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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 diego rivera

Artist Profile: Diego Rivera

While many people will point to Frida Kahlo as Mexico’s most famous artist, the impact of Diego Rivera on murals, both in his home country of Mexico and around the world, is still felt today. Known for his particularly large frescoes, his work helped to establish the Mexican Mural Movement in Mexican art.

Rivera grew up in Mexico and studied art from a young age. His studies would eventually take him to France and Italy, where he learned from such artists as Eduardo Chicharro, Ilya Ehrenburg, Chaim Soutine, and Amedeo Modigliani. While in Europe, Rivera witnessed firsthand the growing popularity of cubism and his own work saw a heavy cubist influence in those early days. He gradually shifted towards post-impressionism a few years later before coming back to Mexico at the request of Mexican officials. It was during this period that he and two other artists, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, started painting frescos and murals for the Mexican government.

Artwork by Diego Rivera, c.1916, Maternidad

Diego Rivera, c.1916, Maternidad

Rivera’s mural style became and important moment in Mexican history, not simply because of their political messages (much of his work dealt with Mexican history and its major revolution in 1910) but because of their incorporation of Mexican art styles. While trained mostly in Europe, Rivera used “large, simplified figures and bold colors with an Aztec influence.” His frescos also took storytelling techniques from the Maya, and many of his larger pieces tell entire stories. Combining his technical training from Europe with his Mexican heritage, his work became widely renowned and continues as an example of Mexican art to this day.

artwork titled flower carrier painted by diego rivera in 1935

Diego Rivers, c.1935, “Flower Carrier”

Diego Rivera is one of Mexico’s most famous and most notorious painters, mostly due to his volatile relationship with Frida Kahlo. Rivera met Kahlo while he was still married to his second wife, Guadalupe Marín. They met at a party hosted by a mutual acquaintance, Tina Modotti, where Kahlo asked for Rivera’s opinion about her paintings. Later, Rivero was quoted as saying Kahlo’s art had “an unusual energy of expression, precise delineation of character, and true severity … They had a fundamental plastic honesty, and an artistic personality of their own … It was obvious to me that this girl was an authentic artist.”

picture of renouned mexican artists diego rivera and frido kahlo taken in 1932

Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera, c.1932

Despite being 20 years her senior, and being a noted womanizer, the two married in a civil ceremony at the town hall of Coyoacán on August 21, 1929. They remained married for ten years but divorced due to “their mutual infidelities and his violent temper.” The divorce was short-lived, however, and they remarried in 1940, staying together until her death in 1954.

Diego Rivera is often eclipsed by his wife and life, but his art remains an important moment for muralists and street art. Despite sharing a close relationship with the Mexican government, his ability to weave a distinctly Mexican style into his work helped pave the way for a national character of art. Other countries, such as Brazil, has made similar steps, drawing on the skills of muralists around the world and infusing them with a nationalistic flavour. His work, while largely lost now, is a testament to the importance of producing and supporting local artists.