Jul 062015

In an earlier post – Mexico in the USA: Pacific fauna and flora mural in San Francisco – we looked at the beautiful (and very geographic!) mural by Mexican artist José Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957).

Covarrubias had a lengthy commercial art career as an illustrator of books, designer of theater sets and costumes, and as a caricaturist for magazines including Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, but at heart, he was very much a geographer, with a healthy side-interest in ethnology.

In the mid-1920s, he moved to New York, where he fell in love with a young dancer and choreographer Rosa (Rosemonde) Cowan. The couple traveled together to Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. In Mexico, Rosa met Miguel’s friends, including Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, and was introduced to photography by Edward Weston.

Miguel’s illustrations for advertisers, especially the one he painted for Steinway & Sons pianos, helped speed up the inclusion of Bali, Indonesia, on the world tourist map. Miguel’s piano artwork won the 1929 National Art Directors’ Medal for color painting. After Miguel and Rosa married in 1930, they used the prize money to take an extended honeymoon to Bali.

Miguel Covarrubias: "Offering of Fruits for the Temple", Bali, 1932

Miguel Covarrubias: “Offering of Fruits for the Temple”, Bali, 1932

The couple loved Bali and quickly became interested in the local language and culture. Three years later, in 1933, Miguel was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the couple returned to Bali, also visiting Java, India and Vietnam. Miguel’s art and Rosa’s photographs were key ingredients in the success of Island of Bali (1937).

The book was released in New York at a particularly propitious time, just as interest in far-flung tourism was being fired up by travel firms. The book coincided with, and refueled, a craze among well-to-do New Yorkers to visit the island. The rest of the world soon followed, and Bali’s tourist future was guaranteed.

Island of Bali is “still regarded by many as the most authoritative text on Bali and its fascinating people. Included is a wealth of information on the daily life, art, customs and religion of this magical ‘Island of the Gods.'” For more about the book, see Miguel Covarrubias: Island of Bali. on Chris Morrison’s blog Thirty-Two Minutes.

Miguel Covarrubias’s later books included Mexico South (1946); The Eagle, the Jaguar, and the Serpent – Indian Art of the Americas; North America: Alaska, Canada, the United States (1954); and Indian Art of Mexico and Central America (1957).

Related posts:


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.