Ricardo Mazal: A Burial Trilogy

by Claudia Dias on February 21, 2010

With his newest exhibition at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, painter Ricardo Mazal comes full circle with his intriguing trilogy, which is based on three different studies of traditional burial rituals.


In 2002 he started to investigate the Mayan “Tomb of the Red Queen“, a royal burial chamber from around 600 AD in Palenque, in his native country Mexico. Mazal visited and studied next in 2004 the forest tombs in Odenwald, one of 29 Friedwald cemeteries (“Peace Forest”) in Germany; and in 2009 he embarked on his last journey to witness the open field Tibetan sky burial, chaperoned by a 32 miles long pilgrimage around the sacral Mount Kailash.

The perplexing clarity of his work results after several stages from experimentation with photography, computer manipulation and ultimately the translation into gestural abstract paintings, by using foam-rubber blades to delicately layer oil paint onto the canvas. Mazal uses photography as a bridge between reality and abstraction. Frequently the results surprise even the artist, i.e. when he once reversed the colors of a photography and discovered that it closely resembeled one of his former paintings.


Captivated by several layers of enshrinement of the pre-Columbian tomb, first the red cinnabar covering the limestone interior of the sarcophagus, along with the stones of the pyramid and at last the dense surrounding jungle carry over into his work. Mazal’s series “La Tumba de la Reina Roja” remind of broken color fields, applied with a pattern that takes after the interlocking stones.

When the tomb was excavated in 1994 a female skeleton was found covered with jewels, gold and jade, all the contents were blanketed with red cinnabar dust; during the Mayan civilization, cinnabar, the common ore of mercury, was inserted into limestone sarcophagi not only as a decoration, but more importantly, to deter vandals and tomb raiders with its well-known toxicity.


Odenwald 1152” is for me Mazal’s most mesmerizing series, where his color fields turn into vertical abstract patterns with controlled and uncontrolled smeared stripes, which immediately recall the texture of tree barks. 1152 is the name of a tree in the forest outside of Michelstadt in the Oldenwald region of Germany. The forest has been turned into a cemetery one of 29 FriedWald, where people’s remains are interred in biodegradable urns beneath their chosen tree. Since 2000 “Burial in Nature” allows families, friends, couples or individuals to find their last resting places under century old pines, oaks, beech trees or newly grown birches, linden and ash trees for 15 to 30 years. Other forests in various landscapes throughout Germany offer this increasingly popular ritual.

According to Mazal, he took pictures of the forest, but the trees alone did not satisfy his eye, till one afternoon during sunset he started to photograph the light that was filtered through the trees: “I realized it was the light itself, the spirit, which sparked the emotions I was feeling.” The resulting abstract photographs became the starting point for this series.


With scarce fuel and timber resources (most of the country being above the tree line) and too rocky for digging graves, ‘sky burial’ or ritual dissection was once a common funerary practice in Tibet. Now however, condemned by the Chinese government, it is practiced only on rare occasions. The custom is to dismember the human corpse in specific locations and to place the parts on mountaintops, where they are exposed to the elements and birds of prey.  Though it seems that  Mazal’s newest paintings have been mainly inspired by the sight of thousands of vibrant prayer flags along the trek around Mount Kailash. These paintings are now on view at Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Ricardo Mazal – Solo Exhibition @ Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Beverly Hills (February 20 – March 20, 2010)
Please refer to the gallery for catalogue, inquiries and prices.

Sundaram Tagore Gallery
9606 South Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90210  Tel. +1 310 278 4520
Many thanks to Susan at Sundaram Tagore Gallery for photographs and material.

Photograph by Arnoldo González Cruz (INAH) for 2000 The Red Queen. Mesoweb;
Paintings by Ricardo Mazal, ODENWALD 1152 N.20, 2008, Oil on linen, 78″x78″, Novembre 10.07 (diptych), 2007, Oil on linen, 78″x33.5″, ODENWALD 1152 N.19, 2008, Oil on linen, 98.5″ x 33″, Rojo Malaquita 10, 2006, Oil on linen, 98.5″ x 98.5, ODENWALD 1152 N.5, 2008, Oil on linen, 78″ x 120″, ODENWALD 1152, N.10, 2008, Oil on linen, 78″x78″, Noviembre 27.09, 2009, Oil on linen, 40″ x 60″,
Enero 29.10, 2010, Oil on linen, 90″ x 90″

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