On El Sarape Rojo 1918
Alberto Garduño, a Mexican artist, died in 1948. Compañero in the monumental glorification of the civil war that tore through Mexico earlier that same century, Garduño rides a white stallion alongside others—Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros—whose monuments stamp walls with symbols of collective ghosts, shared hauntings. His oil paintings hang in museums. The nation’s history, the artist’s canvas. The images stand witness on and in public buildings. In paint and brushstroke, they chant, “Viva la Revolución Mexicana.” Flash point for so many other revoluciones to come.
Setting: the iconic desert. A background drenched in chlorophyll. A vegetable palette with darkening borders. In shades of green, the human eye discerns hues more varied, diverse, nuanced, and abundant than in any other slice of the colour spectrum—an adaptation with its own adaptability: an advantage for the hunter, a defense against predators. Green is the colour of my true love’s eyes. Lorca’s green, a gypsy green, verde que te quiero verde. The sap runs over the greening world.
Foreground, the sole figure of un muchacho sits bundled in arms and knees drawn close under a wide-brimmed woven hat that shields him from a too-harsh sun. His back to the green forest of nopales. Rural Mexico, los ranchos, el desierto, las montañas. Already, always nostalgic. The cactus blushes its reddening fruit, latuna, the prickly pear, to shame the desert. In its sweet, seedy pulp, the blood-red fruit hoards summer rains from parched dusty earth. Garduño’s warrior sits, his back to a fibrous green wall that is la tierra for which, in which, which he fights. Is it a respite from battle or the defeat by betrayals or a moment captured in pigment of campesino life? The artist dips the figure in earth tones of umber, bares his eyes and toes, swaddles him in a blanket dyed bright crimson, a bursting wound that marks the target for a bullet fired many years ago.
Becky Boling is the Stephen R. Lewis, Jr. Professor of Spanish and the Liberal Arts at Carleton College. Besides scholarly articles, she has published poems in the Martin Lake Journal, has won the Northfield Sidewalk Poetry Contest in 2016 and 2018, and has read prose and poetry at Writers’ Night and other local events. From southern Indiana, she shivers in the colder but more welcoming state of Minnesota where she has raised a son and badly tended a garden.
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