“A flagship of Mexico’s visual identity”: Alex Kurunis documents the declining art of hand-painted signage
The London-based photographer and “flaneur” releases a series he captured in 2020, which led him to wander across Mexico, meeting sign painters and documenting a crucial part of the country’s graphic culture.
- Elfie Thomas
- 23 March 2022
Being a “flaneur”, Alex Kurunis tells It’s Nice That, involves “experiencing a city or new environment by wandering the surroundings without a clear destination in mind.” It is a creative technique the photographer is particularly fond of and one that he used for his project Rotulismo. This photographic series documents the rich culture of sign painting in Mexico. Ambling around Mexico’s cities and coastal towns, Alex captured the merry hand-painted signs he saw as he went. Keen to highlight the people behind the craft, Alex would seek out “rotulistas” by asking in shops and following up calling cards. On serendipitous days, he’d find a rotulista “on the street, mid-way through a commission”, he tells us.
Hand-painted signage has always been a source of fascination for Alex. Born in Greece and brought up in London, this interest has led him to “flaneur” his way through sign-hunts in Greece but also as far as Cuba and Peru. “The idiosyncrasies and character of hand crafted signage over digitally printed signs, in my view, have an unparalleled allure,” says the photographer. “Living in London, the monotony of the same kind of signage (Pret / Costa etc) makes for a homogenised, and often bland experience of the city.”
Pointing out the lineage from Mexico’s illustrious history of mural artists like José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Alex explains that commercial sign-painting in Mexico is known as “el otro muralismo”, or “the other muralism”. While the rotulistas may not work to the same acclaim or grand scale as Mexico’s great muralists, their work brings “ingenious colour, character and humour to the forefront of businesses”, says Alex.
Talking to lifelong sign painter, Alfredo of 3D Rotulos in Puebla, the photographer discovered that “less and less rotulistas are being newly trained”, with the encroachment of digitally-printed signs into cities. “Despite this, the trade lives on across Mexico and is treasured by many as a flagship of Mexico’s visual identity.”
Keenly aware that his series makes just a “scratch” on the surface of this valued part of Mexico’s multi-facetted visual culture, Alex hopes to continue his travels in the future and meet more of the people who are preserving this traditional craft.
Alex Kurunis: Barbacoa stand, Tlacolula - Estado de Oaxaca (Copyright © Alex Kurunis, 2022)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.