José Luis Cuevas Novelo (Mexico City, February 26, 1934 - July 3, 2017) known as José Luis Cuevas, was a Mexican painter, draftsman, writer, engraver, sculptor, and illustrator. Although the biography on his personal site indicates the date of 1934, his older brother, the doctor and psychoanalyst Alberto Cuevas Novelo, has assured that he was actually born in the year 1931. He was known as the "terrible child" of painting in Mexico, and also had the nickname "Gato Macho".
A los diez años, durante una grave enfermedad, definió su vocación por la pintura: el reposo obligado le permitió dibujar y le sirvió también para interesarse en la literatura. Al recuperarse se inscribió en la escuela de pintura La Esmeralda, y estudió grabado con Lola Cueto en el México City College, en 1948.
His readings and the inhospitable environment in which he grew up determined the direction of his work. In 1953 he performed dissections in hospitals and drew the dead; He visited asylums and slums in search of models. In that year he held his first formal exhibition at the Prisse Gallery, where he met young painters and writers who influenced his artistic and literary training. In 1954 he met the critic José Gómez Sicre, who invited him to exhibit at the Pan American Union in Washington. Since then he traveled the world to spread his work; He exhibited in a large number of countries and sometimes in several galleries simultaneously.
Its numerous exhibition catalogs were prefaced by internationally renowned critics and writers and published in several languages. In 1957 he spent two months as a resident artist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art School of Art; later, at San José State College in California. He lived for seasons, in Mexico, Paris and New York. He is considered one of the main exponents of neofigurativism and promoter of engraving and drawing in Latin America. The publication of his drawings in newspapers, magazines and books was a continuous activity, which began in Mexico with portraits of interviewees in The News newspaper (1950); in the United States with a series of drawings about New York for Life magazine (1957).
He combined his plastic activity with literature by illustrating the book “The World of Kafka and Cuevas” (1959); he illustrated works by contemporary authors in countless supplements and magazines. He collaborated with essays in "Mexico in Culture" and began his column of memoirs "Cuevario" in "La Cultura al Día", which continued in "El Búho" and in the cultural section of El Universal. He created the column "The universe of José Luis Cuevas", in which he presented memories of childhood and youth in the magazine El Universo del Búho. In 1956 he published the manifesto “La cortina de nopal” in the United States; This gave rise to a strong controversy around the Mexican school of painting and its vices, whose debate continued until 1959. He expressed his disagreement by painting two ephemeral murals: the first in the Zona Rosa (1967), as a sign of the little respect that muralism deserves it; the second, in Ciudad Universitaria, out of solidarity with the student movement. He launched his candidacy for independent deputy in 1969.
He has dabbled in the setting of sets such as the play La noche de los asesinos. He received countless tributes from national and foreign institutions and universities.
Among his many awards and recognitions, he highlights that the New York Times newspaper ranked him in 1967 as one of the greatest draftsmen of the 20th century. In 1961 he caused a diplomatic conflict between Italy and Spain by exhibiting in a gallery in Rome The Funerals of a Dictator and The Fall of Franco.