'Dialogos Gráficos' - works by José Guadalupe Posada

Ester Hernandez, La Ofrenda/The Offering, 1988, ed.43/62

by Kimberly Chun
Published sfgate.com Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Little wonder that calaveras, or skeletons, are at the bone-deep base of Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada's legacy. When one peels away the toys, brands, flesh - even those Day of the Dead associations - what is left but simple human mortality?

Jim Nikas - the San Francisco curator who owns, with his wife, Maryanne Brady, one of the largest collections of works by Posada - agrees: "The thing about calaveras is that we all have one inside of us, so they make a great vehicle for whatever you want to say. They could be behind a desk or playing football or baseball."

Those bones do come in handy when one wants to take a playful, or probing, jab, and Posada relied on them, be they mustachioed, sombreroed or suited, to illustrate powerfully the broadsides he was hired to adorn at the turn of the last century. They reappear, in the joyful/tormented throes of creation, amid the flames of "El Purgatorio Artistico," which Nikas drew from his archives to lend to the Mexican Museum for "Dialogos Gráficos (Graphic Dialogues)."

"Death is the great equalizer," Nikas says of the work. "Posada's message to us is a reminder not to get too puffed up about who we are and to remain humble."

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