cover image INFINITAS GRACIAS: Contemporary Mexican Votive Painting

INFINITAS GRACIAS: Contemporary Mexican Votive Painting

Alfredo Vilchis Roque, Pierre Schwartz, ; photos by Pierre Schwartz; foreword by Victoire and Hervé Di Rosa. . Chronicle, $24.95 (254pp) ISBN 978-2-02-061861-8

Collecting the intensely moving work of a single Mexico City studio, that of retablo master Roque and his sons, this book offers a deep introduction to a vital art form. Retablo , as Roque interprets it, dramatizes in a commissioned work a life-changing incident in which the hand of a saint guided events, and offers a prayer of thanks, often painted at the bottom, in the client's own words. Roque's patrons are often living on the fringes of society and offer gratitude for events such as being saved from rape in an alley while working as a prostitute, for abandoning one's child and recovering it "in time before he was eaten by dogs," and for not dying when illegally crossing the desert between Mexico and the United States. The prayers have a concise honesty that is irresistible, and Roque matches it with colorful figuration that doesn't waste a stroke, yet has richly realized settings—from streets to fields, cantinas to bedrooms and churches—and conveys a powerful sense of human need and conflict. Divided into short sections ("Parenthood," "Relationships," "Emigration," "Urban Violence" "Illness" and 16 others) that cover more than 30 years of work, the retablos provide a mosaic of Mexico City life. Particularly moving is the "Homosexuality" section, which records complex relationships and negotiations within a largely Catholic society. This varied and beautiful book, with its nearly 200 lushly printed color reproductions, is less "outsider" art than art that is central to the way people live and love. (June)