Artist Profile: Keith Haring

He came from art and became one of the most famous artists of his time. He was born in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania but grew up in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. His father was an engineer and a cartoonist. His first art influences came from his spending time with his father. He was the first born of four siblings and the only boy. Walt Disney cartoons, Dr. Seuss, Looney tunes and Charles Schulz were also his influences.

He was brought up in a religious family, but he left all that behind when he was a teenager and decided to travel the country. He made a living from selling vintage t-shirts, and during that time, he tried drugs. He lost interest in commercial art which he was studying at Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh. His decision to leave was after he read The Art Spirit by Robert Henri which made him want to focus on his art.

He familiarized himself with the art of Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Tobey while working at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts as a maintenance person. All the art influences around him kept giving him a push towards art. He came by Pierre Alechinsky work in 1977 that gave him the confidence to make large calligraphic images.

In 1978, Christo a sculptor gave a lecture that gave Haring the push he needed to show his work to the public. It was then that Haring got the courage to hold his first on man exhibition at the Center for the Arts in Pittsburgh. After the show, he moved to New York to study painting. Keith also ventured into video and performance art while there. He got behind on credits because his teachers did not award his social activism works any points.

The earliest recognition of Keith was through his art on subways. His had film of his exhibitions at Club 57 in 1980. He took part in the Times Square Exhibition where he drew human and animal faces in his art for the first time.

crack is wack keith haring mural

He became friends with Futura, Kenny and Jean-Michel in 1982 who were also upcoming artists. Between 1982 and 1989 he did over 50 public works of art in many cities around the world. His remarkable mural Crack is Wack is still visible through New York’s FDR Drive.

After his extensive works around the Cities, he met Andy Warhol who was one of his themes in his art. The beginning of their friendship cemented the success of Haring as an artist.

Keith Haring International Work

keith haring new south wales

He took part in some international art projects which gained him international recognition and grew his art even more. He went to Australia in 1984 and worked on murals in Melbourne. He also went to Sydney where the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art had him paint a mural replacing the water curtain that was in the national gallery.

keith haring mural sao paulo

Rio de Janeiro was also one of his stops where he did paintings. He also worked in the Musee d’Art Modern de la Ville de Paris, Manhattan and Minneapolis. He drew a poster of free South Africa which was crucial to his political activity in 1985.

Haring did a section of the Berlin wall in 1986. He got to work with children because he loved children at the City Kids Speak on Liberty project for the Statue of Liberty. It took the collaboration of 1000 children.

Haring described his work as trying to break the barrier between high and low art. It was not about making money. His works then took on a very socio-political theme. He worked on AIDs awareness works, Anti-Apartheid and the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. He also had other works of art of different things like Coca-Cola and Absolut Vodka.

He continued his tradition of solo exhibitions in 1987 at Helsinki and Antwerp. He was the artist and designer on the album A Very Special Christmas that featured Madonna. He worked with artists and joined artists groups that saw him become part of the label of Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

pile of crowns by heith haring

At Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, he worked on public murals in the lobby and the care department. He paid his respects to his friend Jean-Michel in 1988 who died of an overdose by painting A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Sexuality

Keith Haring was an openly gay artist who actively rallied for safe sex. He, however, got a positive diagnosis for AIDs in 1988. The following year, he began a Keith Haring foundation that gave funding to AIDs organizations and Children’s programs. The foundation was also to extend the reach of his artwork. He spoke about his ailment and created AIDs awareness every chance that he got.

 

tuttomondo keith haring

In 1989, the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center gave Haring a platform to paint a mural on the 208 West 13th Street building. For the mural Once Upon a Time, he chose the second-floor men’s room of the building. June of the same year, on the wall of the Church of Sant’Antonio, he did his final public work of art, the mural Tuttomondo.

He also took part in the fashion industry where his artwork was in clothing. Some of these clothes the likes of Madonna would wear. He also ventured into jewelry design with David Spada. He made sculptural pieces for Jones.

Death

Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990. The cause of his death was related to his earlier AIDs diagnosis. He developed complications that caused his death. He had made an impact on the world through his art and Madonna held a benefit Concert in his honor. All the money made from the tour of her Blond Ambition album given to various charities for AIDs awareness.

The works of Haring and his efforts in creating awareness about AIDs got recognition by several organizations which drew inspiration from it and carried on his vision for Awareness and Funding. He is among the first famous people who had foundations dedicated to helping people affected by AIDs.

Much of Haring’s work is chronicled on The Keith Haring Foundation

portrait of thomas hart benton

Artist Profile: Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas was born into a political family. In a family of four children, he was the first born, two sisters, and a brother. His family was well off as his father was Colonel Maecenas Benton, a lawyer, and a US congressman four times. He was born in Missouri in 1889. The most of Thomas’s young life was spent traveling between Missouri and Washington DC because of his father’s political affiliations.

Colonel Maecenas had hope that his first born son would take after him and join politics. He, therefore sent Thomas to Western Military Academy in 1905 to receive military training. Thomas, however, took a different path. Having gotten his upbringing from two cultures that were both parts of him, he went against his father’s wishes and put all his focus into his art.

