Agave Pop: The Cultural Icon in Modern Art

Agave and tequila culture have been a great source of inspiration and reference for many modern and contemporary artistic manifestations. Throughout history, painters, writers, musicians, and filmmakers have found in our favorite spirit a catalyst for creativity; that is, agave spirits have enriched their work. This is our way to celebrate International Tequila Day!

For instance, Mexican artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo captured the agave culture and tradition in their art, including tequila, mezcal, and maguey.

Pulque and Agave in Mexican Art

The National Palace of Mexico houses a Diego Rivera mural that showcases several tlachiqueros—the people who harvest the agave sap to ferment it into pulque. The sap is obtained by carving out the heart. Their work is essential for pulque production, an ancient practice in Mexican culture. Rivera’s mural is called “El amate y el maguey” (1951).

In Mexico City’s National Museum of Art you can also find “El descubrimiento del pulque” (1869) by José María Obregón. It shows a young woman called Xóchitl who, accompanied by her father Papantzin, offers to Topiltzin, ruler of Tula, a gourd filled with pulque. A similar painting can be found in the Soumaya Museum, with the same name but from an anonymous painter; it shows the volcano Popócateptl in the background.

Rivera also highlighted the work of jimadores (the people who harvest agave plants) and the beauty of agave fields in his work.

Kahlo and Rivera were known for enjoying Tequila Reposado. Some historians claim it allowed them to find inspiration in their roots and the wealth of the Mexican soil.

Frida Kalho: Posing next to majestic agave plants

Many of Kahlo’s famous pictures, taken by New York photographer Toni Frissell, show the painter drinking tequila and posing next to majestic agave plants. According to the International Center of Photography, these pictures are instances of Frissell’s most significant contribution to fashion photography, the development of the realistic (as opposed to the staged) fashion photograph in the 1930s and 1940s. Her pictures show an unaware spontaneity captured in the outdoors. The uncommon perspective in her work is also remarkable. She achieved it by placing the camera on a dramatic diagonal axis from a low point of view. She also used a wide-angle lens against a neutral background. This is what creates the illusion of Kahlo’s elongated silhouette.

A toast to tequila in literature

Tequila and agave culture have found a well-deserved space in literature as well. One instance of this is Tim Federle’s Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literature Twist, which combines cocktail recipes with information about works of the literary canon that inspired them.

The book is a tremendous celebration of literary wit and culinary creativity, perfectly blending culture and liquid entertainment. It is a clever and delightful collection of cocktail recipes inspired by great works of literature, basically bringing together two of life’s greatest pleasures: reading and drinking. It’s a unique experience for book lovers and cocktail enthusiasts.

Every recipe has a literary pun in the title, like “Romeo and Julep” and “Gin Eyre.” The recipes are easy to follow and include fun anecdotes about the literary works that inspired them.

It also goes beyond recipes! It includes suggestions for bar snacks or book club recipes and drinking games. Plus, the illustrations are delightful. It’s the perfect gift for any mixologist and agave geek.

A different noteworthy case is that of Gabriel García Márquez, the widely recognized Colombian writer and Nobel Prize winner in Literature. He was known for his mastery of narrative and magical realism and his appreciation of tequila culture. He moved to Mexico in 1961 and lived there until the end of his life. It’s also no secret that he was particularly fond of Tequila Blanco. It likely inspired his writing of One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1967.


Rock and roll, ballads, country… so many musical genres have tapped into agave culture. Even Bad Bunny mentions it in Callaita, “Pero sé que tiene más de 20 años / los shots de tequila ni los siente.” Perhaps the most famous mention of tequila in a song is in the now classic Tequila by The Champs, an instrumental rock and roll song from 1958 that became an instant hit.

The Champs was the first band to go to the top spot on the billboards with an instrumental that was their first release. Tequila stayed in the No. 1 spot for five weeks and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance (the first of its kind ever awarded)! Danny Flores, the Chicano saxophonist to whom we owe the song, changed his name to Chuck Río, while Tequila became an instrumental classic and one of the most covered themes in the entire history of rock and roll. TEQUILA!

In addition to the song by The Champs, here’s a list of songs that also talk about tequila:

  1. Tequila Sunrise by Eagles: A ballad describing a night of drinking tequila.
  2. Tequila by Dan + Shay: A country music song about the memories and emotions associated with drinking tequila.
  3. One Margarita by Luke Bryan: A country music song about someone enjoying a sunny day at the beach drinking margaritas.
  4. Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off by Joe Nichols: A fun and uninhibited country song about the effects of tequila on a woman.
  5. Tequila by Jax Jones, Martin Solveig, and RAYE: An EDM song about how tequila and partying can make your worries fade away.
  6. Tequila by A.L.T. and The Lost Civilization: A rap song about how tequila makes socializing, fun, dance, and romance a lot easier.
  7. Tequila Sunrise by Cypress Hill: A hip-hop song about a night of party that goes on until dawn.

Lights, camera, tequila!

Cinema represents a synthesis of diverse arts and has the power to tell stories with images and audio that connect emotionally with audiences in a direct and impressive way. It has profoundly impacted culture and society, influencing fashion, behaviors, and opinions, thus becoming a powerful tool for education and propaganda.

As in other art forms, Agave culture has made it to the silver screen. In 1988, the romantic thriller Tequila Sunrise premiered. It stars Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kurt Russell. It tells the story of a complex relationship between a former drug dealer, his police friend, and a woman torn between them. While tequila barely appears in the film, the title refers to the struggle between past and future, light and dark, the search for redemption, new beginnings, and opportunities for the characters.

Other movies allude to tequila and its importance in Mexican culture. One of them is Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), directed by Robert Rodríguez, who is of Mexican descent. There’s action, shootings, revenge, treason, and redemption in this Western-style film, where cantinas and raising a toast with tequila add to the tension. The film is the conclusion of a trilogy, preceded by Desperado (1995) and El Mariachi (1992), both by Rodríguez, that show other iconic bar scenes where people drink tequila. Now, they may seem a bit cliché since many movies have scenes of protagonists drinking tequila shots (with tequila blanco or reposado) with lime and the occasional sangrita before embarking on the best night of their lives.

Of course, tequila has also been present on the small screen; it’s synonymous with party culture and celebration. All this has transformed tequila into something more than a drink. It’s a deeply rooted symbol of tradition and artistic expression in Mexico.