Looking at the paintings on the walls in my neighborhood, especially the freewheeling types, even the most superficial observer will notice some reoccurring features. Probably the most obvious one is the face of a bald, chubby character with thick lips and something long on his chin. At first it may look like a long beard, or fat flabby skin maybe... Is that his long tongue he's sticking out? Or is he wearing a turtle-neck sweater? In any case, the same character will look at you from elaborately painted murals, to a crudely drawn marker markings, from stenciled spray-paint to stickers on lamp posts.
Who Is This Guy?
… and how can I find out? Since most of the art-works he's taken up into are obviously non-commissioned, it could be a bit of a challenge to just contact the artist. On a closer look, there are a number of pieces with the artists' signatures he appears in, and they were apparently created by different people. That can even be seen on the quality of the work: in some murals the same head is beautifully painted, in others sorta just sketched. Most artists also add something about and around him, whether he gets weird pipes shooting out of his mouth, or his whole head opens up into an intense bio-mechanic image. At one point I even saw him wearing Mickey Mouse ears, and I wish I remembered where, to include the picture here.
Mapping the Location
So we can assume there are various artists using this image in their murals, each with their own skills, techniques, and artistic interpretations. One of these murals I've even posted about, here. There must be some consensus among them. But what do these images all have in common, other than the ubiquitous big giant head? One clue could be the location. Though I've been looking at this character with such close scrutiny only over the last few weeks, it seems like he tends to occur mostly in the same part of the city: San Miguel Chapultepec, Escandón, Tacubaya. Nice finding, but I'm not sure how this information helps on our quest to find out about this guy.
A Potential Solution: Tuxtla Statue
I didn't even think I would find any closer clues, or anything resembling a solution... until I noticed an interesting figurine in the Museum of Anthropology. A small statuette of a guy, squat and corpulently built, bald headed, and a long tongue sticking out of his mouth. That's him! It has to be, looking so similar. According to the label, what looks like his tongue is in fact a duck-bill, or more exactly the bill of a boat-billed heron. (How did I not see that?) The origin of the object is the Gulf Coast of Veracruz / Tabasco, and goes back to the Olmec culture, most famous for some really BIG GIANT heads, carved out of rock.
The similarity with the face in the murals was uncanny, which got me even more interested. Why did our local street artists use this particular piece in their murals? A closer look regarding the inscription on the statuette reveiled further clues. According to the museum's info, what made the Tuxtla Statue so interesting were the inscriptions found etched into it. The dots and lines on the front are numbers from the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar 220.127.116.11.17, which corresponds to March 162 C.E. The other symbols are glyphs from the Mesoamerican writing system, together providing evidence of the local cultures' writing going back as far as the Olmec civilization.
Suddenly Everything Makes Sense
Of course: writing by using symbols to represent ideas. Hieroglyphs and pictographs are nothing but simplified pictures. So no wonder that our local muralists would adopt this character into their art. A truly Mexican figure, going back to the earliest civilizations, even predating the Maya. At the same time, an image one can not un-notice. The fat, bald head with the duck-bill tends to stay with the observer. Now, I feel a triumphant accomplishment whenever I see him looking at me from a wall. I know who you are! Okay, at least I seem to have an idea, which is good enough for now. Maybe one day I'll have the chance to talk to an artist and find out more. But for now, I'm happy with this much.
If you liked this, check out my developing series on Mexican Murals: