Internationally acclaimed sculptor and printmaker Francisco Zuñiga was born in Costa Rica. He studied drawing, stone sculpture, and engraving at the School of Fine Arts in San Jose. Later, in 1936, he studied stone carving at La Esmeralda in Mexico City. He was appointed to the faculty of La Esmeralda where he remained until his retirement in 1970.
Zuñiga's art reflects a love and respect for Central American people and traditions. In 1972, he created his first lithograph. As a complement to his emotionally powerful sculpture, Zuñiga's prints articulate the sensitivity and sensuality of the human figure. He has been the recipient of numerous international prizes and awards. His work is exhibited frequently in prominent galleries throughout the world and may be found in the permanent collections of twenty-nine museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, and the Phoenix Art Museum.
In 1936, Francisco Zuñiga left San Jose, Costa Rica, where he had studied drawing at the School of Fine Arts and worked as an assistant in his father's studio, a workshop which produced religious sculpture for the churches and convents in and around the city. His destination was Mexico City. It was from there that he would begin an illustrious career as a sculptor and draftsman. Zuñiga's exploration into the nuances of volume, in line and space, are demonstrated in this, the most complete exhibition of his work to be shown in more than a decade.
Mexico City in 1936 was, even then, one of the major art centers of the Americas. As such it witnessed and participated in many of the frenzied and controversial art movements which reflected the political and intellectual climate of the first three decades of the twentieth century. Muralism, the graphic arts, the incorporation of in-ternational movements had produced an artistic climate, which would eventually attract to Mexico international artists and intellectuals such as Sergei Eisenstein, André Breton and Antonin Artaud. Then as now, Mexico City was a major world capital with the infrastructure necessary to exhibit and expose new aesthetic concepts.
For all these reasons it was the most obvious destination of choice for Zuñiga. In Mexico he worked with the painter Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, and would become one of the founders of La Esmeralda, the National School of Painting and Sculpture, teaching there between 1938 and 1970. Zuñiga also fulfilled commissions for numerous public monuments, but between 1960 and 1980, he began to work exclusively on his studio projects. At the time of his death in 1998, his work would be part of major museum collections internationally.
Zuñiga's signature sculptures, massive female figures sculpted in onyx or cast in bronze, emphasize an ongoing exploration of figurative representation in Western Art.
In Juchitecas en Conversación (1985) a standing female figure with crossed arms faces two figures seated on a bench. The figure closest to her rests her hand on a water jug fully facing the first, while the third, body half turned toward the group, gestures toward them with her left arm. The elongated heads and necks are in direct contrast to the full, earthy bodies of all three. In posture and gesture these figures, with their monumental mass and volume, suggest a relationship of community and of union between women, a theme basic to Zuñiga.
Other elements catch the eye: the water jug, the dress. The presence of these elements has often been a reason for categorizing Zuñiga's work as an example of regional representation, i.e. archetypes of indigenous women. Yet in focusing on the posture, gesture and composition in this work and others, Zuñiga is utilizing a juxtaposition of classical sculptural language with indigenous models. You might feel tempted to focus on the appearance of the model, but you should not overlook the stance, the composition, the regal allusion to the classical Western tradition.
This issue becomes even more evident in the pastel and charcoal Dos Mujeres de Pie (1977). Two nudes stand slightly off center from each other and face to face. We see before us the full front and full back view of two women. Full-figured, even corpulent, they are full-hipped with legs and feet firmly planted on the earth.