Miguel Zapata, Residuos Históricos, 2008

Multimedia surface with relief portrait of seated figure; gouges, stenciled text, and metallic sheets throughout

Miguel Zapata


Residuos Históricos


Mixed media

77 3/4 x 48 x 3 1/2 in. (197.5 x 121.9 x 8.9 cm)

Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase thanks to a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Bill R. Westgard, Cheryl Westgard Vogel (’76), and Debra Westgard Keffer (’78) in loving memory of Peggy Denise Westgard (’78); MM.2011.02

Listen to Meadows Museum docent Jan Clay discuss this work (2:33 minutes)

Audio Transcript

Miguel Zapata (1940–2014)

Residuos Históricos, 2008

By Jan Clay, Meadows Museum docent

Zapata is a unique artist and a product of his heritage. He frequently references historical images in his works, connecting the imagery of the Spanish Golden Age, Greco-Roman art, and the Italian Renaissance with his present-day time.

There is a very recognizable figure in the center, a direct reference to a portrait [of Pope Innocent X] painted by Velázquez, recognized as the leading Spanish painter of the seventeenth century, and one of the greatest masters of the art.

But, Zapata’s work is very modern. Those scratches and graffiti-like elements are from our time, a contemporary addition, perhaps a struggle to make things relevant. These gestures appear random but are most definitely not. They have been carefully practiced.

Zapata grew up in Spain, in the village of Cuenca. The gouges in the surface of some of his works could be a connection to the trenches carved into the hillside by farmers. Gouging is symbolic of erosion that creates the dramatic setting that is Cuenca. These earthy colors might also be representative of Cuenca.

His life seems to be a struggle between the wishes of his father and his desire to be an artist. When Zapata did not show up for his finals at law school in Madrid, his father cut him off financially. This period was followed by [the artist] supporting himself by drawing portraits in local taverns around Madrid. Then [he traveled] to Barcelona where he joined a commune of artists, and later to Paris where he designed theater sets, followed by [attending] medical school in Madrid, where his skills as a draftsman were very useful, but his radical political involvement drew him to activities forbidden in the Franco regime. He was asked to leave in his fourth year after protesting how medical funds were being diverted from intended use.

There may be a connection to this Pope, who was also trained as a lawyer, and who, furthermore, initiated legal action against relatives of the former pope for the misappropriation of public funds.

He presents us with a dialogue between the past and the present, leading us through the history of art. He transforms a work from one medium into another medium, often creating it as a relief. And, in the words of Luis Martín, the late emeritus professor of history at Southern Methodist University, “He became the greatest Renaissance mind that I have encountered in my life.”