photograph of José Clemente Orozco, barred window is visible in the background

Jose Clemente Orozco

He was one of the big three, known for his art and murals. Jose Clemente Orozco was born in 1883, to Rosa Orozco in Zapotlan el Grande. By the age of 21, he had a wife with whom he got three children. Jose did not have his left arm as he had lost it while working with gunpowder.

Clemente said that his art began at a young age. He drew his inspiration from Jose Guadalupe Posada. Jose would walk by the place where Posada was painting, and in his autobiography, Orozco would stop and take in the paintings. The work of Posada opened up his mind, and he began to paint on paper.

Orozco went to the school for agriculture and architecture, there was not much use of color there, and the paintings of Posada gave him the ideas for uses of color. He later went to the Academy of San Carlos. He became an illustrator for newspapers and also for the Constitutionalist armies. Orozco gave his support to Carranza after the split of factions in 1914.

Jose Clemente together with Diego Rivera led the Mexican muralism. He had a much darker view of the revolution. Diego gave praise to the revolution while Clemente was not comfortable with the bloodshed that came with the revolution. In his time, he got to work with fresco on large walls, so did the other two members of the big three.

1922 to 1924 was a busy time for Clemente as he did six murals at the National Preparatory School. These paintings include, “destruction of the old order,”“ the trench and the Trinity,  maternity among many others. The destruction of these murals came from him and others by conservative students. The paintings, Orozco had to repaint them.

The repair work took place in 1926 when he got back from painting “omniscience” at the House of Tiles in Mexico City, 1925. After the repair work, he painted a mural at the industrial school in Veracruz. After his work was complete, he moved to the US where he stayed from 1927 to 1934.

In 1929, there was a devastating fall of the stock market, but his work did not suffer as his paintings were still in high demand. He was invited by Pomona College Art Department from March to June 1930. His art at the college was a fresco, “Prometheus” which he said was the first mural painted outside the country by a Mexican painter. He put up the painting on the dining hall wall of the college.

José Clemente Orozco mural

The mural was direct, contrary to the belief at the time that drawings were supposed to be for decorations only. The Prometheus became the first modern fresco in the US. After the wall was complete, he got other jobs of painting walls. At the New school for Social Research in New York. Some of his most famous works are in the US where he spent a considerable amount of time.

In 1932 and 1934, he worked on “the epic of American civilization” which is one of the most famous murals ever painted. The Dartmouth College in New Hampshire boasts of having been where this mural was. It was a large painting that included migration stories, human sacrifice, Anglo-America, Hispano-America, science, new movement and the appearance of Quetzalcoatl.

His return to Mexico came with painting the mural in Guadalajara, “the people and its leaders” in the government palace. The frescos for the Hospicio Cabanas, which are considered his masterpiece also on the same year he returned.

The 1940s were a busy time for Orozco, he painted at the Gabino Ortiz library, and he also did a painting for the Hospital de Jesus in Mexico. He did illustrations for “the Pearl” by John Steinbeck in 1947 and 1948, he worked on one of his last works, “Juarez reborn.” Orozco died in 1949.

Orozco’s Series in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria

It is his most famous works. The murals are on three floors and the stairways of the building. The paintings give his detailed view of the revolution. He began the work in 1923 and completed in 1926. Every floor had a story to tell and each with appropriately illustrated.

José Clemente Orozco la trinchera mural

The first floor murals were six. Each unique and in precise detail. The trench is said to have been a confirmation of the expertise of Clemente as a painter. There are bloody and melodramatic scenes in the first floor murals. All the walls on the first floor had a different approach but the same goal of showing the evils of the Revolution.

The Trinity showed negative sides of the revolution where the leaders abused the same people that they were supposed to be serving. The banquet of the rich is another mural on the first floor where Orozco shows the gap between the rich and the poor and how the rich oppress the peasants and abuse power.

The second floor contains murals such as “law and justice,” the wealthy, liberty, garbage and Jehovah between the influential and the have-nots. They are all paintings with a story and a goal that continue to show Orozco’s criticism for the revolution.

The third floor contained seven murals including the grave digger, the blessing, the farewell, the workers, the family, the revolutionaries, and women. The farewell is significant, and it shows the sacrifice of the revolution. The painting shows men leaving their homes to fight the revolution.

José Clemente Orozco stairwell mural

The murals on the stairways included the youth, aboriginal races, Franciscans helping the sick, the drinking men, the engineers and Cortes and Malinche. The drinking people and the engineers cover the east wall of the stairway. In these murals, Orozco presents the colonization of Mexico by the Spanish.

Conclusion

Jose Clemente was a painter who during his time made such an impact that people still remembers to date. His works mainly included political murals, and as part of the Mexican muralists’ movement, he did a remarkable job. He was able to work both in the US and Mexico and never lost sight of his vision. His drawings and paintings are available in Mexico City, Carrillo Gil Museum and at the Orozco Workshop Museum in Guadalajara.