14 Famous Artists from Mexico (other than Frida and Rivera)

You already know Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are the most famous artists from Mexico. They are two of the most famous artists in history from any country. Mexico, of course, has a vast art history beyond the mid-20th century power couple.

Begin your recognition of artists from Mexico starting with these important figures. Bear in mind, these are not Mexican American artists or Chicano artists or artist’s who can trace their heritage back to Mexico. These are all artists born in Mexico, the majority of whom spent most of their life there.

José Guadalupe Posada

José Guadalupe Posada (b. Aguascalientes, Mexico, 1852; d. Mexico City, 1913), a tireless producer of caricatures and satirical imagery for the penny press that were one of the most popular forms of media in his homeland, has been widely recognized as “the foremost caricaturist, the foremost graphic artist” in Mexico for more than 125 years.

Posada built his career in an era of political repression and lived to see the profound social changes brought by the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

Posada’s pictorial contributions to broadsides, or ephemeral news sheets, provided a daily diet of information and entertainment to a public for whom images needed to tell the story since literacy was not widely prevalent during the late nineteenth century. Posada’s highly varied images in the popular press included noticias illustrating lurid crimes, current scandals, and other sensational stories, but these constitute only a part of his extensive output. Reused and reprinted, sometimes until the printing blocks and plates wore out, his beloved illustrations also encompass religious subjects, ballads, and children’s books and games.

José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913); La Calavera Oaxaqueña Calavera del montón. Número 1; Relief print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; 1978.384.7
José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913); La Calavera Oaxaqueña Calavera del montón. Número 1; Relief print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas; 1978.384.7

Posada is best known for his sheets of calaveras (skeletons), which figured in popular rituals around the Mexican celebration of the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), but were also adapted into satires of political figures and other individuals. Whether playful or trenchant, vernacular or surreal, Posada’s imagery continues to delight, and it still inspires the work of many illustrators working today.

José Guadalupe Posada was only in his mid-thirties when his illustrations and caricatures won recognition as the preeminent graphic art of Mexico. Born in the provincial town of Aguascalientes, Posada demonstrated talent as a printmaker from a young age.

His career took him first to León (Guanajuato) and then to Mexico City, where he was closely associated for more than two decades with the Vanegas Arroyo print shop, a mainstay of the penny press. Posada produced thousands of images for broadsides during a time when literacy was not widespread, which meant that images held outsize importance in telling a story.

Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros

Along with Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco (1883 – 1949) and David Alfaro Siqueiros (b. 1896, Chihuahua; d. 1974, Mexico City) combine to form what is known as los tres grandes or “the three greats” of Mexican modernism. Across murals, paintings and prints, los tres grandesand Kahlo – have come to define what “Mexican Art” is and looks like to much of the world.

Mexico has the longest printmaking tradition in all the Americas—dating back to 1539. Spurred by the Mexican Revolution of 1910, artists from Mexico initiated a golden age of printmaking in the 1920s and lasted through the 1940s. Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros were at their peak during these years.

The subsequent generation of Mexican printmakers—the artists who founded the collaborative print workshop El Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) in 1937—illustrate the lasting influence of los tres grandes and include masterful lithographers Jesus Escobedo, Leopoldo Mendez, and Francisco Mora (more on him later). Like “the three greats,” these artists continued to explore the history and aftermath of the Mexican Revolution.

RELATED: Judy Baca’s The Great Wall of Los Angeles carries on tradition of los tres grandes.

Rufino Tamayo

A contemporary of los tres grandes, Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) also brought major prestige to artists from Mexico during the mid and late 20th century. Unlike Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, however, Tamayo’s work was overtly political. Tamayo combined his Mexican heritage with avant-garde Modern art movements – particularly Cubism and Surrealism – to create a unique visual language which remains cutting edge to this day.

Tamayo became hugely prominent during the mid-century, splitting his time between New York, Mexico City and Paris. In 1964 he returned to Mexico City permanently.

Beyond his art making, his influence on art in Mexico includes establishing the Museo de Arte Prehispánico de México Rufino Tamayo in Oaxaca to display his collection and founding the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, the contemporary art museum featuring an extensive collection of work by modern and contemporary international artists.

Abraham Ángel

Self-Portrait - Autorretrato, 1923. Abraham Ángel
Self-Portrait – Autorretrato, 1923. Abraham Ángel. Photo courtesy of Museo Nacional de Arte. INBAL / SECRETARÍA DE CULTURA, MEXICO CITY.

As a teenager, Abraham Ángel (1905–1924) successfully captured the rapidly changing society and culture of Mexico City in the 1920s. Twenty-four paintings was all it took for Ángel to achieve immortality, to establish himself as a legendary figure in the canon of modern Mexican art.

