Emilio Amero painted this dancer at a time when
Mexican artists were greatly interested in rejecting foreign
influences in favor of expressing ideas of national
culture or Mexicanness. The image shows the influence
of the teaching philosophy of Adolfo Best Maugard,
who devised a “method for creative design” inspired by
basic elements he associated with pre-Columbian and
Mexican folk arts, and with ancient art worldwide.
The outline of the leaping figure against a red background is simple and intentionally almost childlike. Over this basic form is an explosion of decorative embellishment. His costume is covered in wavy lines and spiraling patterns that create the movement and energy of the dance in the way our eyes move around the picture. Not to be contained by the clothing, the waves burst over the dancer’s head, crowning him with the fire of a silver sun. A forest of whirling flowers, circles, and starlike dot clusters in sparkling gold paint surrounds him. This intense image is contained by a border, framing it in a wave of deep blue and cool grey.
Amero brings unity to this complex image though the repeating motifs used to construct the patterns. According to Best Maugard’s method, even the most complex of elements can be broken down into seven primary graphic elements: the spiral, the circle, the half-circle, the S motif, the curved line, the zigzag line, and the straight line. The back of the painting has a quick sketch of the dancer in an early version of the pose and is also stamped with a label from the Movimiento Pro Arte Mexicano (Pro Mexican Art Movement), an initiative organized by Best Maugard to carry his method to teachers and students throughout Mexico.
The Mexican government, believing the method reflected the new nation’s ideals, instituted it in elementary schools around Mexico City from 1921 to 1924. By using simple forms to construct complex images, the Best Maugard method made learning to draw widely accessible. The recipe did not limit individual expression and creativity but set the groundwork for individual artists to transform or recombine motifs in new ways. In contrast to the way earlier regimes limited access to visual arts training to an elite minority, the new curriculum democratized art education by supporting the individual creativity and self-expression of all citizens of the new Mexico.