"Angels are terrible creatures," Mexican painter Rafael Cauduro has said. "They are executors of power. They always arrive to impose power to harm our will and freedom."
But Cauduro surely would not apply that censure to his figurative angel, Manelick de la Parra, a part-time Stowe resident and full-time impresario. Through his connections in Mexico City, de la Parra has arranged for several of Cauduro's sensuous paintings and drawings to be shown at the Helen Day Art Center this summer. Visitors to the show are going to sing hosannas to this Stowe angel.
"We thought it would be impossible to do this on our small budget," says Helen Day exhibitions director Idoline Duke. "But Manelick got his friends at the Mexican State Department involved." They agreed to cover the $25,000 transportation and insurance costs for the show.
Cauduro, 58, is "very well known in Mexico," Duke says, describing him as "one of the pre-eminent muralists" in a country that has produced such giants of that genre as Diego Rivera. Indeed, Duke adds, "There are people who say he [Cauduro] will be the Rivera of the 21st century."
Cauduro is almost entirely unknown in the United States, however, where practically nothing has been written about his work. The Helen Day show will most likely rectify that oversight.
American art audiences will at least gain access to a catalogue of Cauduro's output over the past 20 years entitled "Un Posible Itinerario" ("A Possible Itinerary"). To coincide with the show in Stowe, de la Parra, Mexico's National Endowment for the Arts and the University of Mexico are jointly publishing an English translation. The volume contains excerpts from taped conversations between Cauduro and de la Parra. Some of these exchanges will be used as wall texts accompanying the 12 paintings and seven drawings to be displayed at Helen Day.
"There's no looking at his work and walking away without having an opinion," Duke says. "Some will love it; some will have strong reactions against it."
That's to be expected with an artist who gives visual expression to themes once considered taboo in polite society: sex, death, religion and politics. The show is aptly titled "Rafael Cauduro: Sin Fronteras" ("No Boundaries").
Take "Reventón," for example. "Imagine likening the experience of birth to a tire blowout," Duke says of this oil-and-fiberglass painting showing a nude woman in agony as a tire explodes between her legs. " Well, if you've been through it, you might agree."
Cauduro's preoccupation with angels is evident in at least three other works that will hang in Stowe.
"Angeles de la Conciencia" depicts a couple entwined over a dirty washbasin as a pair of grim-faced angels stand sentinel beside them. Duke describes "Angel de Sodoma y Gomorra" as "a wonderful example of his trompe l'oeil mural style and his fascination with decay and ruin, which is often in juxtaposition with youth and beauty." And in "El Terrible Angel de la Libertad," Eugene Delacroix's famous painting "Liberty Leading the People" is superimposed on the decaying façade of a hacienda with graffiti on its walls.
These paintings are emblematic of Cauduro's sumptuous style, which Duke likens to that of Renaissance artists. "It's hyperrealism," she says, "but there's fantasy in there as well, beautifully painted. He has an incredible way of joining past and present."
As Cauduro writes, "La pintura va diciéndote quién eres" - "Paintings tell you who you are."
Rafael Cauduro, "No Boundaries," at the Helen Day Art Center, Stowe, June 20 to August 30. Info, 253-8358.