“In some cases, I think we conflate quantity with quality; it is possible to be a hugely prolific artist and still produce works that have little merit, and of course the opposite is also true – there are artists who produce very little, but each work has a significant impact,” the Dallas Museum of Art’s former Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art Mark A. Castro told me. “Perhaps a better metric to think about in Ángel’s case is longevity; in the almost hundred years since his death, he remains one of the key figures in the history of modern Mexican art. He achieved with 24 paintings what some artists are unable to accomplish with 2,400.”

Diego Rivera, spoke reverentially of Ángel following his death, saying, “there was nothing in the life of this young man that was not beautiful, and his painting was his life.”

Ángel was undoubtedly an extreme talent and his 24 works made a substantial impression on Mexico’s leading cultural figures at the time. Still, for so few pieces to have such an immense impact, something greater must be at work.

“For many, Ángel represented the first of a new generation of Mexican artists who was coming of age after the Mexican Revolution and developing their art without the influence of European academic traditions,” Castro surmises of Ángel’s outsized legacy relative to his sparse production. “It wasn’t just Ángel they lost, but the hope he represented for a new type of Mexican art and culture.”

Octavio Medellín

Octavio Medellín. Courtesy of Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University. Photographer: Jay Simmons

Of Otomí ancestry, Octavio Medellín was born in the city of Matehuala, San Luis Potosí, Mexico (1907-1999). In the wake of the violence of the Mexican Civil War, he immigrated with his family to San Antonio, Texas, in 1920. Working a variety of jobs to support himself, he began studying art in his spare time, eventually leaving San Antonio in 1928 to study briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The following year, he journeyed to Mexico City, where he explored Mexican Modernism, encountering important artists such as José Clemente Orozco and Carlos Mérida, but also traveled on foot through the rural countryside of the Gulf Coast.

Returning to San Antonio, he became a rising star in that city’s art scene, producing sculptures in wood, clay, and stone. In 1938, with the support of art patron Lucy Maverick, he traveled to Yucatán to study the Maya ruins at Chichén Itzá, inspiring an important group of drawings, prints, and decorative objects featured in the exhibition.

Following his return to the United States, Medellín became a prominent figure in the Texas art scene, first in San Antonio and then in Dallas, where he lived until he retired to Bandera, Texas, in 1980.

RELATED: Explore Jesse Treviño’s San Antonio.

Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo

Lola Álvarez Bravo (b. Jalisco 1907; d. 1933) married Manuel Álvarez Bravo in Mexico City in 1925. Manuel introduced his wife to photography, but, as is often the case, the husband’s career took precedence over the wife’s. When the couple separated in 1934, her creativity was free to blossom.

A keen observer of people with a deft eye for composition, Lola Álvarez Bravo captured an everyday Mexico, unposed, unpretentious, unguarded.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s (1902-2002) work centered on, “representing the cultural heritage, peasant population, and indigenous roots of the Mexican people in the face of rapid modernization.”

Pedro Linares

Pedro Linares López (1906-1992) skeleton cartonería at New Mexico Museum of Art.
Pedro Linares López (1906-1992) skeleton cartonería at New Mexico Museum of Art. Photo by Chadd Scott.

Pedro Linares López (1906-1992) is best known for his production of cartonería. He was a third-generation cartonero.

Called cartonería in Mexico, papier-mâché is an integral part of Mexican culture. It uses simple materials of paste, cardboard, and paper evolving from religious purposes to create a diverse array of subjects such as piñatas, dolls, skeletons, toys, and fantastical animals called alebrijes. Cartonería expresses human imagination, emotion, and tradition. These objects reflect the creativity of the Mexican cartoneros, the artists who create objects from these simple materials. 

Following the end of the Mexican revolution in 1910 and throwing off the yolk of Spanish colonial rule, Mexican people began taking more interest in their traditional, Indigenous values and culture. Folk art. This movement was known as Mexicanidad. Kahlo and Rivera where major proponents of Mexicanidad and Linares worked with the pair in the 40s and 50s.

Linares popularized the skeleton cartonería and took the art form into previously unrealized directions.

Manuel Carrillo

Manuel Carrillo, Untitled, (Vendor and shadows, Mexico City), 1960, gelatin silver print.
Manuel Carrillo, Untitled, (Vendor and shadows, Mexico City), 1960, gelatin silver print. Gift of Ike Fordyce, 1986. ©University of Texas at El Paso Library, Special Collections Library, MS288 Manuel Carrillo paper.

Combining street photography with the tenets of modernism, photographer Manuel Carrillo (1906-1989) portrayed his native Mexico from the perspective of an affectionate observer, transforming ordinary moments into expressions of quiet eloquence.

