Manuel Manilla

I stumbled upon Manuel Manilla’s work in Chicago. I thought that finding Manilla in Chicago was preposterous. I thought I’d find more in my hometown, Los Angeles, where this type of art is omnipresent. THEN, I did some more research, and it turns out that the Art Institute of Chicago leads the studies of Mexican engravings. Anyway.

A retrospective book  titled Manilla: Grabador Mexicano by Mercurio Lopez Casillas was on display at the Art Institute of Chicago’s museum store, and I basically lunged at the book when I saw it. Big book. Red cover. An engraved print of a big face with big teeth, on a bed of flames, about to bite into a human body that is being carried/flown in by a demon. You know. Love At First Sight.

I flipped through the pages. The best thing about Love At First Sight is that the longer you put your hands all over it, it gets better. UM.

I’ve been on a tattoo hunt now, for…forever. I have two, I want two more, and one HAS to be a bull fight. On the cap of up left upper arm.

The Manilla book is no doubt a great inspiration for those seeking tattoo design material. But I also LEARNED something, fancy that – Manilla is one of the most overlooked Mexican artists in history.

José Guadalupe Posada is the most famous Mexican engraver, and considered by many to be the founder of modern Mexican art. No doubt, Posada is greatly influential and important – he created images that are now icons in Mexican culture and Los Angeles culture. Dia de los Muertos would virtually cease to exist without this image:

Or this:

But it bothers me that many people credit solely credit Posada for the popularity and propagation of Mexican engraving. This retrospective book on Manilla is fantastic, as it provides a Straight Story about the history of this art form, and preserves and reclaims Manilla’s work. He didn’t quite fit into the political-cultural discourse of his era, and so Manilla was passed over by critics and academics. Sad.

Here’s to the underdog and forgotten grandfather of Mexican engraving, Manuel Manilla.

This is one of my favorites. It’s asking to be tattooed on my body. I might have to say yes.

Sinister and perfect.

Also tattoo-ready-and-worthy.

A little on engraving technique, which is awesome. Excerpt from the book by Jean Charlot:

The method employed is “champleve” with a burin on a zinc plate, a method that favors spontaneity of draftsmanship and directness of carving. The composition is a skillful blend of geometrically symmetrical elements and asymmetrical elements balanced by mass, by their inter-relationship, creating a highly dynamic effect.


One of his famous pieces. Crap scan, because this book is huge. HUGE.

He also did a lot of lettering – beautiful typography.

All Manilla book scans by me. Posada images from…shoot, everywhere. Google Image Search.

Excerpt of the introduction Jean Charlot wrote for his own article, re-published in Manilla:

In this country production in the plastic arts is something as natural as buying and selling in others. That is why little terracotta statues, no less admirable than those from Tanagra, are sold at 30 centavos apiece, and paintings done with such style, like the loveliest Italo-Byzantine creations, pile up in corners of sacristies or fetch a peso each for the zinc plate they are painted on.

That is also why it would be impossible for the professionals educated in the academies and polished by the costly voyage to Europe to live from their art, if they did not recur to some expedient in order to annihilate the disastrous “plebian” competition. For a long time it was enough to simply disdain the poor Indian, but when social changes made it no longer possible utterly to hide the dark-skinned man and his creations, something else had to be found. His creations themselves were too goodto be looked down upon.

So the trick of “popular art” was invented, whereby homage could be paid to the works of art nd the artist who created them could continue to be despised. He was kept out of sight, supposedly for his own good, for if his work ceased to be anonymous, it would cease to be “popular” and no longer interest the “elite”.

An example of this case of the “popular engraving”. Recently the name of [Jose] Guadalupe Posadas [sic] has been brought to light, because of his forceful personality imposed itself; perhaps also because he had already died. But if Posada was great, the reason is that he shook and broke up the established tradition of Mexican engraving, and maybe it would be worthwhile to know who exactly established this tradition.


    • msottovoce

      Thanks! I really like the Dia de los Muertos work you have on your site, and thanks for the link :)

  1. Pingback: Manuel Manilla – a new Day of the Dead discovery «
  2. Clare Alvarez-Manilla

    I am happy to see that someone is interested in Manuel Manilla’s work. My husband is the grandson of the grandson of Manuel Manilla and to this day the family carries a great appreciation art and music. We have only come to know the work of Manuel Manilla in the last 10 years. The passion that I have is to find the roots of the family Manilla (Alvarez-Manilla) and more of the person of Manuel Manilla. If anyone has information as to the history of the family Manilla, please post a notice.

  3. Brichy

    Day of the Dead is not about pictures, if there were pictures of dead would still day. when you can on November 1 and 2 come to Mexico to experience the Day of the Dead


  4. Pingback: Manuel manilla | F1services

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