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Lilia Carrillo: abstract spirituality

Posted on 29 January, 2018

Irma Fuentes Mata
Lilia Carrillo’s paintings can be placed within the lyrical abstractiontrend proposed and explained by Kandisnsky in his book On the spiritual in art (1911), a work which established a line
followed by many painters who offer up artistic forms consistent with their historical situation from a persoal perspective. Kandinsky recognizes the importance of striving to reflect only the essence and the mystical motivations emerging from the artist’s inner needs, something that characterizes Lilia Carrillo’s paintings.
Her work reflects a subtle, rigorous and harmonious personality; it expresses a concern for the modernity scene in which she lived, as in her mural La ciudad desbordada. La contaminación del aire. Through a specific painterly language of the composition of form and color, she establishes a dialogue with the spectators, leading to their coming together through shared associations and references.
Lilia Carrillo was born and died in Mexico City (1933-1974). She studied at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado La Esmeralda, with teachers such as Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Agustín Lazo, Antonio Ruiz, Carlos Orozco Romero and Federico Cantú. In 1956 she received a scholarship to study in Paris; after her return to Mexico she began to exhibit her work with Manuel Felguérez, she as a painter and he as a sculptor. That year sheattempted her first abstract painting, Mudo espío mientras alguien a mí, voraz me observa, described byFelguérez as quoted in the book Lilia Carrillo: la constelación secreta (1993), by Jaime Moreno Villarreal: “It’s a small oil painting. It reveals her disengagement with French academicism, as well as the attainment of expressionist figures in the manner of Pedro Coronel. This is femenine character centered in an urban milieu”.
Her paintings from 1961, now exhibited at the Museo Felguérez in Zacatecas, Mexico, have a more lyrical character than her collages from 1960. In his book, Jaime Moreno Villareal details the evolution of her work. Paul Westheim stated, regarding her 1961 exhibition at the Antonio Souza gallery:

    Painting is good painting: this is attested once again by Lilia Carrillo’s paintings […] there emerge surfaces that vibrate with painterly life, colors that float and vanish, fuse and blend together, die out and then take hold again of the melody, making it dream on. Dream-like landscapes […] Mild and evocative dreaming. A mastery of her craft, works that move us with their beauty, which is not that of nature, but another brn in the spirit of the human artist.

Lilia Carrillo comenzó a cosechar reconocimiento por su lenguaje pictórico con su participación en exposiciones individuales y colectivas, desde elmomento en que miradas expertas se centraron en su obra en elSalón Esso de 1965, donde obtuvo el segundo lugar conSeradis. Participó destacadamente en la muestra Confrontación 66 y en la Expo Montreal 67. En 1968 tomó parte en la protesta colectiva en apoyo al movimiento estudiantil universitario en México, pintando la barda que cubría la estatua de Miguel Alemán en Ciudad Universitaria, al sur de la capital del país, al tiempo que rechazóparticipar en el Salón Solar. Formó parte del grupo fundador del Salón Independiente para, más adelante, participar en el pabellón mexicano de la Expo 70 en Osaka, Japón, y sellar suestilo lírico con su obra mural titulada La ciudad desbordada. La contaminación del aire (1969), en la que alternó con otros diez muralistas.
She kept exhibiting her work in private galleries, such as the Antonio Souza, Juan Martín, Misrachi and Ponce galleries, and at the Museo Rufino Tamayo. Finaly, her work is now exhibited as a post mortem tribute at the Museo de Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguérez.
Critics who have engaged with her work —Octavio Paz, Juan García Ponce, Justino Fernández, Ida Rodríguez Pranpolini and Mariana Frenk, among others— all agree that it displays a deeply human, sensitive, mature and exquisite sense. Some stress the lyrical character of her paintings, others point out the Surrealist influence, while yet others detect her links to Abstract Expressionism.
Besides large-format oils, she produced small collages with lyrical references, such as butterfly wings; she also made drippings with automatist impulses in construction paper, wood and coarse cloth (1961). Inaddition to this, she experimented with ink drawings with in a tachist manner.
Her paintings have certain links with Rufino Tamayo’s colors, the treatment of space of the Chilean Roberto Matta, the light effects of Arshile Gorky, and the background luminosity of María Helena Vieira da Silva’s work. Critics place her within different styles, but her work is essentially lyrical due to the presence of poetry; it reflects a deep spirituality and inner life. It not only projects feelings, but adopts a standpoint regarding the modernity in which she lived, denouncing air pollution and drastic changes in Mexico City. In 1959, Juan García Ponce wrote:

    Lilia Carrillo’s art seems to detach itself from matter to create a cosmic, total image. Her color does not have a unitary value as contrast; it dissolves vaguely from one gamut to another, from one tone to the next, in an almost imperceptible way. The light is internal and is of primordial importance for the composition. Matter becomes depersonalized, diluted, spiritualized, to achieve a poetic value which is not direct but rather suggested. Her art is more lyrical than analytical, reaching revelation through suggestion […] The lyrical harmony of these astral images, wherein Lilia has managed to anchor and communicate her worldview, gives rise to a series of paintings that can be numbered among the most beautiful in Mexican painting.

The Museo de Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguérez, in Zacatecas, exhibits En la vieja montaña (1961),Luna de silencio (
1961) and the mural La ciudad desbordada. La contaminación del aire (1969).
In 1951, Lilia Carrillo fell from a scaffold. This would have repercussions twenty years later, when she suffered an aneurysm in the spinal cord. She kept painting during four years of hospitalizations and medical treatments.She died in 1974. She was 41. She left one last work, which she entitled Unfinished. Her contemporaries saw her as a pioneering woman in Mexican abstract art, fondly remembered and appreciated by artists of her time.
Fuentes Mata, Irma,

Creación y expresión en el Museo de Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguérez,

Mexico, Cenidiap, INBA, 2010.
García Ponce, Juan, “Manuel Felguérez y Lilia Carrillo”, México en la Cultura, supplement of Novedades, Mexico,
November 20, 1959.
Kandinsky, Vasili,

De lo espiritual en el arte. Contribución al análisis de los elementos

, Barcelona, Paidós, 1996.
Moreno Villareal, Jaime, Lilia Carrillo: la constelación secreta,
Mexico, Conaculta, Era, 1993.


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