Porfirio Gutiérrez, Cosmos/Continuous Line
October 2023 through July 2024
“I wanted to respect the sovereignty of the design and bring my understanding to it,” says the weaver Porfirio Gutiérrez. He is referring to Cosmos, one of two series of loomed textiles that are represented in his exhibition at the Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati. He could equally be speaking about his activation of weaving itself. Gutiérrez’s quest to affirm and sustain his family’s Zapotec identity and Indigenous culture in Mexico has carried his work from artisanal craft, to environmental ecology, to contemporary art.
Cosmos consists of free-hanging textiles, woven with traditional designs, and over-dyed in indigo to numinous effect. They appear soaked in mysterious darkness and signifying of the Cloud People—as the Zapotec are known—and their cosmology of the night sky, which determines ritual and daily practices. The weavings are also full of information, for those who can read corn stalks (fertility), butterflies (the spirit), steps (sacred architecture), and other symbols in their design. The wall was painted blue to Gutiérrez’s specification in reference to the day sky.
Continuous Line includes framed textiles with applied embroidery that explore relationships to non-Indigenous weaving within the context of modern art. With the frame a signifier of weaving as representation, the geometric compositions are rendered as if drawn by a pencil that never lifts from the page. The lines are threads with no beginning or end. These pieces also engage with the abstraction and actuality of weaving in the work of Agnes Martin and Anni Albers, among other visual and textile artists.
Porfirio Gutiérrez was raised in a traditional weaving community, where he started working at the age of twelve—first as a shepherd and later at the loom. A decade after he migrated to the United States, he returned to his village and the revelation of things that were vanishing, such as the original integrity of traditional designs and techniques of natural dyeing. These are among the forms of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) that the Zapotec have developed over centuries of living in close relationship—spiritually and physically—with the natural world. His parents, however, retained their local knowledge and from them he began to learn. Principle sources for dyes are pericón, or Mexican tarragon, for yellow; marush, a native Oaxacan plant, for green; huizache, a tree whose pods and bark make black; and, of course, añil, an indigo for blue. Nopal cactus paddles are also essential for the farming of cochineal, the tiny insects that produce such intense shades of red after they are harvested, dried, and ground like corn on a traditional metate.
Following projects and seasons, Gutiérrez now moves fluidly between his home and studio in Ventura and his studio in Teotitlán del Valle. He travels extensively to conduct workshops on weaving and dyeing, in which the related issues of his cultural activism are integral—“caring for the land, traditional medicine, and real food.” His ongoing project to revitalize natural dyeing techniques earned him a 2015 research fellowship from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and his dye materials are part of Harvard Art Museum’s Forbes Pigment Collection, an archive of materials used to make art from around the world. He is one of five contemporary textile artists whose work is included in the 2023 exhibition Weaving at Black Mountain College: Anni Albers, Trude Guermonprez, and Their Students at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Gutiérrez’s weavings will also be featured in the 2024 exhibition Blue Gold: The Art and Science of Indigo, at the Mingei International Museum, in San Diego, as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time (PST) initiative.
Ingrid Schaffner, curator
Cosmos/Continuous Line was made possible with dedicated support from Bob and Nora Ackerley, Humanities of Texas, and Lindy Thorsen-Nagel and Terry Mowers.
To read more about Gutiérrez’s exhibition at Chinati, see essays by the curator in the Chinati Foundation newsletter, Volume 28.
- Corn Plant, 2023. Wool tapestry on treadle loom. Resist dyed with indigo, pericón, cochineal insects, marush. 59 × 31 in.
- Greca, 2023. Wool tapestry on treadle loom. Resist dyed with indigo. 59 × 31 in.
- Caracol, 2023. Wool tapestry on treadle loom. Resist dyed with indigo. 78 × 51 in.
- Montañas, 2023. Wool tapestry on treadle loom. Resist dyed with indigo, pericón, cochineal insects, marush. 59 × 31 in.
- Cycle of Life, 2023. Wool tapestry on treadle loom. Resist dyed with indigo, pericón, cochineal insects, walnut. 59 × 31 in.
- Untitled, 2023. Wool tapestry on treadle loom. Resist dyed with indigo, pericón, cochineal insects. 64 × 39 in.
- Untitled, 2023. Wool tapestry on treadle loom. Resist dyed with pericón, cochineal insects, pomegranate. 39 × 39 in.
- Untitled, 2023. Wool tapestry on treadle loom. Resist dyed with cochineal insects, tree moss. 59 × 31 in.