His mother was in support of this decision, and he was even able to get a job as a cartoonist for Joplin American newspaper in Missouri as a teenager. With his mother backing him, he was able to join art school in Chicago, The School of the Art Institute in 1907.

thomas benton mural with city activieis and dance hall

In 1909, he went to Paris to continue art education. He went to the Academie Julian during which his mother gave him financial and emotional support. He was under his mother’s care until his early 30s when he began a family of his own.

Thomas met artists like Rivera and Stanton while in Paris. He did not conform to Diego’s ideas like many others, but he instead got his influence from Stanton who was an advocate for synchromism. Thomas began his synchromist since that encounter.

His adventures and studies in Europe came to an end in 1912 when he moved to New York where he began painting. He was in the US Navy at the Norfolk station in World War I. His time in the war made an impact on his painting style. He made illustrations of the work and life in a ships yard which became part of the influencing factors of his later forms.

Thomas drew paintings of the camouflage ships that docked at the Norfolk harbor. His works were needed so that the US ship painters would make the drawings correctly, to help the US identify their camouflage ships and to have an advantage of recognizing other ships. He took pride in his work in the Navy that he said it was his most important work as an artist.

Married life

He got married in 1922 to an Italian immigrant Rita Piacenza. She was his student at his art classes for a neighborhood organization in New York. The couple was blessed with two children a boy and a girl in 1926 and 1939 respectively. Thomas was married to his wife for over 53 years. He was separated from his family by his death in 1975. After his death, his wife died eleven weeks later.

Thomas Benton Career

His career began with him denouncing modernism and focusing on his works that are now known as Regionalism. He only took part in leftist politics and his actions kept on growing. His America, Today murals at the New School for Social Research in 1930, was the epitome of his regionalist work. AXA Equitable bought the paintings in 1984, restored them and put them up in the AXA Equitable Tower lobby. The murals got sent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012 as donations.

In 1932, Thomas won a commission from the state to paint the murals of Indiana life for the Century of Progress Exhibition in 1933. These paintings were followed by controversies because, in the murals, there are depictions of the lives of the people and the events that take place. The people did not take too kindly to the publicizing of those events.

controversial thomas benton mural featuring history of state with KKK klu klux klan represented in background

The Ku Klux Klan was something he featured in the murals and critics were on his throat for it. Exposing the members of the KKK was a vice to the people. Most of the men in those times were members of the Klan, and in 1924, the governor elected was a member of KKK. Other members took other political offices in the same year. The murals are however still on display at the Indiana University.

The 1932 Arts of Life in America murals is also part of his works for the Whitney Museum of America Art. The work was a large five panels, and in 1953, the panels were bought by the New Britain Museum of American Art and are on display at the museum.

His color covers featured in the Times Magazine in 1934. The US Scene article was a story about him and two other artists who were the heroes of American art during the time. His disregard for politics did not sit well with artists; he went back to Missouri where he began work on the mural for the Missouri state capitol. The mural, A Social History of Missouri, was among his best works of his career.

thomas benton huge mural in a room

After moving around and his adventures, he finally put up camp in Kansas, and he began teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. In his works, Benton always showed empathy for the working class and the peasants. He would demonstrate the beauty of living in a small town, desperation and the sadness of the oppressed in his paintings.

persephone mural by thomas benton

He made the Persephone in 1930. The painting arose controversy, and was taken to a night club. It is considered one of the best works of American Pornography. His autobiography, An Artist in America, came out in 1937. The autobiography gave an impression on Sinclair Lewis who praised Thomas for his expertise in painting and also writing.

Later works

Benton was among the nine artists who took part in documenting scenes in the production of The Long Voyage home in 1940. In 1942, his musical album, Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s came out. He was a great harmonica musician.

jefferson city thomas benton huge mural

He made a mural series, The Year of Peril, during the Second World War that showed the threats of fascism and Nazism. He did the Lincoln mural for the Lincoln University in 1953, Trading at Westport Landing for the river club in 1956, Father Hennepin at Niagara Falls for the Power Authority of the state of New York in 1972 and the Independence and the Opening of the West for the Harry Truman library. The work at the library led to his friendship with the president.

He was working on The Sources of Country Music for the Country music hall of fame in Nashville when he died. His residence in Missouri was made a historic site and remains unchanged since. His life and works have been the features of a documentary in 1988.

harry sternberg sitting infront of a self portrait

Artist Profile: Harry Sternberg

Harry Sternberg was born in 1904 to immigrant parents who had immigrated from Russia and Hungary. He was born in New York, and in 1910 moved to Brooklyn. He began Jewish religious Training when they moved to Brooklyn and at the age of nine, he began taking art classes at Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1915.

Sternberg had shown interest in art at an early age, and his parents supported him in his school work. He took up part time classes in 1922 to 1926 at the Art Students League of New York. After all the art study that Harry had done up to this point, he was ready to start his career in etching, printmaking, and painting. He got his first studio apartment in 1926, Greenwich Village.

Harry Sternberg career

His background education in art gave him the skills that he needed to lay down a successful career. He was good at his art, and he worked hard to grow his career. He had his first exhibition in 1931 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

family industry and agriculture painted by harry sternberg

He went back to the school where he studied in New York as a teacher and also took a keen interest in social issues that affect art. He remained an art professor until 1968. His time as a teacher was very busy and involving. He landed a position in the Graphic Art Division of the Federal Art Project.

