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An artistic relationship and a great friendship between a muralist and an adman: Jorge González Camarena and Federico Sánchez Fogarty

Posted on 24 August, 2016

María Teresa Favela Fierro
This is the text of the lecture “Tolteca’s public image in the work of Jorge González Camarena”, which I gave on the occasion of the exhibition Federico Sánchez Fogarty, a visionary of his time at Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, (November 14, 2013, February 23, 2014). You can see the images I mention in the text at the gallery of the Fundación Cultural Jorge González Camarena A. C. website: Galería de la Fundación Cultural Jorge González Camarena.


Throughout his career, Jorge González Camarena illustrated all kinds of magazines, calendars and books. We can recall his image of the Nation on the covers of the official, free schoolbooks, which was the emblem of public education for over 30 years. He painted 26 murals and he was a sculptor, a draftsman, an author of literary criticism, as well as the creator of a large body of work in easel painting. He belonged to the so-called second generation of muralists, which came into prominence from the 1940’s onwards.

The relationship between the muralist and the adman Federico Sánchez Fogarty goes back to the second decade of the 20th century. They were neighbors in San Pedro de los Pinos, in Mexico City. Sánchez Fogarty invited the painter to collaborate with him in the Cemento magazine, and later on in Tolteca, illustrating the covers. Those were his first forays in this field. They also worked together in Revista de México, writing criticism about the art exhibitions of the day. González Camarena was chief editor of the latter magazine.

Federico Sánchez Fogarty was born in 1901, in San Luis Potosí. Shortly after, his family moved to Mexico City at the start of the Mexican Revolution. He began working at a very young age at Associated Portland Cements Manufacturers, an English company, doing simple chores. In time he was promoted to the post of advertising and sales manager. As adman for the cement manucfaturer Tolteca he founded, together with Raúl Arredondo, two magazines: Cemento (1925-1930) and Tolteca (1928-1932). Both were distributed freely, to highlight the qualities of their cement through examples of modern architecture (from Art deco façades to international style architecture). He invited the photographers Agustín Jiménez and Manuel Álvarez Bravo, along with González Camarena. Sánchez Fogarty’s editorial thrust made Cemento the builders’ favorite magazine, through which they learned about the virtues of the new construction material.[1]
Sánchez Fogarty also promoted the cement industry through art with the Tolteca Prize, in 1931, in which Juan O’Gorman, Rufino Tamayo, Pablo O´Higgins, Alfredo Zalce, María Izquierdo and Jorge González Camarena took part, among others.

