The following article (“Ingenuity and Homage: Poetic Lotería by Artemio Rodríguez”) was written by Katherine Blood, curator of fine prints in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, and originally appeared in On Paper: Journal of the Washington Print Club (Fall 2016 Volume 1, No. 2) as a “Curator’s Choice” feature. We are reprinting it here with permission from the journal.
Among my favorite recent arrivals to the Library of Congress graphic art collection is a series of linocuts called La Lotería by Artemio Rodríguez (b. 1972, Tacámbaro, Michoacán, Mexico). The artist cites several aesthetic lineages in his body of work, including the strong, key-line compositions often seen in early European woodcuts and the vibrant, politically-inflected imagery of José Guadalupe Posada. For his La Lotería series of twelve linocuts, made between 1995 and 1998, the artist also drew inspiration from Mexico’s eponymous bingo-like game and its distinctive visual lexicon.
Using these disparate elements as launching points, Rodríguez created his own universe of lotería (the Spanish word for lottery) characters and iconography. His carved lines are crisp and precise, while the resulting black-and-white images are embroidered with complexity and nuance. Rodríguez’s linocuts also inspired Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera to compose a series of ekphrastic poems, and both poems and images are published in Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives (City Lights Books, 1999). Examples from the series were recently featured in Herrera’s La Casa de Colores: El Jardín first-term laureate project at the Library.
Evoking earlier incarnations of the lotería game, Rodríguez depicted mythological, religious, social, and national tropes along with an array of natural and manufactured objects. Traditional characters join such fresh archetypes as La Migra (The Immigration Officer) and El Zapatista (The Zapatista). In La Lotería VI, illustrated here, we meet La Tragafuegos (The Fire-Eater), Los Suplicantes (The Supplicants), La Tijerilla (The Earwig), El Mago (The Magician), La Filósofa (The Philosopher), La Muerte (Death), El Árbol (The Tree), El Ángel de la Guarda (The Guardian Angel), La Tentación (Temptation), El Cometa (The Comet), La Santa Niña (The Little Saint), and El Gallo (The Rooster). They are arranged in a grid, similar to the board game. Print aficionados may recognize the Albrecht Dürer-esque composition in La Tentación (a.k.a. El Fruto in Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems). Rodríguez reversed the poses of the protagonists in Dürer’s iconic 1504 engraving of Adam and Eve. Eve raises the apple (Dürer’s serpent is missing here) as Adam inclines toward her in a contrapposto pose reminiscent of the Hellenistic Apollo Belvedere. In one hand, he grasps a tree branch, usually identified as mountain ash representing the Tree of Life, on which a parrot is perched. Further personalizing the image, Rodríguez gave the couple dark, straight hair rather than the lighter curls seen in Dürer’s engraving.
Artist and art historian Rupert García notes in his insightful introduction to Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems:
Rodríguez and Herrera have drawn upon the artistic traditions of mexicanidad and chicanidad, and filtered them through their own personal, yet related, voices and experiences, combining it all to create a lotería that resonates with the old while generating something new.[i]
A compelling example of this blending of old and new appears in the center left panel with the portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the celebrated seventeenth-century Baroque poet, scholar, nun, and women’s rights advocate from viceregal Mexico. García is among the many Chicano and Latino artists who celebrate Sor Juana and her accomplishments in their own artwork. Known as La Décima Musa or The Tenth Muse, here she is simply called La Filósofa (a.k.a. La Poeta). In his portrayal, Rodríguez references a well-known painting by Miguel Cabrera, which shows Sor Juana seated at a desk in a well-appointed study, wearing her nun’s habit and escudo de monja (nun’s shield). Surrounded by books, she rests her hand on an open volume while pens and an inkwell are ready nearby. Other customary lotería figures are embedded in the scene including a rose (La Rosa) and frog (La Rana) which seem almost to have escaped their game cards to join her in this alternate narrative.
In the bottom row, El Cometa (The Comet) recalls a circa 1581 image in the Historia de las Indias de Nueva España (History of the Indies of New Spain) or Durán Codex; named for its author Friar Diego Durán. The drawing shows Aztec leader Moctezuma II witnessing a comet whose appearance was interpreted as an ill omen foreshadowing Spanish invasion and the ruler’s own death. When Posada recorded the arrival of Halley’s Comet in 1910, the phenomenon was interpreted as a mixed message heralding the centennial of Mexican independence and the Mexican Revolution soon afterward. Rodríguez’s image closely echoes the Durán Codex illustration but with the composition reversed and other key differences. Moctezuma, who stood alone on a rooftop in the earlier image, is seen kneeling in a mournful attitude near a dog who recalls pre-Columbian funerary figures. The roof is now occupied by a seated couple who Herrera alludes to in his accompanying poem for El Cometa which begins:
It is said, when the star of Rumi burns azul across the municipios and the goatherders slip out of Janitzio in their butterfly balsa wings, when the plumed fire-voices instill knowledge in every new web of maize & the maize speaks, when we are two sitting upon the roof in white & Chamula, the Indian, with Zapatistas take land back…[ii]
Ultimately, Rodríguez’s poetic re-imaginings of lotería images and concepts operate in a space that is both contemporary and steeped in history, playful and fierce—a richly-textured new world. The full series is ready for you to explore in the Library’s Prints & Photographs Division reading room with searchable catalog records online.
Katherine Blood is Curator of Fine Prints in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, overseeing its collection of over 100,000 fine prints. Her current exhibition is World War I: American Artists View the Great War. Other exhibition, publication, and research topics have focused on American modern to contemporary artist prints and graphic art by Hispanic and Japanese creators. She previously worked at the Smithsonian Institution Museums of Natural and American History and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii.
[i] Rupert García, “Introduction” to Juan Felipe Herrera, Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems A Book of Lives (San Francisco: City Lights Books), ix-x