On the 31st anniversary of his untimely death, we remember Fernando García Ponce, after whom Mérida’s Macay Museum was named.
García Ponce was born on Aug. 25, 1933 in Mérida. By the time he was 11, his family settled in México City.
In 1952 he joined the National University of México to study architecture. But he is best known for his canvases.
His first paintings date from 1954, mostly family portraits. Two years later, he turned to geometric abstracts.
In 1957 he traveled to Europe and decided to drop architecture to devote himself entirely to painting. The influence of his architectural studies, and respect for geometry and structure, is evident in his works.
García Ponce enhanced the qualities of architectural outline and a restricted color palette, which distinguished him with a unique personality within the Generación de la Ruptura, or Breakaway Generation.
He had his first solo exhibition at the Galería de Arte Mexicano in 1959; with 26 oil still lifes. In 1960 he painted a groundbreaking abstract composition, “No. 1,” and a series of collages earned him an honorable mention at the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana.
García Ponce chose collage and thick impasto as a medium, and the canvas as a field in which geometric shapes are characterized by a complex and emotional weight.
Most of his collages are monumental in scale. For Fernando García Ponce, the dimension of the canvas was itself an energizing factor.
Fernando cuts, selects, changes, pastes, sometimes tears off and restarts all over again. For him, the work is the result of a dialogue with the medium in which the artist ignores any external influence. His works offer the viewer an aspect of the private life of the artist, as they are made with materials at hand in the studio. His choices are based on the delight in texture, color and weight.
In 1960 the artistic movement La Ruptura (Breakaway movement) emerged , which defined a generational group of intellectuals and artists, in which García Ponce belonged. They were the seeds for the transformation of art in Mexico.
The proposals of this generation marked total distance from the so called Escuela Mexicana de Pintura (Mexican School of Painting)
García Ponce participated in a group exhibition of Mexican and South American Contemporary Art in the Galería de Arte Mexicano (Mexican Art Gallery) in 1961, where he had his first art exhibition. Two years apart and his paintings are totally abstract. He exhibited 14 works at the Juan Martin Gallery.
In 1964 he won first prize at the Esso Salon organized by the Museo de Arte Moderno, a momentous event in the history of Mexican art.
He also participated in the group exhibit of Contemporary Art of America and Spain, held in Madrid. By 1974 his paintings revealed the will to synthesize cold geometric arrangement.
During the summer of 1976 García Ponce traveled to Paris with his wife Denise and son Esteban. Later they spent some time in Barcelona, where he created two graphics folders containing 10 screenprints and 12 lithographs.
Upon his return to Mexico, the Museo de Arte Moderno in 1978 organized a major exhibition of 40 works from the previous year.
A year after this event, his wife Denise died tragically. But García Ponce stayed focused and his creativity was still intact. His paintings from those years are considered extremely powerful and inspirational.
Every year, he presented his annual exhibition at the Ponce Gallery and participated in group exhibitions at Cuba’s House of the Americas; the Museum Picasso in Antibes, France; the Cultural Conferences of Colombia; the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh (EU) and the National Arts Center in Ottawa.
When Julio Cortázar died in 1984, a group of Mexican artists paid posthumous tribute to the Argentinean writer. Oil paintings, acrylics, mixed media and collage can be found among the 22 works that make up the Rayuela Collection (Hopscotch collection). This collection includes works by Fernando García Ponce, Manuel Felguérez, Arnaldo Coen, Roger von Gunten and Alberto, Francisco José and Miguel Castro Leñero.
At 54 years old and still considered one of the most important artists of the national art scene, García Ponce died at his workshop, of a heart attack, on July 11, 1987.
In Mérida you can also see some of his architectural works including the Clínica Mérida and several private homes.
He also lives on through the Macay Museum, which stands aside the cathedral across from the Plaza Grande. The building contains 15 rooms for temporary exhibits, and has dedicated three other galleries for their permanent exhibits devoted to the works of three great Yucatecan artists: Fernando Castro Pacheco, Gabriel Ramírez Aznar and, of course, García Ponce.
The Macay exhibits 33 of his acrylics and mixed media collages created from 1964 to 1986. It also displays a selection of photographic facsimiles of his work from 1950 to 1960. His drawing table and bench are preserved in the center of the room, left as it appeared the day he died.
Had he lived, he would have been 85 this August.