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Martha Pacheco, painting of death and madness

Posted on 29 January, 2018

Edwina Moreno Guerra
Born in the Santa Tere quarter in Guadalajara, Jalisco, on Decemer 10, 1957. Her interest in drawing begn in her childhood. She began her studies in the Sunday Drawing Workshop at Guadalajara’s Galería Municipal. Searching for her own method, she took up photography to document her paintings. She was 14 when she started cutting images from magazines to draw animals, human figures and landscapes. At 19, having finished her training as a teacher in the Escuela Normal de Occidente, she enrolled in the Escuela de Artes Plásticas of the Universidad de Guadalajara (1976-1981).

Her artistic training was not confined to the academic sphere. Her aesthetic concerns, shared with some of the most significant artists from Jalisco of her generation, led her to join the Taller de Investigación Visual (TIV). Javier Campos Cabello, Miguel Ángel López Medina, Salvador Rodríguez, Irma Naranjo and Fernando de la Mora formed this collective. In1982 they organized the exhibition Pintores, escultores y una bicicleta descompuesta at the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense. It was a refreshing event for a city like Guadalajara, where abstract art was the reigning tendency. Their exploration and criticism of that avant-garde led them to a realist and figurative art never seen before in that city. Their aim was to express life’s contradictions with a critical viewpoint and deeper and more human topics. During her time at TVI, Martha Pacheco discovered the work of Francis Bacon, which became a huge influence on her. Her leftist political views never made her stoop to the level of a soapbox aesthetic discourse.

In her beginnings, Martha Pacheco would cut out from the tablois images of bodies from road accidents or autopsies for inspiration. Afterwards, she gained access to the morgue, the Servicio Médico Forense, and there she started documenting with photographs unclaimed bodies, and then she would produce paintings and drawings. From her childhood she developped as an extraordinary draftswoman, feeding on the work of artists such as Gerhard Richter and Javier Campos Cabello.

Faithful to her aesthetic and artistic vision, she found coincidences with Teresa Margolles, founder of the artistic collective SEMEFO (the official acronym of the Servicio Médico Forense), with whom she maintains a close friendship. Both share an interest in the detailed study of the human body. Photography, as a technique for the representation of reality, is essential to their work.
con quien mantiene una amistad entrañable.

In 1982 she had her first individual exhibition, in the Casa de la Cultura Jalisciense. Her work has been shown, in spite of censorship, in several individual and collective exhibitions in museums and galleries in Mexico, the United States and Europe. In 1987 she won the Prize at the Séptimo Encuentro Nacional de Arte Joven in Aguascalientes; First Place in Painting at the Salón de Octubre in 1989; and First Place in Drawing at the Bienal Nacional José Clemente Orozco.

Martha Pacheco is a major representative of contemporary visual arts in Jalisco. With realist and figurative elements, she shows death in portraits of forgotten bodies in the morgue, and madness, in portrayals of mentally ill patients. She confronts the spectator without any moralizing or religious intent, showing through very personal atmospheres how intimate and natural death and madness can be in the dehumanizing world in which we live, where the dead and the insane have no identity.

Her work is a profund study of these issues, often censored in Mexican museums and galleries. Despite some disaproval of her work, it has greatly influenced a large number of artists from Jalisco.

Some of her most noteworthy collective and individual exhibitions are: Nueva figuración. Arte joven de Jalisco, Foro de Arte y Cultura, Guadalajara, Jalisco, 1986; Fábulas pánicas, a touring exhibition in Colima, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Querétaro and Mexico City, 1987-1988; Dibujo mexicano de los años 80, Museo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, 1991; Jalisco, genio y maestría, Museo de ArteContemporáneo, Monterrey, Nuevo León, 1994; Martha Pacheco, delirio y cadáver, Museo de Arte de Zapopan, Jalisco, 2011, later exhibited at the Centro de las Artes de Monterrey; Excluidos y acallados, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, 2013.

Martha Pacheco has exhibited abroad as well. Some of these exhibitions are: Artist working in Guadalajara, dibujo y grabado, Gallery of the Consulate, New York, 1988; 7 visiones mexicanas, a touringexhibition in twelve cities in the United States, 1988;Le futur compose, Maison de L’Amerique Latine, París, 1992; Ways of Mexican realism, San Antonio and Houston, Texas, and Washington, D.C., 1992-1993; El arte ritual de la muerte niña, Instituto Cultural Mexicano, San Antonio, Texas, 1992-1993.

Her work is part of the collections of the Museo de las Artes at the Universidad de Guadalajara; Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; an important collection of the Serie de Locas in Monterrey, owned by art collector Guillermo Sepúlveda; the Museo Claudio Jiménez Vizcarra, in Guadalajara, holds around 25 of her works from different periods, subjects and formats.

For art critic Luis Carlos Emerich, the main subjects in Martha Pacheco’s work are death and madness as natural acts:

    Although crudely treated, her artistic practice does have seductive aspects: it would seem that once the threshold of shock or disgust has been crossed, the spectator or the epigone have no choice but to surrender to the naturalness of the act of madness or death, and acknowledge in the artist what now seems a cliche but in Martha’s case is strictly true: the intention of lending a voice to anonymous, marginal beings; her zeal to show their presence to us, just as they are, as an everyday fact that can be approached without morbidity, with dignity.

˂˃ Artistas/Martha Pacheco

New York critic Robert Storr, one of the most influential in the contemporary art scene (curator of the Modern Art Museum in New York for a decade and of the 2007 Venice Biennale), writes: “In Martha Pacheco’s art the real in all of its extremes eclipses the imaginary. It is an art where the image achieved through an undaunted scrutiny of reality burns more deeply in our conscience than the most fantastic hallucination”.

Two books are devoted to her work.The first one is El horror y lo sublime en la pintura de Martha Pacheco, by María Fernanda Matos, published by the Colegio de Jalisco. The author deals with the issues she considers essential in Pacheco’s work, such as her treatment of the dead body, the corpse: “She has managed to show us a whole poetry issuing from a very scabrous subject. She opens windows to subjects forbidden to us; we don’t have easy access to the morgue or to psyachiatric wards”.

The other book is El desnudo femenino. Una visión de lo propio, by Lorena Zamora. The author places Martha Pacheco as a painter who uses nudes to offer up “an alternative language of the body, to intensify other senses, reject eroticism and transgress the fetishism that conditions the image”. Regarding a work from the series Los muertos, the Cenidiap researcher writes:

    The nude in Pacheco’s work is the nude of a real woman, crudely showing the incision made on the torso and the abdomen, an opening not fully closed, revealing the organs inside: a stiff body, whose nakedness has lost the seduction effect, in an environment so inauspicious for the erotic requirements of the male voyeur.



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