Illustration: Carolina Robles
Toledo’s work is local and, at the same time, universal. He feeds on what he has seen in books and travels, but, above all, on what he observes in his environment. In the end, he never stopped being that boy who played barefoot in the streets of Juchitán.
Francisco was a boy who was born in Mexico City, but he liked to say that he was born in Juchitán, on the coast of Oaxaca , where his family lived and where he discovered the world that would be captured in his work, as one of the artists most recognized in Mexico .
Because, yes, Francisco was a child who liked drawing, seeing animals and flying kites more than studying . Perhaps there was something wonderful in nature that led him to want to capture its colors, textures and sensations on paper. Paper that could then rise into the sky like a kite, which is a Nahuatl word that means “butterfly.”
At the age of 12, Francisco started high school in the city of Oaxaca, but since his parents knew that he preferred to draw, he also entered the engraving workshop of Arturo García Bustos , where he learned some techniques that would be important in his career. He also studied at a School of Fine Arts that had only been open for a few years.
Francisco says that the artist Rufino Tamayo once visited the school to find out what his classes were like and the students told him that they made plaster copies of Greek figures to find out their proportions, which surprised the Mexican painter.
“What do you not see around you?” Tamayo told them. “We do not correspond to those measures. We are short, big heads, short arms, what are they learning?
This was, for Francisco and many of his companions, an eye opener that changed their lives. He returned to look at his roots to find in them the themes that he would address throughout his work. Since then, Juchitán, its nature and its animals would not cease to be present in his paintings, sculptures and drawings.
The weird young man from the pension
But that road would still be a long way to go. His parents sent him to study in Mexico City with the intention that he would become “the next Benito Juárez”. But young Francisco was not interested in the law. He wanted to spend his time drawing. Nor was he attracted to politics or cathedrals: he preferred art galleries and museums.
Soon, a famous gallery owner found out that in a boarding house there was a very strange young man, who ate according to the color of the food and spent his time drawing in his room. At the age of 19, Francisco got his first exhibition at Antonio Souza’s gallery.
The young man soon arrived in Paris, the city famous for being the great capital of the arts. There he was able to marvel at classic and modern works and study the great masters of plastic arts in their museums. But that did not influence his work. Francisco never forgot Tamayo’s lesson, who forced him to look at the root to find his own line.
animals in flight
But he didn’t stop playing either. When he was already a famous artist throughout the world, he continued to make kites, like that boy who ran barefoot and shirtless through the streets of Juchitán. He drew the same crocodiles, crickets, toads, monkeys that populate his work, as if they were fantastic animals that could magically spread their wings and take flight.
But he also used them as a tool to demand justice, like when he put the photos of disappeared students on his kites, so as not to forget that there are still painful events that need a response in our society.
Toledo’s work is local and, at the same time, universal . He feeds on what he has seen in books and travels, but, above all, on what he observes in his environment. Explore their family life, the traditions, the Zapotec stories and legends of Juchitán, the pre-Hispanic heritage, the popular art and the customs of the communities.
Francisco died in 2019, at the age of 79. But behind that man with a gray beard and long hair -as if he were a wise prophet- there always lived a shirtless boy fascinated with toads, crickets and butterflies. That he never stopped playing or flying kites in the sky that saw him grow up.