He then spent a year studying the working conditions of workers in coal mines and steel mills. He featured this experience in his first ever mural “Chicago: the epoch of a great city” at the Lakeview post office in Chicago. The mural was not funded by the WPA but by the Treasury of Fine Arts.

Harry Sternberg got to meet Diego and his wife Frida in 1934. After the meeting, he began thinking of taking a political stand. He, therefore, became more active regarding political matters. In 1936, he got the Guggenheim fellowship.

His first post office mural was in 1937; he called it “carrying the mail” in Pennsylvania. It had funding from the US department of the treasury of painting and sculpture. Harry then moved to Chicago to study the city. He picked up information on the architecture, history, and industry in Chicago which then he translated into his mural “Chicago: epoch of a great city.”

The mural had details on the early settlers in Chicago, the great fire in the steel mills and the life stock. His work was mostly him trying to capture the struggles of the fight of the workers. The mural’s renovation was in 2001 by Friends of the Lakeview Post Office, a non-profit organization.  The restoration was however seen through by Parma Conservation of Chicago in 2003.

Harry became part of the WPA and in his words said that being part of WPA made him feel important and in the context of a very significant cultural movement in America. One that gave priority to art and conservation of the American culture over the years.

harry sternberg self portrait from chicagos lakeview neighbourhood post office

In 1939, Harry got married to Mary Gosney; they had a daughter, and his family was in the Post office mural in Pennsylvania named “the family, industry, and agriculture.” He loved painting portraits of himself and on his wall for the Lakeview post office; he painted his image on it.

He also ensured to paint the Chicago skyline into the mural that gave the painting more life and beauty. He also included famous buildings like the Conrad Hilton hotel which was the largest hotel in the world at the time. He made sure that the mural incorporated Chicago as it is including the agriculture and stock yards that had cattle. It was all on the right side of the painting. In the steel plant on the left side, he included African American laborers. He was among the first painters to depict African American works into a painting.

The mural made his work more known as it presented a very accurate picture of the working conditions in America at the time and it gained him his place among the most famous painters in the world to date. His mural became a reference point for the great depression. It is the one fresco that is taken care of and the restoration done very thoughtfully and delicately.

The Federal Arts Project came by as a sector of the Work Progress Administration that mostly employed the unskilled. When FAP came about, the mural division was born, and it gave jobs to struggling artists who did not have the financial strength to carry forward their work.

The mural division built a name for itself and significantly developed more than the other visions within FAP. Many artists who went through this group were able to grow themselves and showcase their talents under FAP. Sternberg was among the artists in the mural division.

Retirement

1966 marked the end of Sternberg’s days in the Art Students League after which he and his family moved to California. In California, he did not stop his work; he carried on his art for 35 years more. He published a collection of prints. In one of the prints, there is his work on the mural at the Lakeview post office.

He was a celebrated painter. The Museum of California Center for the Arts held an exhibition to honor and celebrate his work and career in art. It was in 2001. The museum director did the research and writing of the catalog for the exhibition in his owner.

Harry Sternberg died in November 2001 in Escondido California where he had retired to. His work continues to be revered, and his legacy lives on. He died at 97 years old, a teacher, painter, and muralist.

His works are considered emotional but he was a strong artist who believed in achieving what he sets his mind to accomplish. In the 35 years after retirement that he continued his work, he painted the landscape of Borrego Valley in San Diego. He is remembered for his murals especially the one about Chicago city.

us post office mural showing workers in blue uniforms delivering mail

United States Post Office Murals

These are murals that are noteworthy that were made in the New Deal art done between 1934 and 1943. The US Department of the Treasury commissioned this painting. During the commission, there was a considerable level of competition, and only the selected got commissioned.

There were 1400 murals made for federal post office buildings all over the US. 1300 cities got murals in their post offices under the new deal. The efforts of the respective post offices to take care of the walls determine the state of the paintings now.

The New Deal came up during the great depression, and one of its projects was the public works of art project. The project was born in 1933, and its main aim was to get artists in the job market and give assurance to a hopeless nation that times would get better and that they would recover financially.

us post office mural showing workers in blue uniforms delivering mail

The construction of federal buildings that came about in 1933 had $145 million set aside for this works. The federal buildings included courthouses, post offices, libraries, and schools. The public works of art project oversaw the production of 15660 artworks by over 3750 artists. Of the 15000 works of art, 700 were murals that were for public display.

The public works of art project came to an end in 1934. The success of the project was recognized, and in its honor, the section of painting and sculpture began, and it was under the US Treasury. The part was expected to carry on the activities of the public works project and take forward its successes.

The part of painting and sculpture tried to reach as many people as they could and therefore decided to look for the places that most people visited and often. The post office in those times was a very popular place that had a lot of people going in and out of at all times. The section, therefore, got their center for the most impact to the people.

usps mural from the 40s showing workers stylized in pink

In every post office, a 12×5 oil painting on canvas was to be put up on the walls of post offices. Each post office had a construction budget that the section gave recommendations for 1% of it was put into the painting of the murals.

Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) was established in 1935 and got funding by the Works Progress Administration (WAP). The newly formed TRAP was to provide decorative details for the already existent federal buildings. The section was in charge of TRAP and supervised all their works. Once the creative ideas process came to an end, the lead artist for each building was selected and then given assistants from the Federal Art Project of WPA.

