etla, Ediciones Toledo, Centro Cultural Santo Domingo and the cultural-environmental preservationist group Patronato pro Defense y Conservation del Patrimonio Cultural y Natural de Oaxaca, leading the city to claim its place as one of Mexico’s foremost cultural, artistic, and political hubs. Beyond the prodigious impact of his artistic production, these institutions and the legacy of his life’s dedication to the people and culture of Oaxaca are indelible, and embodied the spirit first expressed by Pierre de Mandiargues in a 1964 review: “Wherever he is, at any time, forms emerge from his hands and he imposes a renewed freshness upon all objects that pass through his fingers, as if he could not bear the weariness an stress of today’s world, and as if he would breathe life into the tired or dead things that are our daily existence.” (Pierre de Mandiargues, “Toledo,” XXe Siècle, December 1964, n.p.)
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