Through to September 29th of this year (2019), a selection of the Atl Fund can be seen at the Mexican National Art Museum (MUNAL) in the exhibition “Atl, Earth, Wind and Fire: Sublime Sensation”. This wonderful exhibition is comprised of a selection of 70 pencil and charcoal drawings, made by Gerardo Murillo (known as Dr. Atl), and in its entirety is comprised of 104 pieces including five pieces from private collections, and one from the National Watercolor Museum (Museo Nacional de la Acuarela).
An exhibition as large as this important compilation has never before been offered at the MUNAL as an autonomous one, for which this pictorial production of four thematic orders offers a spectacular occasion for those who visit it. Víctor Rodríguez Rangel, curator of the 19th Century collection of the Museo Nacional de Arte and organizer of “Atl, Earth, Wind and Fire: Sublime Sensation”, prearranged four thematic areas that address the representations of the birth and eruption of the Paricutín volcano (in the Mexican state of Michoacán) from 1943 to 1945.
Furthermore, the exhibition offers an overview of how Dr. Atl followed in the traditions of 19th Century contemplations regarding landscapes and their transformation into vanguard expressions of the energy of the earth and cosmos, and the union between the energetic heart of the earth and the universe.
A Man of Many Facets
Gerardo Murillo made two important trips to Europe, one in 1909 and later another in 1991. It was during the earliest one, in his student stage, that he was baptized by the Argentine poet, Lugones, as “Dr. Atl”. Upon his returns home he compared what he was taught in the European academies with what was being taught at the Academia de San Carlos, at that time directed by Antonio Rivas Mercado, thusly inciting changes in ways to modernize artistic education and leading to the strike of 1911, a fundamental event for the development of modern art in Mexico.
In his vast literary production, the book “Churches of Mexico” particularly stands out due to Dr. Atl’s relationship with the Viceroyalty of Art . Abraham Villavicencio, MUNAL’s curator, explains:
“There was a time Atl tried to forget some of his earlier artistic stages and believed that his work deserved being destroyed; however, after a while he reconsidered – And as example of this, his work in favor of the Antiguo Templo de la Merced shows his inspiration towards Novo Hispanic art and created several studies to give an artistic explanation to this important stage of colonial Mexico”.
We should note that Gerardo Murillo, as well as his teacher, José María Velasco, is cataloged as a patrimonial artist of Mexico, which means that his works of art have been declared as artistic monuments by the Mexican state; for which their stylistic currents, innovation, materials and techniques used by the artist were all taken into account. Some other Mexican patrimonial artists are Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, María Izquierdo and Saturnino Hernán.
The Youngest Volcano
Six days after the eruption of the Paricutín volcano, Dr. Atl arrived to settle and stay near the danger zone and from that moment on he dedicated himself to artistically registering how the eruptive processes were carried out. “Dr. Atl had scientific, philosophic and esoteric interests and from these perspectives his paintings offer sensitive details that led him to appreciate and make very important deductions in his volcanological study of the Paricutín”, said Villavicencio.
In the exhibition the piece named “The Paricutin’s Sideway Explosion”, which is realized “in-situm” at the moment of the eruption, stands out for being produced in a small workshop on the slopes of the volcano with paints made from vegetable resins which give it a palpable texture and a very special brightness producing the energy he wanted to capture in his signature Atl color technique.
In addition to his pictorial work about the great explosion of the Paricutín, Dr. Atl presented a book in 1953 at Palacio de Bellas Artes, named “How a Volcano is Born and Grows”.
The exhibition “Atl, Earth, Wind and Fire: Sublime Sensation” also includes a video by the German anthropologist Otto Roher. The unpublished film is a unique recorded testimony of the Paricutín explosion which serves as evidence as to Atl’s talent to have been able to intensely achieve what truly happened during the eruption, through his transformation of the images to the plastic language of drawing and painting.
Dr. Atl had very personal reasons for climbing and hiking up mountains and getting close to nature. He considered these treks as processes of spiritual elevation, and the additional privilege of being in communion with the craters of the volcanoes to him was likened to being within the center of the Universe. Before the Paricutín event, Dr. Atl visited Popocatépetl and the Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes, not far from Mexico City. He believed that these places were sacred sites – places of spiritual elevation – where one could further advance in their notion of how to get to heaven and learn how to fly.
The “Sky-Landscape – Aeropaisaje”
Influenced by aviation and Italian Futurism, in 1958 Dr. Atl published a manifest named “The Sky-Landscape”. He had the opportunity to travel by plane and see how perspective and sky colors changed mid-air, and, above all, to personally experience how the dream that man could fly was materialized which in some way meant to him breaking free from the natural laws of physical and mental gravity.
The act of being able to fly according to Atl’s esoteric manners of thinking equated to the possibility of reaching the position of Nietzsche’s “Superman”. The ideal was that one day men, after perceiving the earth from the sky, would be able to create ‘galaxy-landscape paintings’ and ultimately experience the heart of the universe through the “null-landscape”.
To Dr. Atl, the center of the universe was inhabited by the nothing, a mystical nothing; alluding to Nietzsche’s doctrine. That’s why the act of flying represent a breaking away from religion and old traditions. Atl published, in 1935, a science-fiction novel named “A Man Beyond the Universe” and his literary work “The Symphonies of Popocatépetl” which later became a precedent for achieving his last period of artistic exploration – all thanks to having been able to fly!
An Artistic Chain Through the Years
The works of Dr. Atl signified a parting of ways from the styles of landscape architects of the 19th Century, and the birth of a new artist generation. He revitalized the image of the central highland as a national symbol by taking elements and sources from Eugenio Landesio -a Italian landscape painter who was José María Velasco’s teacher. José Maria Velasco, unlike Landesio, created positivist and scientific landscape paintings, but yet still adhered to the identification of the central highlands of the national territory. Velasco was the ‘Porfirisimo’ landscaper painter and Dr. Atl’s teacher.
In addition, Joaquín Clausell -a post-impressionism artist who Atl also followed – accustomed the practice of using affective color techniques in his landscapes which gave a strong emotionality to his depictions. Clausell is a considered of primary importance in order to understand the use of color in Gerardo Murillo’s work.
One disciple of Dr. Atl is the artist Luis Nishizawa, who adopted the curvilinear perspective (“Clouds over the Valley of Mexico”) of the sensitivity of the sky-landscape. His drawing interest could be seen through the art piece “Barrancas del Pedregal”. Nishizawa was a teacher at Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes and he is the embodiment of continuity of Dr. Atl.
Finally, one last painting in the exhibition is by Jorge Obregón, a vibrant painter who, just like Dr. Atl, goes up to the volcanoes carrying materials. He is considered as a link that to date links with the chain of Landesio, Velasco, Clausell, Dr. Atl and Nishizawa.
*Texto publicado el 5 de septiembre de 2019 en el sitio web artdaily.com