Alexander A. Maldonado


Maldonado began to paint during retirement at the suggestion of his sister. Painting absorbed him for years as he worked on his visionary landscapes, utopian cities, and planetaryvistas. Maldonado’s iconography blended fantasy, autobiography, and religious imagery drawn from his Mexican heritage. Racial and social prejudice was a recurringtheme in his paintings (perhaps a natural subject for a Mexican American who spoke halting English). He also expressed sympathy for human rights and antipathytoward big business in his paintings. Wax Museum with Painted Frame (1964) comprises a theatrical setting including tableaux from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar, English history, and Mexican history, each set in discrete areas on a stage. Spectators, with their backs to the viewer, are represented on the lower edge of the painted frame.In this and other compositions Maldonado employs an intense palette of luminous color, often depicting night scenes. In Out of Space Planet (1973), a crater and amountainous moonscape glow with yellow highlights and reflections against a black sky that is sharply punctuated by constellations, comets, and planets. A strong senseof pattern evinced through repetitive lines and geometric forms is evident in Laguna Azul (1969), a waterfront landscape with fantastical architectural structures looselyranging from Art Deco to Expressionist.Maldonado was born in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico. In 1911, following the outbreak of revolution in Mexico, he settled in San Francisco with his family. After hisfather died, Maldonado sold newspapers and attended to a milkman’s horse to supplement the family income. During World War I he worked as a riveter in the SanFrancisco shipyards. From 1917 to 1922 he was a featherweight boxer under the name Frankie Baker; he claimed that during those years he had shaken hands withJim Corbett and had been chauffeured to fights by San Francisco’s mayor, “Sunny” Jim Roiphe. After retiring from the ring, Maldonado worked for Western Can for almost forty years.He first drew with pencil and crayon, gradually incorporating watercolor before moving on to oil on canvas. His canvasses are often symmetrical, with bold outlining,text captions, and embellished patterned frames (“to look nice”). In his basement studio, the floor, wooden beams, and tools were all colorfully decorated.Maldonado was discovered by gallery director Bonnie Grossman, after he donated a painting to a public television station, KQED, for auction in 1973. This paintingreceived KQED’s Annual Auction Art Award, and the next year Maldonado donated another; as a result, he was included in the station’s documentary on local artists,which Grossman helped prepare. According to Grossman, there are biographical parallels between Maldonado and Achilles Rizzoli. In 1988, the San Francisco Craftand Folk Art Museum featured Maldonado in a solo exhibition. His paintings are included in the collections of the American Folk Art Museum and SmithsonianAmerican Art Museum.