Carrillo turned to the camera late in life, joining the Club Fotográfico de México (Photographic Club of Mexico) at the age of 49. He quickly found his voice by making images of everyday life throughout Mexico, celebrating local culture and the human spirit. His work is an extension of Mexicanidad, a movement begun in the 1920s to forge a Mexican national identity free of foreign influence. Stylistically, Carrillo was largely inspired by a mix of Mexican artists who trained abroad and international artists who converged on Mexico during that fertile period.

The artist’s interest in indigenous cultures and his use of bright sunlight to create compositions with dramatic shadows and bold geometric forms is aligned with modernist aesthetics, while his practice of finding a picture by wandering cities and towns across Mexico is more aligned with the tradition of street photography.

Unlike some of his predecessors, and particularly those from abroad, Carrillo captures events of the ordinary world without idealizing or aestheticizing, showing instead his empathy for working people and lives lived in harmony with nature.

Miguel Covarrubias

Miguel Covarrubias (b. Mexico City, 1904; d. Mexico City, 1957) drew caricatures for “Vanity Fair” and the “New Yorker” magazines. He willed his exceptional collection of pre-Columbian art to the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology.

Einar and Jamex de la Torre

The Torre brothers were born in Guadalajara in 1960 (Jamex) and 1963 (Einar). Their family moved to California in 1972.

Their vibrant, exuberant, large-scale “signature style featuring mix media work with blown glass sculpture and installation art” has increasingly become a staple of museums and exhibitions around the U.S.

Narsiso Martinez

Narsiso Martinez, Paula, 2021. Ink, gouache, charcoal, and acrylic on produce cardboard box. 16 x 27 3/4 inches
Narsiso Martinez, Paula, 2021. Ink, gouache, charcoal, and acrylic on produce cardboard box. 16 x 27 3/4 inches (40.64 x 70.48 cm). PHOTO © 2021 YUBO DONG.

In 20 years, I think the name Narsiso Martinez may stand shoulder to shoulder among the famous artists from Mexico with Kahlo and Rivera and Orozco and Siqueiros. I first came across Narsiso Martinez’ painting at the Converge 45 triennial in Portland. Four months later, he popped up with an exhibition at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, one of the oldest and most prestigious in America.

While Martinez (b. 1977) had gradually been making a name for himself on the West Coast, I was unfamiliar with him. His placement in a leading triennial and solo museum exhibition within months of each other let’s me know he’s on his way to contemporary art superstardom.

Following his older brothers from Oaxaca, a 19-year-old Martinez arrived in Los Angeles before heading on to Washington state for field labor picking produce. He no longer picks asparagus, cherries and apples in Washington state. He’s an artist.

Martinez’ rise from rural poverty in Mexico and picking Granny Smiths to contemporary art celebrity started there, night classes learning the language. Next up was a GED. Then community college and eventually a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2018 from Cal State Long Beach.

His tuition money came from grueling summers and winter breaks in the orchards.

Martinez was around 30 years old by the time an introductory art history course got him thinking about art school. He wanted to study science, but couldn’t do so without documents. Documents he still doesn’t have. Documents you can’t just go to the store and pick up when you cross illegally.

“I always drew since I was a kid, but it never entered my mind to go to art school,” Martinez told me. “I never thought it could be a career, I never thought people could make a living out of it.”

Most people’s lives don’t change in Art History 101.

Martinez’ did.

“I thought, ‘wow, what if I learn how to paint like these masters in the book,’” Martinez remembers. “I never painted before, I always drew. What if I learn how to paint and better my drawing skills. I can paint anything, anywhere. I thought I could go back to my hometown in Oaxaca and paint my family members and my grandparents and my neighbors who always worked in the fields.”

He was initially turned on by 19th century French painter Jean-François Millet and Vincent van Gogh. Millet was one of the first to apply his talent to the lower classes, laborers, field workers. The Sower (1850), The Gleaners (1857), The Angelus (1859) and The Man with the Hoe (1862) are art history textbook standards. Each depicts field workers. As did van Gogh’s early work, most notably his Potato Eaters.

“All of these images were so familiar, they took me back to my childhood,” Narsiso said. “I grew up in a small town. There was very little food to eat. Very rudimentary electricity where one bulb would illuminate the whole house. People who worked in the fields wearing sandals. I wore sandals. I took care of sheep when I was growing up. I helped my parents in the field.”

Working the fields. Struggling. Barely getting by. Hunger. Poverty.

Nineteenth century France. Twentieth century Mexico. Twenty-first century America. Martinez saw the parallels and found the subject matter he wanted to paint.

“All those years when I was working in the fields I would sketch on cardboard,” Martinez said. “My sister would go to Costco, get some boxes, I would use those boxes to do drawings on them, but I would never use the labels, I would always cut them off.”

