Alfonso Lorenzo in The Wall Street Journal

See the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal:

Since his schizophrenia was diagnosed in 1991, Alfonso Lorenzo Santos has divided his time between a psychiatric clinic in Cuernavaca and his tiny lime-green house in this remote mountain village. At home, he often gets so violent his neighbors chain him to a wall.  Yet despite his anger and terrifying delusions, Mr. Lorenzo has become one of Mexico’s most innovative folk painters, piling points upon points of paint on paper, like tiny tiles in a mosaic.

Mr. Lorenzo, now around 54 years old — he was orphaned and doesn’t know his age exactly — is part of a generation of Mexican-Indian artists from the Balsas river region, about 75 miles from Acapulco. These artists started painting in the 1960s for tourist dollars on bark paper, called amate in the Nahuatl language.

One group of amate painters moved to Cuernavaca in the 1970s to live with Edmond Rabkin, a New York expatriate who introduced them to Western literature and music. Those artists, especially Marcial Camilo Ayala, whose work is now displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, often paint romantic visions of village life.

Some Ameyaltepec artists developed a harder edge, especially Mr. Lorenzo, whose figures rarely smile and whose birds have menacing claws. In the 1970s, Mr. Lorenzo moved to Mexico City, where an art dealer promoted him as the descendant of Aztec princes, and where he had his first psychotic episode, says Gobi Stromberg, a Cuernavaca art patron. Complaining to friends that his heart was exploding, he returned to Ameyaltepec around 1980, wandered the arid mountains, cursed at neighbors and flung stones at them. Barely 5 feet tall, but stocky, Mr. Lorenzo became a threatening figure. After villagers decided he had to be restrained, several volunteers wrestled him to the ground and chained him to a wall in his house, where he remained for several years…

"He likes the goriness of Catholicism because it depicts a kind of scary world he lives in," says George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen, who has written a book on amate paintings.

Here is the story (WSJ password required, so just buy the paper, and note that the above links are mine, not theirs).  I am pleased to have served as translator for much of the work behind this article.  Here is my previous post on Alfonso, and an extensive link to photos.


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