Art & Artists

Art and Artists

What’s the origin of this art form?
Alebrijes go back to 1936. That’s when a 30-year-old Mexico City artist named Pedro Linares had a strange but inspiring “fever dream” after taking ill. In the dream, he is walking in a forest when he encounters amalgamations of colorful creatures that speak to him, saying “Alebrijes! Alebrijes! Alebrijes!”

So, this all started with a dream?
Exactly! After regaining his health, Linares set out to represent the mythical beings in sculpture. The alebrijes from his dream were “ugly and terrifying,” so he added ornate patterns and vibrant colors to make them more attractive. His creations initially met little success. But over time, he refined his alebrijes into the colorfully patterned combinations of reptiles, insects, birds, and mammals recognized today.

Did Linares become famous?
As his reputation grew, Linares attracted the admiration of the iconic Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Then, a 1975 documentary about Linares by filmmaker Judith Bronowski elevated him to international fame. In 1990, Linares was honored with the first Mexican National Prize in Arts and Sciences in the category of Popular Art and Traditions.

Do all alebrije sculptures follow the same style?
No. The art form has grown in different ways in Mexico. For example, the alebrijes created in Mexico City have a different look and use different materials than those in Oaxaca, a Mexican state. Both styles will be represented at Cantigny.

Didn’t the movie “Coco” feature alebrijes?
Yes! The 2017 Disney/Pixar film helped the art form gain popular exposure in the United States. Cantigny plans to screen “Coco” at the park on Friday, June 3.

How many alebrijes will be at Cantigny?
A total of 48. Eighteen will be large—up to 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The 30 smaller “spirit animal” sculptures will be about 3 to 5 feet long.

What are alebrijes made of?
The ones at Cantigny will be primarily wire shapes covered in papier-mâché and lacquer-coated to protect them from moisture. Heavy steel frames may be used for the larger sculptures.

Who is making them?
Six established artists from Mexico City, recruited by the Mexican Cultural Center DuPage. The artisanos belong to a collective that participates in the internationally known La Noche de los Alebrijes, a parade and festival in Mexico City held annually in celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). A display in the Cantigny Visitors Center will have information about each artist.

Will the artists be at Cantigny?
Yes. They plan to arrive in April and stay until early July. They will be finishing some of the sculptures here in DuPage prior to the exhibit opening in June. There will be public opportunities to meet the artists and learn from them.

Where will the artists work?
The smaller sculptures will be finished in Mexico City and shipped to DuPage. The larger alebrijes, however, will arrive in pieces, requiring assembly, touch-up painting and weatherproofing. This work will be completed on the Cantigny grounds.