Tuesday, March 28

Julián Martínez Sotos, the Valencian exile in Mexico turned into head sculptor of the PRI

Even today, there are completely unknown figures of the Spanish exile in Mexico, some with surprising careers.

Miguel Cereceda, professor of Aesthetics and art theory at the Autonomous University of Madrid, has just published a study on the figure of the Valencian sculptor Julián Martínez Sotos (Valencia, 1921-Mexico City, 2000), an unknown artist who is probably the sculptor with the most monumental sculptures, especially equestrian, in the world.

Julián Martínez Sotos, son of a republican teacher, left with a group of children into exile after the Francoist bombing of his home in Valencia in 1937 in which his brother died. Thanks to the Barcelona Refugee Aid Committee, they embarked in France for Veracruz (Mexico) on a journey that lasted 18 days. Thus, the future sculptor ended up in a boarding school in Morelia, the capital of the State of Michoacán.

“Except for a publication very shortly before his death in the magazine Epoch, there was not much more information, it has been a detective work using very imprecise documentation and trying to confirm the sources”, explains the author about his study of the artist’s career. After a period in boarding school, the young man moved with his father and stepmother to Mexico City, where he taught himself painting and sculpture, where he worked at the Churubusco film studios as a film set painter and assistant props.

After that stage, the artist became one of the main authors of monumental statues for the governments of the Mexican PRI. President Lázaro Cárdenas, who welcomed the Spanish republican exile with open arms, was a kind of mentor and personal friend of the artist of Valencian origin.

“He is a self-made man with a lot of support from Republican exiles,” says the author of the study, who also highlights that Cárdenas practically becomes a “father figure” for the sculptor. “He identifies a lot with the figure of his protector and with the ideals of the Mexican revolution,” he adds.

With republican and vaguely socialist tendencies, the sculptor “is closely linked to the presidents of the PRI, without being a militant, who are the ones who commission public works,” adds Miguel Cereceda. Thus begins the career of Julián Martínez Sotos as a sculptor of monumental stature, especially equestrian, which will lead him to populate Mexico with works in honor of the presidents and the great figures of the revolution, such as Pancho Villa or Emiliano Zapata.

“Almost certainly”, indicates the author of the study, “he is the artist with the most equestrian sculptures in the world”, with works distributed between Mexico, the United States (where he made a bust of John Fitzgerald Kennedy at the University of California), Italy and Spain.

In his country of origin he has a bust of Lázaro Cárdenas in Córdoba and a statue of the Mexican president in the Parque del Oeste in Madrid, according to the list of works that the author has been able to establish. The book recovers the life and work trajectory of the artist as well as abundant graphic material of his monumental sculptures, thanks to the contributions of the collaborators of Julián Martínez Sotos that Miguel Cereceda has been able to locate.

However, monumental sculpture, “much to the liking of public authorities” does not work in an avant-garde language but rather an “official and classicist” one. Built “for memory and eternity” with noble materials such as stone, marble or bronze, monumental sculptures have gone practically unnoticed in the history of art, defends the author. “There is a certain curse that affects monumental sculptors, even if they have done important works, they are perfect strangers”, he explains.

Despite being a virtually unknown artist, Julián Martínez Sotos “became a great monumental sculptor of PRIism,” says Miguel Cereceda. “He is one of the least known Valencian artists of international projection”, he concludes.