Edward Bruce led the section and TRAP. The aim of these projects was to decorate and add beauty to government buildings all over America. Every painting put up on a government building had to be a quality painting that did not raise any controversy of an issue among the people. The murals were expected to have an enormous positive impact on the people and the American culture.

united states post office mural showing a large stylized piece of corn

The art was successfully put up and served their purpose for a considerable amount of time, but the task of protecting and taking care of the murals fell to the post offices. The problem was that most of the post offices let the murals deteriorate. Only a few were taken care of. In some instances, the paintings were put in ancient buildings which made them lose their value faster.

Controversies surrounding the United States Post Office Murals

Controversies always find a way of cropping up even when all the right methods have been followed to the letter. In this case, people brought up issues with the selection of the artists working on the murals. The rural people saw the selection of outsider artists as an insult to them.

For the people, outsider artists would not know their culture and in turn not express the culture and practices of those individuals in the murals. They were opposed to ideas that were not local. The south side states mostly disliked that a painter who had no experience in rural life could paint and depict their life. Having strangers put up their works in places that they had never before visited did not sit well with the locals.

united states post office mural showing a large picture of people and a woman on a horse

The states that were local were poor, and most of the population was illiterate especially the state of Arkansas. The fact that the murals sent to their post offices only focused on the worst conditions of the people. Though right, it did not make the people appreciate the art project.

Since a mural, the paintings on the buildings were permanent, most states rejected the depiction of their states as poor and illiterate of in other cases as violent because that was not the legacy that they wanted their children and the coming generations to find. It led to artists being asked to present sketches before the final work was selected. Paintings of hope for the future were preferred by most people.

Selection Process for Artists

When the section came about, they did not continue the tradition of the public works of the art project of paying artists by the hour. They instead awarded contracts to the artists, and they got paid depending on the works that they produced. The artists were from those who had entered regional and national art competitions.

usps mural showing a large bridge with landscape below

Those who wanted to take part presented their sketches to a committee that would then judge their works. The sketches had to be anonymous ton eliminate any favoritism. The best designs selected were then sent to the section of fine arts where the artists’ final battle round for a position went down.

There were still complaints from the local artists that there was favoritism and corruption and only the known artists got the contracts. After the selection, artists then went through a test which was to paint an American scene. Controversial paintings were discouraged and disqualified if produced. The artists only got paid after the approval of their work.

Victor Arnautoff self portrait

Victor Arnautoff

In 1896, a brilliant painter was born, Victor Mikhail Arnautoff in Russia.  He was the son of a Russian priest, and from a very tender age, he showed interest in art.  He looked forward to joining art school once he graduated gymnasium. The First World War, however, broke out, and he went to Yelizavetgrad Cavalry School. He rose to positions of leadership within the military.

After the defeat of whites in Siberia, he moved on to the northeast of China and surrendered, he stayed for five years and began his pursuit of art while there, but he did not succeed, so he instead took a job teaching at the cavalry of Zhang Zuolin. He got married in China to Lydia Blonsky and had two sons.

He came about a student Visa and traveled to San Francisco in November of 1925 to study at the California School of Fine Arts. He studied sculpture with Edgar Walter and then took up painting. His wife and children followed him, and he then moved his whole family to Mexico in 1929. He started as an assistant muralist to Diego Rivera when he arrived in Mexico.

He worked on murals at the Palace of Cortes with Diego. When they began the paintings at the National Palace, Rivera left for San Francisco on a job to paint a mural on the stock exchange building. The move by Diego meant that Victor was left in charge of the paintings back in Mexico. During the same time, he got a third son.

Working in San Francisco and the Bay Area

Victor and his family made their way back to San Francisco in 1931 where he was able to complete his first mural commission. It was at the Palo Alto Clinic where he had been a patient in 1932. His murals were frescoes, and during the unveiling of the mural at the clinic, there was criticism because it showed a woman’s bare breasts. The day it was revealed, a traffic jam occurred in the area.

Victor Arnautoff mural

1934 brought about an appointment as the technical director of the Coit Tower and also he got a painting job where he was required to do one of the paintings for the Coit Tower. His murals mainly showed life in San Francisco during that time.

Victor became the most know Muralist in San Francisco in the 1930s; he completed murals at the clinic and the Washington High School which was about slavery and at the California School of Fine Arts where he has studied, at the library. His murals had central humanist themes that mainly focused on labors and power.

coit tower mural by victor arnautoff

He also took part in painting five post offices in the US, College Station, South San Francisco, Richmond, Linden and Pacific Grove. The 1930s were a time in his career where he held solo exhibitions and significantly promoted his painting career. He was a teacher at the California School of Fine Arts privately during breaks. He was a sculpture and fresco painting teacher. He became a regular teacher in 1936.

In 1938, he got a job at Stanford University where he taught art. While at Stanford, he taught Richard Diebenkorn. In 1947, he had some courses that he taught at the California Labor School that included painting and printmaking.

Political activity

Having come from Russia and China, he was not yet influenced by Marxism. When he moved to Mexico to work with Diego, his political views became communist. He joined the communist party, the American Artists Congress, and the San Francisco Artists and Writers Union. Politically, he was less active than Diego or any other artists’ views. Even though he was subtle in his political activities, his political affiliations were evident in his works.

mural by victor arnautoff

He made a lithograph in 1955, “DIX McSmear” that associated the then vice president Richard Nixon with McCarthyism. There was controversy surrounding this work and Stanford was even pressured to dismiss him. He was interrogated by HUAC and calls for his dismissal continued, but Stanford decided against dismissing him.

