Colors of Mexico
James Snidle releases book of works by painter and printmaker Charles Barth
Chico, CA 95928
“Once when I was at my home in Cedar Rapids, I had invited this artist from Kansas City to my house. He liked my work, and he asked me if I used acid in my work. I thought—because I make prints—that he meant nitric acid. But he meant acid—LSD. When he left, he left me a bag of mushrooms.”
It’s easy to see how the man from Kansas City would think that intaglio printmaker and painter Charles Barth might be on acid. The dreamlike, wildly colorful commingling in Barth’s artwork of Aztec warriors, modern-day Mexican luchadores (wrestlers), Day of the Dead skeletons and images of Our Lady of Guadalupe would give many people pause to wonder what inspires him.
Just take a look at Barth’s 2008 print “Together/Juntos,” with its luchadores going at it above the head of a radiant Virgin of Guadalupe while a little skeleton couple dances at her feet—all embedded in an environment of various blues, bright pink, green, purple, orange and brown decorated with floating yellow spots.
Or “To Wear One’s Heart on One’s Sleeve/Con El Corazón en la Mano,” from 1994. In this equally colorful and wild print, a masked, muscular luchador whose body is totally covered in tattoos (including a large Aztec calendar on his chest) proudly poses between two sexy women—one wearing a halo, the other with devil’s horns. The background is a mélange of colors in which a number of small, masked, dancing figures can be made out.
These two imaginative prints are among the many featured in the eye-popping, beautiful, coffee-table art-book, Charles Barth: A Kaleidoscope of Culture/La Cultura en una Caleidoscopio, just published by Chico/San Francisco-based art dealer/artist/art advocate James Snidle—the debut for James Snidle Fine Art Press. The book and Barth will be featured at a book signing at the James Snidle gallery on Sept. 10.
The 67-year-old Barth is a Chicago native who now splits his year between the U.S and Mexico, living with his wife Ellen in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for four months and in Oaxaca for eight months. “When I was doing printmaking in Iowa, and I first traveled to Mexico [in 1980],” said Barth, speaking by phone from his home in Oaxaca, “I was taken aback by the color. It’s a country of color.”
A fan of traditional, historical and indigenous Mexico and of contemporary Mexican popular culture—and of colors, lots of them—Barth makes a habit of mixing it all together in his work. In fact, he sees a natural overlap. Barth loves to attend lucha libre matches in Mexico, and he said that the theatrical masks and costumes of his beloved luchadores harken back to pre-Columbian times.
“You can even find images of wrestlers in pre-Columbian art,” said Barth.
His fantastic 2004 print, “Behind Every Strong Man There is a Stronger Woman/Atras de Cada Hombre Fuerte, Hay una Mujer Más Fuerte,” epitomizes Barth’s appreciation for and holistic vision of Mexican culture—past and present, female and male, religious and decidedly secular.
On one side of the picture, the late iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo stands behind a seated Diego Rivera holding a paint palette. Next to them is seated a macho luchador with rose tattoos on his pumped-up pecs backed up by a beautiful, scantily-clad wrestling-ring assistant, her hands firmly on his shoulders. Between both couples is another strongman, his back to the viewer. On his back, is a large tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the well-known 16th century depiction of the Virgin Mary.
“Mexico is still a man-dominated country, and macho images are still dominant here, but women are coming up, though,” Barth offered, reverently adding, “Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. She’s probably the strongest woman in Mexico.”