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Alfredo Falfan (1936-2009)
He was born on June 8, 1936, in the Merced District in the Historical Center of Mexico City. He was one of eleven children.
Falfan spent most of his career working in oils on canvas. Other techniques used were etching and drawing. He also experimented with painting images on ceramic objects and ostrich eggs.
His work oscillated between figuration and abstraction. He showed a concern for expression of the subconscious. In his own words: “Through a spontaneous act of expression I produce a kind of accident similar to automatic handwriting. Then I proceed to develop the painting following my instinct responding to the images perceived in the “accident” (similar to the way Leonardo da Vinci observed the surfaces of walls that inspired his works). Ever since I can remember I have been affected by visions of beauty and ugliness in my environment, such as visions of the light refracted through a prism on a wall or the beauty of stained glass windows seen in the church where I was brought as a child, or later as during my early adulthood the sordid scenes of life in the Merced District of Mexico City.”
Falfan began showing his artistic abilities in early childhood. He would carve little sculptures out of chalk taken from the blackboard and make drawings and comic strips that delighted his classmates. Later, as an adolescent, while he was at the Mexican Military Academy, he made a sculpture in modeling clay of a cadet in full dress which caught the attention of the director, who suggested that Falfan enter the San Carlos Academy of Art. Contrary to his father’s wishes, that is where he began his artistic studies.
Among his teachers were Diego Rivera and Spanish Civil War refugee, Antonio Rodriguez Luna. The latter proved to be a great influence on Falfan. His dark paintings reflecting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the abuses of power found echo in Falfan’s rendition of the studio models as grotesque and distorted victims of poverty he saw in the sordid neighborhood in which he lived.
In 1955, upon leaving San Carlos, Falfan was introduced by Rodriguez Luna to American dealer and artist, Bryna Prensky, who had studied at the Art Students League in New York and with George Grosz. She was then living in Mexico City with her husband, Dr. H. David Prensky, a dentist and musicologist. She admired the paintings of Falfan and bought all of his production during a five-year period. Aware of his spiritual bent, she supplied him with recordings of religious works such Verdi’s Requiem. The inspiration coming from this resulted in a series of paintings showing the suffering of mankind, including a painting entitled Sin Reposo which while on exhibit at the 1966 Biennale of Cordoba, Argentina, won a special gold medal award. The panel of Judges included Alfred Barr, founder the New York Museum of Modern Art and Sam Hunter, who was at that time Director of the Jewish Museum.
Falfan eventually began to experiment with abstraction. At first, influenced by Picasso and Matisse, he eventually began to paint transparent and luminous images that reminded one of organic material seen under a microscope. Later, in the late 1960’s, the paintings became more minimalistic, with rough sandy surfaces reminiscent of the walls of ancient architecture.
In 1969, Falfan went to New York, where he was awarded a grant at Pratt Institute’s Graphic Department. The etchings produced there were of an abstract nature. During this period he executed several editions at Bob Blackburn’s Workshop in Manhattan. He also met with Mathias Goeritz, who admired his work.
At the end of 1970, Falfan returned to Mexico City with his future wife, Margaret Hudak, New York-born graduate of New York University and the Cooper Union.| It was a time of change in Mexico with the inauguration of the new president, Luis Echeverria.
Feeling the need to be in touch with nature, Falfan moved to Zacualpan de Amilpas, Morelos, colonial town with a Sixteenth Century convent where his father was born. The natural setting there, with fruit groves, and a magnificent view of Mount Popocatepetl inspired him to do a series of geometric paintings of a lyrical nature. To quote Teresa del Conde from her text, “Introduction to the Painting of Alfredo Falfan” in the catalogue of the retrospective exhibit of 1980 in the Museo de Arte Moderno (Mexico City): “The explosion of light, the clarity of the atmosphere, the geometric beauty of plowed fields, the structure of trees and the color of the flowers- all elements that are part of the landscape of Zacualpan- have been absorbed in the other paintings that bear a subtle relation to a lyrically felt geometry. These are elements that appear in Luz Ascendente, 1974, in shades of yellow and green, and in Montaña de Luz, 1977 with rhomboids arranged in a sensitive non-mathematical way, in warm and rich colors.” In the last stage of these works, 1979, Falfan returned to a figurative painting in which the forms emerge, in a hide-and-seek manner, done in a luminous yellow and white. During this period he was in contact with Rufino Tamayo, who wrote a concise but revealing text on Falfan’s work for the above mentioned catalogue. A mutual admiration existed that was shown in the fact that Tamayo purchased several works of Falfan, which are in collection of the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City.
In the period between 1980 and 1984, Falfan taught at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas (ENAP), Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City. At the same time he painted a series of works of a semi- abstract nature that combined both the figure and landscape.
In 1985, Falfan settled with his wife and two children in the northwest corner of Connecticut, a reasonable distance from New York City. In this New England setting his palette became cooler with blues and grays. The first paintings produced there were of shadowy and ghostly interiors, some with figures. Later the images became more abstract. In 1988, his work was in a one- person show at the Gallery of the Mexican Consulate in New York.
Upon returning to Mexico City, in 1989, The Galeria Metropolitana of the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, exhibited his work in the retrospective show, “Mis Ultimos Diez Años”. In this period his paintings were of figures in landscape, and abstractions, one of which was titled Bosque de Jade, with forms suggestive of pre-Hispanic art.
In 1994 Falfan was invited to show a body of work that spans a period of fourteen years in the retrospective one- person show in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, entitled Lo imaginal. The painting on the cover of the exhibition’s catalogue, Casi de Noche, (“Almost Night”), has elements suggestive of Tamayo’s work.
In his individual exhibit at the Galeria HB, Mexico City, 1997, was entitled Una larga jornada hacia la noche ( “A Long Day’s Journey into the Night”), Falfan presented paintings that were semi-abstractions, done mostly in dark tones, reflecting his emotional state resulting from the loss of several members of his family.
In 1999, he became a member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores Artisticos, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes. This support of the Mexican government lasted until 2005, during which time he produced a body of paintings which were mainly abstract with suggestion of landscape.
Falfan was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate in 2001, and was treated with a devastating form of radiation which enabled him to survive but with a definite decline in the quality of life. In spite of this, he continued to paint and in 2007 was awarded a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation which injected in him a renewed spirit and energy that enabled him to produce a group of semi-abstract paintings which suggest a desolate world in exodus. Unfortunately, in late December of 2008, his health went into a severe state of decline due to a leukemia resultant of the earlier radiation treatments. He died on February 24, 2009. His remains are buried in his beloved Zacualpan, Morelos.
Written by the artist's widow Margaret Hudak and submitted by his daughter, Maura Falfan Hudak.
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