Returning to the Soviet Union

In 1961, his wife died, and Victor decided to go back to the Soviet Union. He retired from Stanford and settled in Mariupol. In his retirement, Victor worked on and published a memoir, large tile mosaics, and woodcuts for books. He also organized solo exhibitions during the time. Victor married again in 1970 and died in 1979.

Victor died as a famous Russian-American painter and art professor. San Francisco is where he set his eyes and did tremendous work there. He was a muralist who was not afraid to express his views and also incorporated political views into his works.

He had such a love for art that even after he left the US, he continued his work and art in Russia, his love for art never faded even with old age. He carried on his work as a muralist and sculpture until his death in 1970.

Although his art went through challenging circumstances, in the beginning, he never gave up on his true passion, and he did what he had to do to get to where he wanted to be. The student visa that saw him in San Francisco began his art career, and he took every opportunity that came his way since.

He held special exhibitions, but there are some of his works that are publicly displayed. His work on the post offices, frescos murals at the clinic and Roth building and even post offices and schools in Mariupol after he moved back to Russia.  His work precedes him as even today, his works are in demand, and people travel from many parts of the world to view them.

federal arts project logo

Federal Arts Project

The Federal Arts Project (FAP) began in 1935 as a New Deal program to facilitate the growth of art in the US. It was under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and was among five other projects initialized to oversee the development of various sectors in the New Deal. The primary purpose of the project was to employ artists for mural creation, paintings, sculptures and all aspects of art.

WPA created over 100 art centers in the country to document, research and study the American culture and get to showcase it publicly through art. The exercise was very successful because ten thousand artists were under the program during the great depression.

During its tenure, more than 100,000 paintings were collected and well over 18000 sculptures. Most of the artists who did not have the financial capability to support themselves were employed and supported in their art by this project.

In the 1930s and 1940s, abstract art was not very popular. The federal arts project preferred figurative art. Pollock, an abstract painter, was supported by the project when his art was not very lucrative. The art centers that the federal arts project had begun all over the country educated children, artists, and upcoming artists.

federal arts project painting by pollock

The federal arts project succeeded in bringing awareness of art to the public. It gave hope to so many aspiring artists and provided job opportunities for thousands of artists in the short span of time that it was functional. So many artists got to learn and better their art skills through the project.

Works accomplished under the federal art project

During the early years of FAP, over 1000 artists began to work with WPA. In those years, the success of FAP was realized almost immediately from the quality of art produced and the impact that it made on the public. The artists would get their payments depending on their work and those who needed financial support.

Arshile Gorky is among the first most notable artists to work with FAP. Since the start of FAP, he collaborated with the mural division and earned up to $103 per month. He was assigned a job in 1935 by the head of the painting division to provide sketches for the Floyd Bennett Field administration building in Brooklyn.

Federal Arts Project aviation mural painted by Gorsky

The murals were to be aviation inspired and were supposed to include stories of man aspiring to fly in a romantic setting; it would also show man’s attempts at building a flying machine. Gorky took up the assignment and internalized it; he decided to give people a feel of flying and not just show people in airplanes.

His first idea was a ten-panel mural that he gave the name “Aviation: evolution of forms under aerodynamic limitations.” His vision for the piece was that it would be spread across four walls and have photos of aeronautical figures. After several months working on the sketch, he came up with more than 50 designs and his ideas and visions for the projects kept on growing.

Gorky did not agree with the idea of incorporating photos into his project, and he therefore began convincing FAP why he should be allowed to work on his mural, the site for the project then changed to Newark airport. In 1937, there was the unveiling of the murals that were selected together with the photographs by David Wyatt.

The work of Gorky was significantly recognized and appreciated. The WPA opened an art gallery called the Federal Art Project Gallery in New York. Some of the earliest works that were in the gallery were the watercolors by Jackson Pollock.

willem de kooning federal arts project painting

There were over 6000 artists employed by WPA by 1936, among them Willem de Kooning who quit his job at a shoe store as the designer for the store’s window to join FAP. He was able to work with Harold Rosenberg once he joined WPA.

subway federal arts project painting

Mark Rothko in the same year presented portraits for the Treasury relief art project. It was also part of the WPA projects. The paintings included “two women at the window” and “subway” both in 1937. The many workers in the WPA caught the eye of the government, and the government announced that every employee of WPA had to be an American citizen.

Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky, and Willem de Kooning had to stop working any further with FPA because of their citizenships. Most of the non-citizen employees continuing to work regardless of the announcement, but Willem opted to resign from the job.

In 1939, FPA began to lay off some of its workers. Gorky was able to continue working as he got his citizenship but Mark was laid off from FAP. In 1940, WPA came up with a new rule stating that artists should be in constant rotation. Every artist that have been in service for 18 consecutive months was to be laid off for at least one month. It saw the departure of Pollock temporarily.

These were the days that began to mark the end of FAP and WPA. Pollock returned in 1940 and on the first of January in 1943, Lee Krasner was laid off, and less than a month later Pollock was also laid off. In June of the same year, the FPA stopped supporting artists.

At the end of 1943, most of the WPA-funded paintings were on sale at auction by the government and that marked the dissolution of WPA. The WPA and FAP left a mark on the people from the number of artists that had gotten opportunities from the program.

