In the city of Morelia, concealed behind the stone walls of the governmental palace, lies a courtyard whose walls are adorned with strikingly beautiful midcentury murals. They depict timeless scenes of rural life and traditions representing the colorful culture of the people of Michoacán, painted by one of the great artists of Mexico, Alfredo Zalce.
Zalce was born in 1908 in the town of Patzcuaro, just outside of Morelia, but he spent his childhood years in Mexico City where his family had moved to escape the rising levels of violence and political unrest in Michoacán. Unfortunately, the family’s expectation of a peaceful life was to be disrupted when within a few years the Mexican Revolution broke out, plunging the entire country into a turbulent decade of violence that would eventually reach even the capital.
During his childhood, Zalce apparently saw a dead soldier lying in the street who had been killed in a battle between revolutionaries and government forces near his school. Far from being scared, as most children might, he apparently walked up to the corpse and contemplated it. Soon after he began to draw and paint obsessively at school and home, displaying a natural artistic ability. Zalce later credited this morbid encounter as both the beginning of his creative drive and the awakening of his interest in art.
In his early twenties, Zalce studied art at the Escuela Nacional de Artes where he learned to master a variety of mediums, from oil painting to ceramics, and was mentored by none other than Diego Rivera. It was here, too, that he was to develop lifelong friendships with many other famous artists such as Frida Kahlo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, and Jose Clemente Orozco. His preferred art form was always muralism, due to its potential to deliver social critique, raise awareness about history and culture, and be easily accessed and enjoyed by the public.
“Gente y Paisaje de Michoacán” (“People and Landscape of Michoacán”) is one of Zalce’s great masterpieces of muralism. It was commissioned by the regional government of the state of Michoacán and painted between 1961 and 1963. Vibrantly colorful, it is an artistic celebration of Zalce’s roots in the region, and of the beauty of its diverse cultures and their timeless connection to the surrounding landscape.
Know Before You Go
The mural can be seen in the courtyard of the government palace of Morelia. It is easily located as the palace is in the centre of the city opposite the huge baroque cathedral.