The Mexican Years as Ealy "Mayo"

The-InspectionAs we move from celebrating Cinco de Mayo, we continue to celebrate the month of Ealy "Mayo" and his years in Mexico.  If Gertrude Stein were writing this, it would undoubtedly have its own color association – Ealy Mays’ Pink Period, his Rose Period, or his Fuchsia Period.  For our purposes however, we will simply call it The Mexican Years as Ealy Mayo

Mestizo-PrinceEaly Mays arrived in Guadalajara Mexico destined for medical school in August 1985, only a month before a major earthquake would rock Mexico City with over 10,000 deaths.  While he arrived with his schoolbooks and clothing, his luggage were mostly art-supplies, as painting was still at the core of who he was.  Mexico was to be a new frontier, a brown country with a deep and complex history and one in which slavery was officially abolished some 50 years before America.  In fact Mexican President Vicente Guerrero was the first black head of state in the Americas, some eighty years before Barack Obama.  Guerrero’s 1929 decree which abolished slavery in Mexico would lead, a few years later, to the withdrawal of Texas from Mexico, by wealthy and powerful Texan slave owners.   

Mays had chosen to study in Mexico where he believed he would have been able to get an education while indulging his passion for art.  He applied to and was accepted to study medicine at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara School of Medicine (UAG) in 1985.  On his arrival, he was surprised and impressed by the scale of painting and artistry in Mexico.  According to Mays, "The Mexicans painted art on extremely large surfaces – whether canvas, murals, concrete, external, or internal.  They celebrated their culture and its subject matters in ways that would be taboo in the United States."  Ealy Mays found Mexican art raw and uncensored.

Eventos-Culturales-IIIn his first year of medical school he had his first Mexican exhibition at the Hotel Fiesta Americana in Guadalajara.   The hotel was a popular destination for American tourists, many of whom often bought his paintings.   Soon his work would gain recognition locally by established Mexicans of wealth and power, many of whom became local collectors, such as Carmen Aguilera.  She often commissioned him to paint portraits and various elements of the tropical culture.  He would also soon start to exhibit in local galleries such Galleria Clava and Galleria Azul.  Local newspapers soon recognized Mays’ presence in the Guadalajara artistic scene, and he was often featured in local papers such as “Ocho [8] Columnas”. 

Mays would then discover and be influenced by the work of José Guadalupe Posada, which would later take shape in Mays’ classic "Mexican Dead” series.  Ealy Mays then met in real form, one of the last Mexican greats, Rufino Tamayo.  Tamayo took notice of Ealy’s work and became an immediate mentor.  He had lived in both New York and in Paris, and he regaled Mays with stories of his days in Paris with Pablo Picasso, surrealist great André Breton, and the Cuban Wilfredo Lam.  The seeds of Parisian life and Paris as an ultimate destination, was undoubtedly sown by Rufino Tamayo.  Mays would move to Paris shortly after leaving Mexico.  

Tamayo would be the inspiration for Ealy Mays’ signature watermelon artworks.  He mastered red watermelons paintings and Ealy Mays would
Eventos-Culturales-I-copygrow to perfect blue watermelon series. According to Mays, "I felt that the art of watermelons had more resonance and cultural implications for me as an African American.  I saw satirical value in that here was a Mexican giant painting the watermelon, which had so many culturally stereotypical implications in America in regards to me as a black person.  So why shouldn't I impart my own watermelon narratives?"  Tamayo's watermelon paintings sell for many millions of dollars today.   

Later, as a consequence of being denied the first prize in top art competitions (1st prize was generally accorded to local Mexicans), Ealy Mays decided to ‘localize’ his name.  He soon assumed le nom de guerre “Ealy Mayo,” in a nod to his host country and as a tribute to his new found mentor Rufino Tamayo.  This was an easy decision for Mays since the Mexican newspapers could never get his name correct in the first place.  Ealy Mayo then set out to fully immerse himself in the Mexican culture.  From politics to wrestling (Lucha Libre), from bullfighting to the larger cultural mores such as its music and its reverence to the dead, the rich history of Mexico and its people (before and since Hernán Cortés and his Spanish Conquistadores defeated Aztec ruler Moctezuma II and the later August 13, 1521 surrender of Emperor Cuauhtémoc, which then saw Tenochtitlán and the Aztec empire laid to waste), found an attentive student in Ealy Mayo.

After being in Mexico, Ealy Mays also discovered the works of 20th century Mexican greats José Clemente OrozcoDiego RiveraOswaldo Guayasamin, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Both José Clemente Orozco and Diego Riviera would later have great influence on his work as well. 

Jose-Clemente-Orozco-Bienal-CoverMays' work was featured several times in the annual José Clemente Orozco Art Competition, where he attained the runner up to first prize against many prominent local Mexican artists.  Other exhibits in Mexico included exhibitions at the Tercer Luger October Show,Guadalajara, the American Day Celebration in Guadalajara, and the October Art Fair in Guadalajara.

During his clinical training, Mays would also become familiar with Mexican history and with its revolution, from his aged patients, some of whom had actually fought with Emiliano Zapata, who recounted their stories of revolutionary Mexico.  As a Texas native whose knowledge of Mexico was from the American perspective of the Alamo, this new exposure to the Mexican culture would soon be reflected in his artworks, which took on distinctive Mexican themes and characters. 

