Some pictures that articulate a culture are also so emotionally forceful that they flood historical and cultural definitions. The title of Orozco’s Allegory of Mexico sounds nationalistic, and so it is, in its depiction of three creatures — a bull on its back entangled by a serpent that wraps around and faces off a jaguar. The bull goes to Hispanic identity, the serpent is the telluric creature of indigenous myths virtually everywhere, and the jaguar for people of the Americas embodies the irrational, the instinctive, the indomitable. The pictorial action is so ferocious and the handling so muscular that it seems to be wrenching itself apart with conflicting, unharnessable, confrontational energies. Tamayo is painting his own sensation of those powers. As nationalistic art, it’s as personal as it gets. ■
Mexican Modern Painting from the Andrés Blaisten Collection is on view at the San Diego Museum of Art until February 19. 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park; 619-232-7931; sdmart.org.