Returning to cardboard boxes in grad school, Martinez recalls the artwork which would jump start his career and the innovation that became his instantly recognizable signature.

“I made a painting of this banana man on a banana box and for some reason I didn’t cut off the labels,” Martinez said. “I painted on the center and grew outward. When I presented that to my class, that (resulted in) a different kind of critique that was more about the concept.”

The concept of sharing the experiences of immigrant farmworkers, undocumented farmworkers, depicting and elevating their lives and labor. As groundbreaking as Millet 160 years prior.

Elizabeth Catlett in Mexico

Elizabeth Catlett, Which Way?, 1973–2003, lithograph, 11 x 14 1⁄2 in. (27.5 x 37 cm), edition 4 of 25. Courtesy of the Elizabeth Catlett Family Trust.
Elizabeth Catlett, Which Way?, 1973–2003, lithograph, 11 x 14 1⁄2 in. (27.5 x 37 cm), edition 4 of 25. Courtesy of the Elizabeth Catlett Family Trust.

Elizabeth Catlett first visited Mexico in 1946 thanks to $2,000 from a fellowship. The fellowship provided money to travel anywhere in the world she wanted to study. Paris was her first choice, but two-grand wouldn’t stretch that far.

She was instantly inspired.

Catlett returned to the U.S. for a couple months before moving back to Mexico – Cuernavaca, 60 miles south of Mexico City – for good in 1947.

Catlett was introduced to printmaking in Mexico by her second husband, artist Francisco Moya. After a brief marriage to the artist Charles White, Catlett and Moya embarked on a 55-year relationship that would see them inspire each other to create their best work and life.

“She was taken by the environment in which politics and art were so merged and how art, at the time in Mexico City, was at the service of politics,” Humberto Moro, SCAD MOA adjunct curator and co-organizer of “Elizabeth Catlett: Points of Contact,” explained of Catlett’s love affair with the city. “She encountered (arts collective) Taller de Gráfica Popular (The People’s Print Workshop), a printmaking workshop which was active for almost 45 years. She became almost a second-generation Taller de Gráfica Popular with her new partner Francisco Mora who was a painter and an excellent printmaker.”

Catlett advocated tirelessly on behalf of the disadvantaged, the poor, minorities and women on both sides of the border.

“(Portraying) the commonalities between Mexican working class people and African American people of hard labor, child labor, homelessness, hunger, mothers caring for their children and the beautiful physical attributes that until then were stigmatized as something as undesirable as to what artistic aesthetic should conform to be,” in the words of her granddaughter.

Catlett recognized this which is why in 1962 she renounced her American citizenship and became a Mexican citizen. Doing so was also necessary for her to participate in Mexican politics. This resulted in her being kidnapped – in front of her children – by both the U.S. and Mexican governments according to Moro. Remember, this period was the Cold War and an educated expat Black woman espousing “radical” ideas about social and economic equality was considered very dangerous – still is.

Catlett had her U.S. citizenship restored in 2002.

Surrealists in Mexico

A fascinating period in world art history developed when many leading Surrealist artists fled Europe for Mexico on the eve of World War II. Among them were Alice Rahon (French), Remedios Varo (Spanish), André Breton (French) and Leonora Carrington (English).

Many of these artists were already personally acquainted with Rivera and Kahlo from the couple’s extensive travels in Paris and Europe.

Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000) was born in Mexico City to a Hungarian Jewish father and German mother. He played an important role in the mid-Century Modern and Surrealist art scene in Mexico City, having returned there after living abroad for many years.

Carrington painted Mexican artist Juan Soriano while in Mexico.

This exciting moment in time has been widely written about.

Where to see artwork from Mexico in America

Mexican, Mexican American and Chicano artists are seeing their opportunities for representation increase greatly in America. Here are five places to start your exploration.

“The Cheech”

Actor, comedian, entrepreneur… and art collector Cheech Marin has his own museum in Riverside, CA. “The Cheech” opened in June of 2022 and displays Marin’s best-of-kind collection of Chicano art, amassed over almost 40 years. I spoke to Marin about the collection and museum when it opened.

Chicano Park

Chicano Park in San Diego has the best mural program in America and a new cultural center featuring rotating exhibitions.

El Museo Del Barrio

Founded in 1969 with a purpose to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret the art and artifacts of Caribbean and Latin American cultures for posterity, New York’s El Museo del Barrio has become the nation’s leading Latinx and Latin American cultural institution.

International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago

The ILCC focuses more on performance art and film than visual art.

National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago

The first Latino museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood southwest of downtown houses one of the largest collections of Mexican art in the U.S., nearly 18,000 items spanning ancient Mexico to the present. Admission is always free!

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