Bus Wars,” among one of his major pieces painted while in Mexico, became a frequently duplicated piece of artwork for contemporary Mexican artists.  "Last Train to Chihuahua" was a masterpiece that depicted a revolutionary- era train arriving at a station.  Another piece “The Birth of The Mestizo” combined many elements
Jose-Clemente-Ealyof pre-Hispanic / Aztec Mexico's encounter with imposed Christendom and the resulting complex post - Conquistador / Hispanic Mexico.  This painting received wide acclaim in Mexico and was well loved by the people for its detailed conveyance of the many historical narratives of "The Eagle Meeting The Snake."  A tattoo parlor becomes the inflection point for a young Mestizo, as he paints and reflects on the decimation of his mother's native Aztec culture, carried out by his Spanish father and company on their arrival in Mexico in the company of Hernán Cortés.

As a result of popular local acclaim, Ealy Mays would at some point come to the attention of local Mexican film producers who casted him in three low budget films.  The medical student who arrived in Mexico in 1985 with the aim of becoming a doctor did in fact graduate from medical school, but would leave Mexico in the early 90s as an accredited local actor and a well-established artist.

Last-Train-to-Chihajuaja-Mays describes his time in Mexico as one of his most significant period of growth as an artist and as a person.   His “Latino” and “Mexican Dead” series pay tribute to his years in Mexico and to the subtleties of the Mexican culture, from Lucha Libre and Mexico’s love of free-wrestling, to bullfighting, to “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), which is a Mexican national holiday to honor departed loved ones.  Mays described wrestling in Mexico as 'therapy for the masses,' to which images such a Psychedelico and the Pink Aztec Warrior, pay tribute.

On his return to the United States in the mid 90s, the painter formally known as Ealy Mayo, resumed painting, but his time, his compositions incarnated José Guadalupe Posada, in his tributes to the cultural reverence of the dead and "Dia de los Muertos" in Mexico.  The was the birth of the Mexican Dead series.  

Painting such as "We're all Going the Same Way," depicts three dead ‘charros’ (Mexican horsemen) chasing a fourth.  We know the chasers are ghost - both the horses and bodies are skeletal in form.  We are unsure of fourth being chased as his sombrero covers his form.  Is he alive or dead?  His horse certainly is alive; It is of flesh and bones.  The chasers are wondering, "Why run? after all, 'We're all going the same direction'... eventually."

Crossing-Death-River"Crossing Death River" invokes a similar narrative.  A charro and his horse are alive and well (both of flesh and bones) as he crosses the River of Death.  The skeletal reflection in the water is of death and of the afterlife.  Both horse and rider are up against the ultimate eventuality – crossing death's river.

Both "Night Riders" and "Purple Waters" present a view of skeletal activities in the Mexican dessert at night.  In the pitch black of night, not much can be seen among the Cacti paths.  However, the skeletal frames and broken down and abandoned modes of transport come alive.  Both paintings were inspired Ealy Mays’ trips across the Mexican desert at night, from Guadalajara to Nuevo Laredo.  The breakdown of the modes of transport might present high risks of attack by ‘Bandoleers’.  The skeletons continue to make the trek across, as they used to do, while alive.

Were-All-Going-in-The-Same-DirectionGreg Richardson, a colleague and friend of Ealy Mays during the Mexican years, recently wrote a book, El Tijuanero, detailing his experience with real life Mestizo, Tomas Llovera.  El Tijuanero is available for sale on Amazon at:, and its cover uses another of Ealy Mays' "Mexican Dead" pieces:  "Tattoo on The Bones."  Tattoo on the Bones poses the ultimate question: Is it only skin deep? How far does it go?  Does a tattoo go all the way to the bones?  Will it still show in the after life?  A dead Mexican Mariachi carefully examines his girlfriend’s body to see if the tattoos of love, done while alive, remains intact in the afterlife.  Do tattoos really go to the bones?  

The Mexican years have had a lasting influence on Ealy Mays, and his love for the country, its people, and its culture, continue to show in his work.  The intelligence of thought reflected in some of his Mexican inspired compositions demonstrates why Ealy Mays remains a rare and great figurative and narrative artist.  

Night-RidersIn a recent article by Paris based freelance writer Monique Wells, Mays was asked about some of his favorite creations, among his large and diverse body of work over a forty-five year period.  According to Mays, among his favorite series was the "Crucifixion of Nzingha,” the story of the African Queen who fought to keep Christianity and its accompanying expanded slave trade out of her kingdom.  This series was done while in Mexico.  Most of the paintings were of black women on white crucifixes.  This was too controversial for the sensitivities of a Catholic Mexican society, and a day would arrive when the Mexican army would visit him at his studio.  They branded the artworks ‘decadent’ (much like the Nazis did in WWII for the works of artists such as Max Ernst), and they seized all of the pieces.  

Tattoo-on-The-BonesThe artwork was never returned to Mays, but according to him, he later felt some satisfaction and a sense of pride on hearing that his art had become part of the treasured collection of a Mexican generalissimo (the leading officer in the seizure), who proudly displayed them both at home and in his office.  Military officers 'stealing' art is nothing new, and this is well documented throughout history.  In fact, had Ealy Mays been of a previous generation and Spain been his point of expatriation in lieu of Mexico, the seizing generalissimo might have been one Francisco Franco, with an entirely different historical treatment for the artist Ealy Mays.

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Welcome to Ealy Mays Artworks

Celebration of over 150 years of Black Literary and Artistic development in Paris

Here you will find the works of one of the most prolific African American artists. Based in Paris, France, this selection includes current masterpieces as well retrospectives from a body of over 30 years as an ethnic artist painting in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Your choice of paintings, prints, posters, postcards, puzzles, memorabilia, T-shirts, collectibles, accessories,and more, is only a click away. Read more

It is the spectator and not life, that really mirrors art”  The Picture of Dorian Gray …Oscar Wilde

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