Francisco Benjamín López Toledo was born in Juchitán, Oaxaca, in 1940.
At a very young age he found his calling in drawing and painting. He
attended, still as a teenager, to the School of Fine Arts of Oaxaca and to the
engraving workshop of Arturo García Bustos.
At age 17, he enrolled to the Free Engraving Workshop at the
School of Design and Crafts in Mexico City. Antonio Souza baptized the
artist as Francisco Toledo and helped to arrange his first individual
exhibitions (at age 19) in the Antonio Souza Gallery and in the Forth
Worth Center, in Texas. Towards 1960, the painter established himself in
Paris, where he befriended artists such as Octavio Paz and Rufino Tamayo,
while he consolidated his artistic training. Back then, he collaborated in the
atelier of Stanley Hayter, one of the most influential engravers of the
During his twenties, Toledo authored works which soon grabbed the
attention of the European artistic community. Proof of this are the several
individual exhibitions of his work at the Kunstnerner Hus, in Oslo, Norway
(1962), at the Karl Flinker Gallery, in Paris (1963), and at the Dieter
Brusberg Gallery, in Hannover, Germany (1964). To these exhibitions
followed others in England, New York, and Switzerland.
During his times in Paris, he began to collect several pieces of artists
as important as Alberto Durero, Francisco de Goya, Eugène Delacroix,
Max Klinger, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, and Diego Rivera, among
others, with the idea to show and disseminate universal art (this was the
beginning of the Toledo/INBA collection, one of the most important
collections in Latin America for its diversity and quality of the pieces it
Upon his return to Mexico, Toledo spent several seasons in his
homeland, in the in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, region which he attempted
to know in depth through the study of the local customs, language, and art.
In the 1970s, he began to look into certain artisanal techniques –like
textile and pottery– which would influence his latter artistic creation. His
social concerns led him to collaborate at the foundation of the House of
Culture of Juchitan (1972). From that moment on, Toledo would become a
promoter of the culture, encouraging the development and the foundation
of several spaces, as well as the creation of publishing houses that would
spread not only universal literature, but the Zapoteco language: Ediciones
Toledo, Editorial Cálamus, and the Guchachi’ Reza (Sliced Iguana)
In 1988, upon his return from a creative stage in New York,
Francisco Toledo founded the Institute of Graphic Arts of Oaxaca, a space
built as a library specialized in art and several exhibition halls; its
collection of books is currently of almost 60 thousand volumes distributed
in two locations.
In 1993 he founded the civil association PRO-OAX (which purpose
is the defense of the cultural and historical heritage of the City of Oaxaca)
and which has collaborated in the creation of spaces like the Fray
Francisco de Burgoa Library and the Ethnobotanical Garden, in addition to
joining causes such as the defense of autonomous languages or the fight
At the artist’s initiative, the El Pochote film club (1992), the Centro
Manuel Álvarez Bravo Photographic Center and the Jorge Luis Borges
Library for the visually impaired (1996), the Eduardo Mata Sound
Recordings Library (1996), the Paper Art Oaxaca Workshop (1998), and
the San Agustin Etla Arts Center (2006) were founded. These cultural
centers have transformed the way in which people approach culture, by
establishing a close relationship with their users, a permanent updating of
their collections, and a constant interaction with the national and
international artistic community.
Francisco Toledo has had several retrospective exhibitions, for
example, at the Museum of Modern Art, in Mexico City (1980), at the
White Chapel Gallery, in London, and at the Queen Sofia Arts Center, in
Madrid (2000), in addition to having presented his work at the Tate
Gallery, in London, and at the Latin American Masters, in Los Angeles,
among other international venues. Several art critics and writers like Henry
Miller, Dawn Adès, Catherine Lampbert, Francisco Calvo Serraller, Luis
Cardoza y Aragón, Teresa del Conde, and Raquel Tibol, among others,
have praised the multifaceted work of the Mexican artist, stressing on the
place his work occupies in the history of contemporary art.
Toledo received numerous awards in the last decades, such as the
National Prize for Sciences and Arts (1998), an honorary PhD from the
UABJO (2007), the Prince Klaus Award (2000), and the Right Livelihood
Honorary Award (2005) in Sweden, “for his commitment and his art in
favor of the protection, development, and renewal of the architectural and
cultural heritage, the environment, and the community life of his native
At the end of 2014, he presented a series of sculptural pieces,
including funeral urns, in memory of what happened to the 43 students of
Ayotzinapa: Duelo (Mourning) (Museum of Modern Art of Mexico City).
This exhibition combines his critical vision of today’s world with an
aesthetic reflection on Mexican society.
Since 2015, the INBA has been the symbolic custodian of the
collection of the Institute of Graphic Arts of Oaxaca and of an art
collection of approximately 125,000 objects that Francisco Toledo
exchanged for one Mexican peso. From this impressive selection of artistic
pieces, exhibitions, materials, and reflections have emerged consolidating
Oaxaca as a space of strong cultural preeminence.
Francisco Toledo always had the desire to encourage the care and
development of indigenous languages, thus he founded the House in
Autonomous Languages Awards, which task is to celebrate the diverse
languages spoken in Oaxaca and to provide a space for new writers.
After many years he presented what could be considered his most
important pictorial retrospective: Yo mismo (Myself) (IAGO, 2017), which
brings together a large series of self-portraits in oil and various techniques.
In this exhibition he displays a radical exploration he made of himself,
without leaving aside the dialogue with the rich pictorial Western tradition.
In the same year, Banamex Cultural Development concluded the
publication of an extensive catalogue raisonné containing the work of five
decades of the artist. This editorial corpus comprises over nine thousand
works, as well as the opinions and reflections of more than a dozen writers
and art critics.
For years Francisco Toledo used his scholarship as Emeritus Creator
to give scholarships to children and young people with scarce resources, to
buy books for different cultural spaces, and to help with different
philanthropic projects. Years later, he gave up this scholarship as a way to
ask the INBA to redistribute such resources to benefit Oaxacan creators.
However, the painter never stopped supporting his scholarship recipients,
among them young people from the Intercultural Bilingual Teacher
Training School of Oaxaca.
In 2018, Toledo ve (Toledo Sees) was presented, which tells about
his work in the field of design, displaying dozens of objects and utilitarian
and decorative elements made in conjunction with the CASA’s artistic
production department. The exhibition was held during 2021 at the Casa de
México (House of Mexico) in Spain.
Francisco Toledo was always a singular creator, someone who
created his own path. Different traditions converge in his work, which can
be described as the deployment of original knowledge in a contemporary
context, or as the constant updating of primordial elements in a work with
a strong intellectual accent. Because of his themes and concerns, his work
is heir to a very broad history of Mexican art and can be traced back to the
pre-Columbian period. He was an exceptional reader and had a broad
knowledge of universal art.
André Pieyre de Mandiargues wrote about Francisco Toledo: “I
know of no other modern artist so naturally imbued with a sacred
conception of the universe and a sacred sense of life, who has approached
myth and magic with such seriousness and simplicity, and who is inspired
with such purity by ritual and fable”.
The conjunction of life and work of the Oaxacan artist stands out as
few in our country and internationally, because it remains strongly
committed to the problems of our time without separation from his
personal concerns. While he is linked to artists such as José Guadalupe
Posada, Rufino Tamayo or Rodolfo Nieto, some scholars have suggested
that Toledo’s work is heir and continuator of that of James Ensor, Paul
Klee or Jean Dubuffet, and many other artists.
Francisco Toledo passed away on September 5, 2019.