He was a noted figure in several areas of life in Mexico. Through the years, he formed a varied collection of works by several artists. Great personalities gathered at his home, particularly those who contributed to the making of modern Mexico in the fields of the visual arts, literature, architecture, advertising and industry.
During the presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles (1924-1928), the secretary of the Treasury (Hacienda) Alberto J. Pani invested in infrastructure and public works that used cement. Many housing projects were developped to meet the sudden rise in population.
Several magazines specializing in building matters appeared at that time, headed by architects and engineers, such as the aforementioned Cemento (1925-1930), which was followed by Tolteca (1928-1932), and whose covers were created almost exclusively by Jorge González Camarena.
A few years later, during the presidency of Pascual Ortiz Rubio (1930-1932), a nationalist campaign was launched to promote the country’s manufactures. In terms of architecture, the stress was placed on building housing for peasants and factory workers, rural schools and other such projects. Within this context of acute nationalism, both magazines adopted a cosmopolitan editorial policy, addressing for instance U.S. and European architectures.
According to Georg Leidenberg, “the avant-garde outlook of Cemento and Tolteca was reflected on their graphic approach: multi-colored covers with cubist elements ―several of them by Jorge González Camarena―, forms taken from Art deco, a modern typography and an austere aesthetic, accomplished through the use of wide spaces”. [2]
One example is the cover of Cemento, issue 22, of March 1928. There is a building amidst some tropical vegetation, with a backdrop of volcanos and an everyday blue sky. There is a dialogue between the house and nature, with no trace of aridity or heaviness from the cement. The cover of issue 32, from November 1929, shows the influence of analytical cubism; the theme is fragmented in its volumes, eliminating details, and the whole composition features a geometrical rhythm inherited from Cézanne. The surfaces limiting the volumes seem to be observed from different points of view. The buildings rise to the sea, almost to infinity, flirting with the coastal vegetation and always with a human presence.
The cement manufacturer Tolteca had a prominent role as a mechanism for the urban modernization of the country. It almost always made reference to Pre Hispanic culture, highlighting its great artists and buildings. It also ran an ad campaign, starting in 1929, to promote the benefits of cement at a time when adobe was the most common building material and cement was only used to glue mosaics.
Federico Sánchez Fogarty, as founder of Cemento and later on of Tolteca, was the creator of the famous poster “glue it yourself”, which appeared in Nuestro México magazine. This slogan of theTolteca brand was in use for many years. For the poster, González Camarena drew an imposing, big muscled arm, deploying all of its strength; the hand looks more like a brick than a hand.
For Sánchez Fogarty it was clear that cement was barely attractive for most people; especially because at the time it was associated in the popular imagination with the building industry and the humble construction workers. To counter this notion, it was necessary to put across an image that dignified their work: as vigorous, rotund and powerful as cement itself. The work published in Cemento, issue 25, September 1928, shows simplified forms, large and powerful bodies within a reduced space; the constricted nature of the composition contributed to strengthening the subject. He explored the solid and structural aspects of the men to the point of exaggeration, in order to gain a clearer expression of the form. The unbreakeable men stand in sharp contrast to the municipal buildings and the chimneys of the cement plant.
Another example of González Camarena’s illustrations is the one he made for the first anniversary of Tolteca magazine, in June 1928. The large chimneys symbolize work at the cement plant: production, progress, and the tireless machines. With his roots in Art Nouveau, the artist made use of a significant geometrization of the forms, using rectangular and triangular blocks, symmetrically deployed, with facettings and zigzags.
It was right at that time that Fogarty linked cement to the arts. It was no longer a material to be used exclusively for construction; he associated it with painting, photography, drawing and poetry. Furthermore, he organized lectures, wrote newspaper articles and published magazines, among other activities.
In 1931, the Tolteca cement company bought another firm, Cemento Cruz Azul (Blue Cross Cement), but the workers took legal action and managed to organize a kind of cooperative. In this company, González Camarena collaborated as well illustrating subjects related to the construction business, featuring construction workers with an emphasis on figures as solid an imposing as cement itself. In one of these works, Mexico’s future, from 1940, the male figures gain maturity and experience, becoming almost solid sculptures ―akin to the way the artists of the so-called Mexican School of Painting and Sculpture used to fashion them. The sacks they are about to pick up have a blue cross on them, a reference to the cement manufacturing company. There are some buildings on the rear plane of the composition.
A new cement plant was inaugurated at Mixcoac in 1931. In his magazine, Sánchez Fogarty invited Mexican intellectuals to take part in the Tolteca Arts Competition. To give it the utmost significance, he strategically invited Diego Rivera, the architect Manuel Ortiz Monasterio and the director of the National School of Engineering, Mariano Moctezuma. 45 painters, draftsmen, engravers and sculptors participated in the exhibition. [3]
Matter, form and color,
a work by Jorge González Camarena, won third place in the paniting category. The subject was inspired by the Tolteca plant in Mixcoac. It shows how concrete provides builders with the three basic and essential architectural elements: matter, form and color. One of the judges of the competition, Manuel Ortiz Monasterio, was interviewed six months later regarding the awards and he compared Rufino Tamayo’s work Architecture to Matter, form and color by Jorge González Camarena:

The most significative, the most vigorous of “mixed” paintings (that is: those in which the artist resorts to drawing, while creating the illusion of three dimensions). At the exhibition at Mexico’s National Theater, the public lauded González Camarena, not Tamayo; this happened because both works were placed side by side and the sculptural effectism of Matter, form and color obfuscated the faint albeit solemn modulation of Architecture. González Camarena stands out in any ensemble, while Tamayo must be admired on his own. [4]

As already mentioned, Federico Sánchez Fogarty established friendships with artists such as Diego Rivera, Carlos Tejeda and González Camarena. The adman made use of this closeness to acquire their works, while adding to his collection works by José Clemente Orozco, Alfredo Zalce, Francisco Zúñiga, Carlos Bracho, Francisco Eppens, Dr. Atl, and others.
González Camarena painted a very interesting portrait of Sánchez Fogarty in 1934. The head is shown in a three-quarter view. The planes of the face are veritable carvings. The composition is balanced by some cylindrical bodies, like silos housing cement, which represent the Toteca company with a T on the left side.
After several experiments, the artist managed to invent a whole organizational system for the picture: dividing the space in two halves, then a quarter… an eighth, until reaching a thirty-secondth, all rectangles, occasionally crossed by diagonals, amounting exactly to the total. He called this system “cuadratismo” (“squarism”). It draws from cubist art.

Jorge González Camarena’s importance in the fields of advertising and design lies in his cover illustrations for Cemento and Tolteca, which were pioneering magazines, as well as in his easel paintings used to promote the image of Cementos Cruz Azul and later of the calendar manufacturing company Casa Galas. He managed to give an artistic and human sense to such an arid subject matter.

[1] Enrique X. de Anda Alanís, La arquitectura de la Revolución Mexicana, México, UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 1990, p. 44.

[2] “Tres revistas mexicanas de arquitectura. Portavoces de la modernidad 1923-1950”, Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 2012 XXXIV, UNAM, en http:///

[3] Some of the participants were the painters Juan O’Gorman, Rufino Tamayo, Pablo O’Higgins, María Izquierdo, Isidoro Ocampo, Alfredo Zalce, among others, and
the photographers Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Carlos Tejada and Agustín Jiménez.

[4] Manuel Ortiz Monasterio, “La Tolteca en Mixcoac”, revista Tolteca, núm. 23, 1932, p. 364.


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