In 1962, he painted a fresco on the walls of the lobby of the Gabino Barreda Auditorium with the support of Bartolo S. Ortega and Paciano S. Rodríguez, as evidenced by the artist’s signature in the lower right section of the piece, who is known by the name of The arts and sciences.
For Renato González Mello, a researcher at the Institute of Aesthetic Research, the piece surprises those who look at it, because “just like the painter and his work as a whole, I think it should be a better-known work. The motifs and forms of plastic articulation that two decades later are going to make Rodolfo Morales famous are already appearing”.
“It is in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he receives the support of Rufino Tamayo and retires as a drawing teacher here at Prepa 5, that Rodolfo Morales’ career takes off very significantly, precisely with this reformulation in a very relevant feminine key to the imaginary of small communities, in this case from Oaxaca, which will lead him at the end of his life to exercise a certain patronage, to intervene in the restoration of the Ocotlán parish, with colors that are really the of his work and that also have to do with the traditions of the town and in this he adds to the social exercise”, he explained.
In the fresco it is possible to see at its ends various male figures developing technology and doing research thanks to the tools in their hands –microscopes, compasses, rulers, etc.–. While in the center there is a group of women and men in artistic and social coexistence.
The composition, Renato González said, has “a certain air of familiarity, but Morales paints a fundamentally feminine universe in which he seeks to symbolize a community and it is an ambivalent community, clearly a peasant community. At the same time, there are men peering into a microscope, but there is not this hegemonic and somewhat abusive predominance of a hypertrophied notion of virility that sometimes characterizes mural work in Mexico. It is a universe that speaks of a civic space and that, however, is configured in a completely original way”.
González also pointed out that the history of the work “is different from others in mural painting, this is usually that of some official who says ‘well, we are going to improve the environment. Let’s call a famous painter’. I have to confess that we do not have enough news, that as a union we have not done the necessary research on the commission for this mural work that shows a painter reaching a moment of enormous maturity, who works together with other people – as seen in the signature–, as it used to be in this type of company.
He owns a fairly refined technique of fresco painting and he paints; however, different from other Mexican muralists and artists.”
“I think that this is very important and that very probably if it is analyzed, if the files are reviewed – I insist that this is something pending – it is very possible that some story will be found between the drawing professor Rodolfo Morales, his fellow professors and their students in this school. The truth is to find this work, which fortunately is very well preserved, is a very pleasing moment”, he added.
The specialist stressed that it is a mural that as viewers we must consume slowly to properly appreciate its intentions, since the figures it presents do not follow the line of those captured by previous generations of muralists in our country. Even, he pointed out, one could speak of a new kind of civility:
“It is a female group that is in the center surrounded by a space that I dare to define as civic, with the rituals and the way in which we are used to imagining the patriotic civility of the Mexican State.
It is another civility, that of the smaller communities. It has, in turn, an upper space in which some allegorical figures appear – not to say angelic –; and it is not that there is a frank invasion of the supernatural, but the recognition of a symbolic universe that is not completely in the trace, is not completely encrypted in the material reality of urban space.
“There are, of course, a series of allusions to different knowledge, it is what is required in a school. However, it is necessary to do a more detailed job of deciphering, we are just beginning to go through some of these works, but it is clear that Rodolfo Morales moves away from the usual symbolic codes of Mexican nationalism, which has all these themes extraordinarily well encrypted. Here he tells us about a conception of social space that is simply different from what we believe has to do with the strength of community life in Oaxaca, without a doubt, and an enormous cultural wealth that has managed to maintain itself, even strengthen itself.
“It is a work that has moments of enormous ferocity, Morales is a very kind painter, but he is not someone who is clearly part of the national canon. There is a renovation that looks towards this rural universe, but giving it a legitimately parochial character”, he maintained.
Unlike the murals in Ciudad Universitaria, the one by Rodolfo Morales in “the Coapa high school” has been little studied and analyzed. This is partly due, Renato González argued, to the fact that when it was painted, its author was not yet a recognized artist. In addition to the fact that, like other Oaxacan artists, his work has been limited to the regional without being fully integrated into the national canon.
“I want to imagine that behind this work there is some history of teaching and learning, which would be fantastic to recover if it were so,” said the researcher. “This mural was painted when Rodolfo Morales was starting his career as a drawing teacher and it is a full-fledged work of art. When I saw photos of the mural I couldn’t believe it because, furthermore, I would say that it is a very outstanding work within the painter’s production. The image is difficult to obtain, it does not appear very reproduced in books and when one sees it completely or stands in front of the mural, damn, there is no way to turn it around.
“It is unmistakably the symbolic, stylistic universe of Rodolfo Morales’s resources; it is a fully formed artistic aesthetic pictorial universe. That is to say: it will evolve, yes, but it has no deficiencies. He is not a young artist in training, he already has a lot of clarity about where he is going”, González commented and ventured:
“The image of artists like Rodolfo Morales always remains a bit encapsulated in this universe of significance of the regional. We believe that there is an obligation to have a national story, what was important in Mexico? That narrative tends to be quintessentially centralist, with very little outside of that canon, and within that the type of representation that we see here, first of all, is painting, painting, fresco painting, and it’s also a joyful representation, not it coincides with a narrative of Mexican modernity that always moves forward and upward with fanfare. Rodolfo Morales does not add to that heroic narrative, it is not a painting that says I am going to the 30-year war or something like ‘I am the future of art, I am the future of Mexico’.
“It is simply a story, to which Rodolfo Morales not only does not join, but seems to be deliberately outside, fundamentally on the sidelines, presenting an alternative rather than a challenge, and for this reason he has not had a greater place in historiography. This mural and collage of this artist will be things from which it will be impossible to distract attention in the future”.