Dr. Rich's enthusiasm for collecting Nierman is because Leonardo Nierman's work has played such a leading role in the extraordinary drama which is modern Mexican art. He started to exhibit at a time when the art of Mexico was undergoing a period of drastic change--the influence of the long-established Muralists was being challenged by the ideas of a new generation, open to modernist internationalism.
Like many leading Mexican artists--Rufino Tamayo is another example--Nierman consolidated his reputation abroad before being accorded full recognition in Mexico itself--he was awarded a prize by the Aquarelle Museum in 1964 and held a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City in 1972. Since then there have been exhibitions of his work all over the world, and he is now represented in numerous museums: in Italy, Australia, Spain and Japan, as well as in Mexico.
His work is a rich mixture of elements, drawn from personal preference and experience as well as from the collective Mexican psyche. In it one finds forms based on landscapes, on the discoveries made by modern science, and also other suggested by his love of music. One important predecessor is Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo Cornadó), who can be regarded as the true founder of the modern Mexican school. Atl is known as "the painter of volcanoes"--these obsessed him, and he painted canvas after canvas representing them, finally building himself a house near Paricutín, in order to record every aspect of the volcanic eruption which began there in 1943 and lasted for three years.
Nierman is much less literal than Dr. Atl in his representation of landscape. The references are there in some of his paintings, but adroitly concealed. The works in question can be read as pure abstractions; they can also, with a shift of aesthetic perspective, be seen as primal visions of landscape--images of the earth still in a state of becoming, spouting flames, boiling lava, plumes of smoke.
One can in fact construct a sequence--first José María Velasco, the great Mexican landscape painter of the last decades of the 19th century, the Dr. Atl, finally Nierman. Velasco's panoramas are as still and crystalline as Nierman's are turbulent and dramatic. Yet there are also paintings by Nierman in which the crystallineelement plays an important part. The reference in this case is literal, rather than metaphorical. There are certain works in which the volcanic flow of paint is suddenly challenged and interrupted by faceted geometric forms. Sometimes one gets the feeling that they are symbols of a collision between nature and intellect; sometimes it seems to be a reference to contrasting aspects of the physical world--released as turbulent energy; frozen into intricate structures whose forms are a visible expression of the properties of certain mineral.
Part of the introduction to the book "Leonardo Nierman: painting, sculpture, tapestry"
by Eduard Lucie Smith and Horacio Ferrer (1994).
Copyright © 1999 by Universidad de las Américas - Puebla
Written by Christian Steimel