Leon Underwood, Travellers, Mexico, c.1929–30, Oil on canvas Private collection © The Estate of Leon Underwood
In 1928 Underwood traveled to the Gulf of Mexico with the author Phillips Russell. They traveled across Mexico by pack-mule, horses, canoes and banana barge, visiting the ancient Aztec and Mayan sites and towns such as Merida and Tehuantepec. These experiences were recorded in Underwood's illustrations for Russell's book about the Mexican journey, entitled Red Tiger. Over the next few years he produced a great many drawings, paintings, wood engravings and linocuts inspired by Mexican themes, which were to introduce colourful and exotic subject matter into his work. Underwood carved decorative frames for these paintings creating 'total' artworks that unified his vision as sculptor and painter.
In 1930 Underwood exhibited a series of loosely Surrealist metaphysical still-life paintings at the only exhibition of the Neo-Society. Underwood became increasingly concerned with expressing his own philosophy, and in 1931 after reopening his drawing school he founded the magazine 'The Island' to which Henry Moore, C.R.W. Nevinson and even Mahatma Gandhi contributed. He also wrote the treatise 'Art for Heaven's Sake: Notes on the Philosophy of Art To-Day' (1934) in which he argued that whilst abstract artists often turn to the 'primitive' for inspiration, they often miss its essential point: that it communicates to the masses, and does so because it avoids abstraction and concentrates instead upon subject matter. Unlike many of his contemporaries Underwood remained strongly committed to figurative art.