The FAP went down as a project that mostly supported figurative artists rather than abstract art. During the years that WPA and FAP were working, they came up with over 200, 000 art pieces. A majority of those art pieces got lost or destroyed during the dissolution of the program.

All the art that got funding from WPA remains federal property to date. The General Services Administration works together with the FBI and artists to find and recover the works. The GSA is the custodian of the arts and carries the task with keeping an inventory of all federal art.

By 2014, the GSA had managed to gather only 20,000 of the artwork. The search for the WPA arts still continues although most are destroyed and of poor condition. There were 122 FAP paintings recovered from libraries in California in 2015.

For more be sure to check out the Library of Congress Federal Arts Project page.

David Alfaro Siqueiros

David Siqueiros was born in 1896 in Chihuahua the second born in a family of three children. At a young age, his mother died, and his father sent them to live with their grandparents. His grandfather from that moment on played an enormous role in shaping his growth since he spent his childhood with his grandfather.

David Alfaro Siqueiros mural featuring a man reaching out and appearing to tear the mural with his fingernails

In many accounts of his birth and childhood, false dates and speculations have been given even by him, but his story begins in Chihuahua 1896 and proceeds to include moving to his grandparents. David joined a school in 1902 in Guanajuato. During his years in school, he had taken to political ideologies, and the theories put out by the likes of Dr. Atl. He also explained that his first outburst was by his sister who refused to conform to their father’s religious rules.

In 1911, Siqueiros while at the Academy of San Carlos took part in a strike that whose aim was to impeach the director because the students did not like the teaching methods that the school was using. The riot paved the way for the establishment of an open air Academy in Santa Anita. David was only fifteen when he took part in the riot.

By 18 years, he had joined the school of fine arts. He and his friends joined Carranza’s army and fought the government of Huerta. The end of the revolution in 1914 meant that now the fight against political factions picked up. He traveled while in the army, and he got a better understanding of the Mexican culture.

After Carranza had taken power, Siqueiros took to painting in Mexico for a short time and then moved to Europe in 1919. He got the Cubism influence in Paris, and he found the work of Paul Cezanne a marvel, especially his use of large blocks of intense color. He met Diego Rivera in Paris. They later became part of the big three but not before traveling throughout Italy together and studying the fresco technique.

Artistic and political career

Siqueiros had political interests besides being a famous painter. There were speculations that sometimes his political needs hindered his artistic nature but he believed that his two greatest interests were co-dependent. His time abroad exposed him to Marxism, and it was evident in his manifesto, Vida Americana. In the manifesto, he was trying to grow his unique style that can marry national and universal art.

He made his way back to Mexico in 1922 where he took a job working as a muralist for the government of Alvaro Obregon. When Jose Vasconcelos began hiring artists to help educate the masses and preserve the Mexican culture, Siqueiros was hired and worked alongside Diego and Orozco. In turn, Vasconcelos gave his support to the muralist movement through commissioning murals in prominent buildings.

David Alfaro Siqueiros revolution mural

In as much as thoroughly were approved for famous buildings, they still lacked the public element to them, and this led Siqueiros to be among the founders of the Syndicate of Revolutionary Mexican Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers in 1923. The syndicate dealt with publicizing the art of the artists by starting a newspaper, “El Machete.” The newspaper put out a manifesto that Siqueiros had taken part in authoring.

The declaration insisted on the importance of having collective art that can educate the masses and do away with individualistic art. His famous “Burial of a worker” mural did not get to be complete. Students destroyed it because they felt that it was an overly political painting.

The government had made promises that it had not fulfilled and the pressure began to build up as the movement became even more critical of the government through their art. The rift and strains with the government that had been funding murals left the Syndicate in awe of whether to keep publishing their newspaper.

The officials of the union had different opinions which saw to the exit of Diego from the union because Siqueiros was more focused on politics than the artistic value of their work. He was relieved of duty from the department of education in 1925, but he still followed his vision which later got him jailed in 1930.

He took part in political activities even after his release from prison until 1932 when he left for Europe and picked up his artistic career as a muralist. He tried modern painting methods while there and came up with two very famous murals. On these paintings, he worked in a team. The first Mural did not last long after its unveiling. Many speculate that it was because of its general theme while others said that it was because of weather issues that made the painting wash up.

David Alfaro Siqeiros The Mexican Revolution

The second mural is considered more radical than the first one, but it got a better reception than the first one. The wall got partial covering in 1934 and thoroughly washed in 1938 however. The mural then underwent restoration eight years later done by the Getty Conservation Institute. The painting became open to the public in 2012, on its 80th birthday. There is a Tropical Interpretive Center that is especially to honor the life of David Siqueiros.

Siqueiros artistic style

He had a much-propelled vision and belief that art should be public for all to see and learn from its messages. His work’s main basis was on the revolution; he tried to shed light on human struggles so that the end of capitalist rulers would come. He incorporated the Mexican culture and history into some of his paintings which he mainly used as accessories to his main story.

Though many said that he was more political than artist, his vision was clear to him as he fought to get to show and communicate to the upper and lower class alike. He took part in the first ever Mexican Incidental with Orozco, Diego, and Tamayo in 1950 at the XXV Venice Biennale. He got second place, a prize that recognized the status of Mexican art internationally.

