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diego rivera

Artist Profile: Diego Rivera

His name is quite a mouthful, but he was known shortly as Diego Rivera, born on December 8, 1886, to a wealthy family in Guanajuato, Mexico. He had a twin brother named Carlos who did not live beyond two years. At the age of three years old, Diego was already drawing. His artistic talents showed themselves very early in his life.

He began painting on the walls in their house, and his parents put up chalkboards and canvas on the walls. They nurtured his talents by not punishing him but providing him a means to grow himself. He was said to be of a Judaism descent that was forced to convert into Catholic, but he said in 1935 that his Jewishness was the dominant element of his life.

Diego_Rivera,_c.1916,_Maternidad,_Angelina_y_el_niño_Diego,_oil_on_canvas,_134.5_x_88.5_cm,_Museo_de_Arte_Carrillo_GilWhen he grew up, he got married in 1911 to his wife, Angelina Beloff. She gave birth to a son Diego. Maria Stebelska gave birth to a daughter, Marika in 1918 when Diego was still married. In 1922, he married Guadalupe Marin and had two daughters, Ruth and Guadalupe. He met Frida Kahlo when he was still with his second wife.

They later got married in 1929; she was only a 22-year-old student while he was 42. They both stepped out on their marriage which led to a divorce in 1939. December of 1940, he remarried Frida in San Francisco. He married his agent, Emma Hurtado a year after the death of Frida.

Diego studied at the Academy of San Carlos since he was ten. He got sponsorship to study abroad by Teodoro Mendez, the then governor of Veracruz. Diego arrived in Europe, 1907 and went to study with Eduardo Chicharro in Madrid. He then went to Paris where he set up shop and worked with the artists of Montparnasse, mostly La Ruche where Amedeo Modigliani, his friend made a portrait of him in 1914. Marie Vorobieff’s painting honored him and his close friends, a very exclusive group in 1962, the homage to friends from Montparnasse.

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Paris was just starting to see cubism sprout in paintings with painters like Picasso, Braque, and Gris. Rivera studied art at his new school in 1913-1917. He drew inspiration from Paul Cezanne’s work and began focusing on post-impressionism which was pure art forms with bright colors. The bold step started getting him noticed. He was able to show several of them in various exhibitions.

Rivera died in 1957 November 24, still an atheist. He said that he found religion to be a form of collective neurosis. His atheist nature came into question when his Mural, Dreams of a Sunday in the Alameda had Ignacio Ramirez holding a sign that stated God does not exist. The sign became an issue, but Rivera stood his ground and refused to remove the sign. Diego’s painting was kept out of any exhibitions or public showings until he finally removed the sign which was nine years later.

Diego Rivera Career in Mexico

During the Mexican Revolution, when the government began calling back artists to work on Murals depicting Mexican culture, Diego was among the chosen artists. In 1920, he traveled from Paris to Mexico through Italy where he made a quick stop to learn their art. He arrived in Mexico in 1921 and became part of the mural movement together with the two other members of Los tres grande and other artists.

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In 1922, he experimented with encaustic, his first mural of significance in the Bolivar Auditorium in the National Preparatory School, Mexico. He was guarding himself with a pistol during the work from the right wing students. In the same year, he took part in starting the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors. He also joined the Communist party in 1922.

He did his murals using the fresco technique more and more, and he centered his works on the Mexican society and the revolution that had taken place. He grew his unique style complete with bold colors and Aztec influence. Murals in the secretariat of public education had the Aztec influence evident on them.

His art was on the walls of universities, schools and even public buildings. In 1923 and 1927, he was working on Tierra Fecundada, meaning fertile land in Chapingo Universty. The mural shows the struggles and pains of the lower class and the working class. The mural also had his then wife Guadalupe as a fertile, naked goddess together with their daughter Guadalupe as a cherub. An earthquake damaged the painting, but after renovation, it was better.

AMORC Membership

AMORC (Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis) was a cult whose founder was Harvey Spencer Lewis. Diego joined the cult in 1926 and was among its founders. AMORC Mexico City Lodge, known as Quetzalcoatl began and he painted an image of the lodge for the local temple.

His support of Trotsky had seen him tossed out of the communist party. He tried to rejoin the party in 1954 where he had to explain his involvement with AMORC. The party turned him away, and he became a full member of the cult.

After Mexico

Diego worked in many regions of the world. He, in fact, traveled to Moscow in 1927 where he took part in the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution. Rivera met Alfred Barr Jr in Russia, and soon became his mentor and friend. He was also the director of the Museum of Modern Art.

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Diego received orders from the Russian government to paint a mural for the Red Army. It was because he had gotten entangled in anti-Soviet politics. He returned to Mexico in 1929. The same year, the first English language book in Mexico was about Diego was published in New York. It was titled the frescoes of Diego Rivera.

He accepted a job by the American ambassador to Mexico to paint murals in the Palace of Cortes in Cuernavaca. Shortly after, in 1930, he accepted an invitation from an architect Timothy L to paint in San Francisco. He arrived in the US with his then wife Kahlo, and he painted a mural for the City Club for $2500. He made a fresco for the California school of fine art that later became the Diego Rivera gallery.

In 1931 November, Diego and his wife were at the museum of modern art where Diego’s works were on display. In 1932-1933, he was able to complete his very famous series of 27 fresco panels that were called Detroit Industry.

He began working on Man at the crossroads in 1933 for the Rockefeller Center in New York. The painting brought controversy and saw to Diego’s return to Mexico the same year. He repainted the man at the crossroads. In 1940 June, Pflueger invited Diego back, and he came back to the US for the last time. He got the task of painting a ten-panel mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

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.

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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.

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.