The Mexican red which seduces the world

Oaxacan artist Alejandro Martínez has spread the use of cochineal dye to countries like Argentina, Spain, and Italy
Alejandro Martínez – Photo: Courtesy
Fernando Miranda
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When Oaxacan artist Alejandro Martínez decided he wanted to learn to paint with insects, he set on a path which has taken him to spread the use of the cochineal as a dye to several countries, such as the United States, Argentina, Costa Rica, Spain, and Italy.

Alejandro uses this Pre-Hispanic dye since 2008, when he discovered a universe of bright reds hidden in the belly of an insect which now lives in his creations – the cochineal.

Alejandro has, so far, found 15 different tones, all coming from the insect. The color scheme ranges from vibrant reds to violets and pinks, and can even reach orange hues and grays, depending on the solvent.

To show his technique, Alejandro has just been invited to give a workshop at the Foundation Il Bisonte, an art center in Florence, Italy. The invitation arrived, according to the artist, because his works were part of a collective exhibition which visited this European city, known worldwide as the capital of arts.

The foundation was so impressed with his work with cochineal that they sent him an invitation to teach young artists his work in November 2018. The protagonist will be the insect, of course, and the many creative possibilities if what artists can do with it.

To have Alejandro bring the ancient dye to the Italian foundation is quite an achievement, considering artists like Pablo Picasso and Rufino Tamayo have also gone through Il Bisonte.

The dedication Alejandro has shown to his art with cochineal is visible in all the walls of his workshop, located in Oaxaca, under the name El Rincón de Sabina (Sabina's Corner).

Although this is a private space, the artist has always been open to having his method be known, whether in his own “corner” or through the lessons he gives.

“I like people who purchase my work to see the process the work went through so they understand why I paint with what I paint,” he says.

If you're interested in cochineal dye, then check out the exhibition “Rojo Mexicano. La grana cochinilla en el arte" (Mexican Red. The cochineal insect in Art), a sample of the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, which includes 49 pieces from 16 national collections and 21 works from 11 international archives.

The exhibition aims to highlight the international importance this pigment had between the 16th and 19th centuries, showcasing works from the same period.


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