Later life

“The people to the university, the university to the people,” is an outdoor mural that Siqueiros painted at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1952. He began working on a 4500sqft mural in 1957 that was his biggest painting yet. It was a government commissioned painting for Chapultepec Castle.

The people to the university, the university to the people," is an outdoor mural that Siqueiros painted at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1952

He also made a multi-angular mural in Hospital de Raza that used new and modern materials. Siqueiros was not opposed to technology, and he expressed a liking for modernity. His views drew a rift between him and the government which saw to his arrest in 1960 over his public criticism of the president. He was also sued by the Jorge Negrete Theater for breach of contract too in 1958.

His arrest led to protests from artists and painters, he, however, continued painting and his works continued to sell. He was released in 1964 and immediately picked up on his work at the theater where he was on suspension.

He was the youngest of the big three but comfortably expressed his views with no fear. His Marxist influence made his views mainly communist. He participated in many artistic as well as political activities which made him both politician and muralist.

The circumstances and confusion surrounding his birth and upbringing were put to rest when a Mexican art curator came about his birth certificate in 2003. His original name was Alfaro, but he had changed his name to David when his wife called him so. She referred to him as David who was in the painting by Michelangelo.

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.

bonampak mural room

Mexican Muralism

Mexican muralism was promoting mural painting. It was during the early 1920s, and it was through social and political messages. It was in an attempt to reunify the Mexico after the Mexican Revolution. The Mexican muralism was by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. They were the biggest and most known painters in Mexico.

From the inception of Mexican muralism, 1920-1970 saw the painting of very many murals that had nationalistic messages in them. Drawings of social and political messages on public buildings also took root. The Mexican muralism began a tradition that is still present to date.

It has had an effect on other parts of Americas, including the US. It was the inspiration for the Chicano art movement. The importance and influence of this tradition final felt all over Mexico and other parts of the world.

The honored tradition of painting murals in Mexico began with the Olmec civilization. Mural paintings were mostly evangelical and insisted on Christian teachings during the pre-Hispanic and colonial period. In the 19th century, the social and political mural painting began to take root.

Juan Cordero was the first painter to use a philosophical theme in his wall painting in the mid-19th century. Most of his works had religious affiliations like the cupola of the Santa Teresa Church; he did a secular art on request from Gabino Barreda.

The 19th century became the Porfirio Diaz regime. The government initialized cultural development in the country by funding the study of artists abroad. The intention was good and pure, but there was no promotion of the Mexican culture. That is when Gerald Murillo stepped in and brought about the idea that the paintings should reflect the Mexican way of life for cultural promotion and preservation.

murales rivera Markt in Tlatelolco 3

Being the first modern muralist to get recognition, he was able to get the government to change their line of art promotion and allow muralists to paint on public building walls. He also put together an exhibition of native Mexicans where they could showcase their art.

The first mural by Gerald was female nudes that had Atl-color, a color he came up with from his famous nickname Dr. Atl. Since the government’s art promotion program had given emphasis to European art, Jose Guadalupe Posada through his graphic work made cartoons to mock the European style using social and political themes.

The Mexican revolution came about in rejection of the Porfirio Diaz. A group of intellects that gave emphasis to populist philosophy came together with Gerald and Posada; they had a shared vision that gave way to the next generation of painters to adopt the social and political themes. Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros followed the populist path.

The ideas and visions of the group became famous and influential that the Diaz regime came to an end. The defeat only took a year, but decades late, the struggle for power was still evident. There was a constant change in governments because of the extreme number of assassinations.

One party leadership under Alvaro Obregon in the 1920s saw to the end of the era, and his leadership began the Partido Revolucionario Institucional regime. Gerald was able to support the works of Diego Rivera, Alfaro and Clemente by supporting the Carranza faction. They later became the founders of the muralism movement in Mexico.

Mural movement

After the revolution, a time when most Mexicans were illiterate, Jose Vasconcelos became the head of education, and he came up with an idea for the government to back the mural program. He wanted the murals to be for social and cultural promotion. The government got the best artists to paint murals.

The muralists had their differences, but they all had one believe, that art was a great way of educating the public. The first project that the government took part in was on three levels at the Jesuit institution. The painting was on the inside of the institution.

hoy tamay

The first project opened up the way for more murals on the interior walls of several buildings. From 1920 to 1950, the painting movement was at its peak strongest point and took part in the transformation of the people to literacy. During the time, the murals were a way of getting art to be seen by everyone not just the rich and also a way of ensuring that artists had freedom to express themselves through art.

The movement took place in steps that are, the heroic phase that was in the 1920s, this stage gave way to the statist phase that began in 1930. Leonard Folgarait gave a description that 1940 was the era of rebirth for the mural movement. The big three, Diego, Clemente and Alfaro spent the post-revolution era developing their work. The government took a step back from mural painting, and the mural movement became private. The sponsors for the murals now became banks, theaters, and hotels.

Los tres grande

The big three is the name that best describes the most influential and remarkable muralists from the 20th century. They defined the muralist movement and proved that art could be the highest form of human expression. Each of them was different in their style and way of expression, they all made a very significant impact.

Diego’s style was more utopian and idealist, Clemente had critical and pessimistic works while Alfaro had the most original paintings of all. Their experiences affected their styles, and that’s why they each had their unique style. Rivera mostly drew from European modernism and traditional art styles. He had Mexican themes that he got from typical real life scenarios.

