When Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson declared January 26, 2022, Octavio Medellin Day, he paid tribute to the artist whose fingerprints are all over North Texas.
Dallas Museum of Art continues to celebrate Octavio Medellín: Spirit and Forman exhibition exploring his influence on the Texas art world through his art and teaching.
“Octavio Medellín was a great artist, a very influential mentor and a model citizen of Dallas,” said Dr. Agustin Arteaga, the museum’s Eugene McDermott director.
The exhibition features about 80 works and will run until January 15th.
“Medellin believes that every material has a unique soul that should guide artists as their ideas take shape,” said Dr. Marc A. Castro, director of the George Bardo Latin Art Museum and curator of the exhibition . “At the same time, he felt that compelling art spiritually appealed to the artist’s strengths, instilling into the work during the creative process. For Medellin, it was the combination of form and intangible spirit that gave art the power to move people’s hearts .”
Born in Matewara in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, Medellín’s family immigrated to San Antonio in 1920 to escape the uncertainty of the post-Mexican Revolution. When he briefly studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, he focused on painting.
“He learned to sculpt on his own. I think he probably had a lot of lessons at home,” Castro said. “He had a famous saying, he was just experimenting. He found his voice on his own.”
After hearing about the burgeoning art scene, he returned to Mexico City and met some of the most important artists of Mexican modernism.
He traveled through the Gulf Coast countryside and met artisans working in the country.
When he returned to San Antonio, he began creating sculptures out of wood, clay, and stone.
revolutionary spiritMade from Texas limestone in 1932, it reflects the complexities of history.
“He’s thinking back to the Mexican Revolution, which had such an important impact on his life, but also the direction of the country, and it’s been happening for a decade now,” Castro said.
There are three allegorical figures in the sculpture: a soldier, representing those who fought for freedom; a snake, representing an ancient heritage; and a woman with raised arms in blessing, representing the influence of Catholicism and Europeanism. The three figures are intertwined, suggesting a complex national identity.
“What I like about this work is that it’s a veritable relationship entanglement,” Castro said. “He understands how messy history is.”
hanged It is one of Medellín’s striking works. Figures with a noose around his neck were common during his childhood in Mexico.
“For him, it’s a memory,” Castro said. The work is also reminiscent of the lynching of minority men during the Jim Crow era in his adoptive country.
iconic image hanged Appear in history of mexicoHonduran red mahogany carved columns fluidly depict the country’s ancient times, the Spanish Conquest, the Mexican Revolution and Reconstruction.
“It’s amazing work because it really invites you to participate. You have to walk around it to really see it,” Castro said. “It’s also reminiscent of Mexican murals, the idea of moving through a space to tell a story.”
Medellín’s work caught the attention of art patron Lucy Maverick. She paid his salary so he could focus on art, and she supported his 1938 trip to Yucatan to study the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. The trip inspired paintings, prints and decorative objects.
Although his work became more abstract in his later career, and he experimented with mediums such as printmaking, pottery, mosaic, and stained glass, Medellin returned to the themes he encountered on this trip.
“It’s this moment in his life that he talks about a lot and continues to influence his work,” Castro said.
Medellin taught throughout his career, leaving a living legacy of the artist. He has taught at North Texas State Teachers College (now the University of North Texas) and SMU. In 1945, he began a 21-year tenure at the school at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. He opened the Octavio Medellín School of Sculpture in Oak Bluffs in 1966. The school, now known as the Center for the Creative Arts, is located east of Dallas.
More than 20 years after his death, Medellin is considered a beloved mentor and guide.
“Every former colleague, peer or student I met had a story of how Octavio Medellín inspired or challenged them, pushed them to grow and found their artistic voice,” Castro said.
The exhibition also highlights Medellín’s public works through preparatory drawings and photographs from the artist’s personal archive. Among the color drawings of the completed work is a proposal that was rejected by the local Episcopal Church. The drawings include a description of why the Church did not advance the Medellin Menorah and Baptismal font concepts.
“They don’t like it, as they say, it’s airy, it’s not strong enough, it’s not traditional enough,” Castro said. They know very well that they feel he is uncompromising. You start to see these moments when he really chooses to let his principal know how he wants to work. “
Medellin’s public works remain a part of everyday Texan life: a mosaic mural of St. Bernard at Clairvaux Catholic Church near White Rock Lake; molten glass windows at the Catholic Center at the University of Austin; A series of fused glass windows salvaged from Lutheran Church are now installed at Moody’s Hall and Lovefield Airport.
“They are actually part of our community, bringing joy to people, providing comfort and enriching their daily lives,” Castro said.
Learn more at https://dma.org/art/exhibitions/octavio-medellin-spirit-and-form.