Lucía Vidales didn’t intend to be a painter, at least not a traditional one. When she enrolled as an undergraduate at the National Institute of Fine Arts in her native Mexico City, she thought of painting as “conservative,” she says. At the time, the artist, now 37, was working mostly with garbage and other found objects, continuing a practice she had begun as a teenager living in Hong Kong, where she attended an international high school on a scholarship: “I didn’t want to relate my work to canvas or frames.”

That changed as she learned more about art history, especially the era of pintura virreinal (“viceregal painting”) that spanned Spanish colonization to Mexican independence. Vidales — who now resides in Monterrey, where she is an instructor at the University of Monterrey — says she became intrigued by the “tensions between Hispanic traditions in terms of technique, iconography and how they understood the world.” She began to wonder how her own work could relate to a cultural canon that, however fascinating, she says, “is so problematic and kind of foreign and violent.”

The question continues to motivate her practice. Next month, Vidales will open her first solo museum exhibition, at Guadalajara’s Museo Cabañas, home to 57 frescoes by the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco. Commissioned by the state of Jalisco in the 1930s, the Expressionist paintings depict themes of conquest, creation and modern industry. The most famous of them, “The Man of Fire” (1937-39), renders its subject in flames encircled by figures whose entwined limbs resemble both angels’ wings and the musculature of cadavers.

Vidales’s show, she says, is a response to what she characterizes as the masculinity of Orozco’s output. A series of paintings and ink and charcoal drawings, it explores what she describes as fire’s feminine potential, from its regenerative use in agriculture to its significance in social gatherings and pagan rituals. In her ink-and-acrylic painting “The Shape of Fire” (2023), she invokes the Greek myth of Prometheus with three amorphous figures whose red hues suggest fresh blood and flames. Like much of Vidales’s work, it’s both figurative and abstract. “For me, these are like witches, but I like the fact that you don’t know exactly what they are,” she says of the forms, adding, “It gives place for the painting to become something else.” When asked how her feelings about Orozco have evolved since she began working on her new show, she laughs. “I’m in a moment,” she says, “when I don’t really want to think about him anymore.”

Stylist’s assistant: Priscila Cano

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