Clemente in his early works had a European style but then later evolved to angry and depictions of human suffering and fear of technology. He is the one artist who did not praise the Mexican revolution. He had been in the middle of the revolution and decided to share the horrors of the revolution through his art.

Siqueiros joined the army when he was eighteen and was the youngest of the three. He was also the most radical one since he experienced the revolution from the front lines. He used modern enamel in his work. He was fascinated with technology. He did most of his work in South America because his radicalism had seen him banned from Mexico and the US.

the last judgement mural in the sistine chapel

The last judgment, the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo

The final devil is a mural that is on the altar of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican. It is the artwork of Michelangelo. The painting took nine years to complete; he only began working on it thirty years after the ceiling was full. The last judgment mural covers the whole ceiling of the chapel.

The painting took place in 1534 and 1541. The painting is about the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse. There are the righteous in the company of Christ and his saints and the sinners who get their punishment.

close up view of the last judgement sistine chapel mural painted by michelangelo

The mural raised controversy since the figures in the painting are naked. Cardinal Carafa said that Michelangelo was immoral and obscene. Furthermore, the mural was in the most known church of Christianity.

Since Michelangelo had all the figures in the painting naked, a censorship campaign by Carafa and Monsignor Sermini began and its main aim was to remove the fresco. The work of Michelangelo remained until Daniele da Volterra covered up the genitalia in the figures.

flayed skin depicting michelangelos portrait

Michelangelo put his portrait in the painting, showing himself as St. Bartholomew after his skinning. It is that his reason for doing this is because he had feelings contempt for being tasked with painting the last judgment.

Reception of the mural

There were those who appreciated the painting and then there were the critics who viewed the drawing as immoral. The disputes arising from the last judgment saw the artist Michelangelo accused ever so often of insensitivity and disrespect, especially because his painting was real nudity on the ceiling of the chapel.

The master of ceremony of the Pope, Biagno da Cesena raised complaints about the art calling it shameful and worthy of being in taverns and baths. Michelangelo put Cesena’s face in the painting depicting him as the judge of the underworld. He gave him donkey ears and covered his genitalia with a coiled snake.

Cesena complained to the Pope, but the Pope said that the painting had to remain. For two whole decades, the controversies continued, and the art remained the same. The genitalia in the painting was then painted over when the Council of Trent recommended restraint in religious imagery. The use of images for art in chapels and places of worship had to be approved by the bishop.

vie of the entire sistine chapel ceiling along with last judgement mural painted by michelangelo

The last judgment

The painting has over 300 influential figures, all in different poses all over the wall of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. There are Christ and His saints, the leader of the underworld, the righteous and the sinners. The last judgment is an explicit depiction of what the second coming of Christ is going to be like for sinners and the righteous.

Christ is a powerful figure who is the center and most important part of the painting. Just next to Christ is the Virgin Mary and then below Him are wingless angels who sound the trumpets for the dead to rise for judgment day.

There are two of the angels holding the books who seem to be recording the deeds of those resurrected. The book that contains the damned is kept lower, and the expression on the angel’s face that of empathy. Looking closely, you spot the chosen ones, the elect on the bottom left. The dead coming from their graves, angels are there assisting the resurrected ones.

There is a herculean angel who is shown to lift souls that are clinging to rosary beads. There is also a tug of war as a demon tries to claim one of the resurrecting souls. The angels pull at the heart as the devil tries to take the man. The tug opens up a crack that gives a small view of the fires of hell.

the last judgement mural in the sistine chapel

The right side, on the left side of Christ, demons drag the sinners to hell. There are those trying to escape the wrath of hell, and the angels beat them. Some of the sinners’ vices show. One of them is a sinner because of pride; they dare to fight back contesting their fate.

The ferryman from the Greek mythology who is a transporter for souls is seen swinging his oar and shows the damned the way to hell. Below that image is the picture of Minos, who has a snake biting his genitals. He is at the corner of hell passing judgment to the souls sent to hell.

The detail put into the painting and the graphic nature that the mural depicts the viewer fear of what’s to come and of the end days. Michelangelo’s aim, however, was to show the triumph of Christ and that heaven dominates.

Michelangelo design was to put together an epic painting that those keen, elite and understanding would see the artistic features of the art. Those who did not understand this found the art shameless and immoral. They missed the main picture that the art aims to show.

In the 16th century, there weren’t as many people viewing the last judgment. Today, there are millions of people traveling to see the final sentence that is such an artistic milestone and tourist attraction. It is much more appreciated now than it was then.

In 1980-1994, the mural underwent restoration together with the chapel. The recovery, seen to by the curator of Vatican museums Fabrizio Mancinelli. During the renovation, several aspects of the painting found, that were hiding under the surface. The image of Cesena a Minos did not have its nudity covered by a coiled snake; rather the snake was biting his genitalia.

The covering up of the nudity of the figures that was done by Daniele took place in 1564 after the death of Michelangelo. The painting remained in its original state until the artist passed away then the nudity on the mural was covered up.

Pictures and engravings of the art have made their way around the globe. The last judgment remains the most discussed and most visited, today, painting in the world. Even after covering up the nudity of the painting, it did not lose its value and intended impact on the viewers.