Posts

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.

Greek Mythology Morpheus Fresco Mural Charon

The History of Murals

What is a mural?

A mural is a piece of art that is painted on walls. It can be on the inside of buildings or outside for public display. They are large and take artistic expertise to paint them. The artwork incorporates the architecture of the building to bring out the painting and the building as one.

There is an ongoing debate on whether the drawings that are on canvases then put up on the walls qualify as murals. It is an artistic style that has however been in use since the 19th century. Murals are on only on side walls; they can be on ceilings and floors.#

Brief history of murals

Murals date back to 30,000 BC from the earliest paintings in the Chauvet cave France. The largest numbers of paintings are from Egyptian tombs in 3150BC, Pompeii in 100BC-AD79 and Minoan places 1700-1600BC. The whole period within which ancient paintings are is known as the Upper Paleolithic times.

Dry plaster is how paintings were put together in the Middle Ages, the 14th century. Kerala mural painting is an example of fresco secco. When the technique of painting murals on wet plaster took root in Italy, circa 1300, wall painting quality grew. It is the age where mural painting began to take shape and become modern.

The best-known style of mural painting is Fresco, but there are many methods and techniques as shown by the Mexican muralism art movement that took significant root in modern times. The pioneers of this movement include Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Jose Orozco.

Fresco technique of mural painting utilizes water soluble paints and lime wash. Applying the mixture on large surface results in a wall painting. Once the mixture dries, the colors take shape. For millennia, another method known as the Marouflage technique has been in use.

Today, people appreciate murals even more, and the methods are different. They now incorporate oil painting which is very popular. There are abstract paintings and trickster murals that are known as Trompe-l’oeil. The significant change came about through the works of Graham Rust and Rainer Maria in the 1980’s. In Europe, oil painting has taken center stage and is in private and public buildings.

Mural painting is revolutionary and proves that walls and ceilings do not have to be plain. Now, wall paintings can be shown by transferring the wall art into a poster paper canvas and then paste on a wall. The art or photographic image gives the illusion of a realistic scene on the wall.

History of mural painting techniques

Fresco paintings are the earliest method used. It came from Italy and came from the word fresh. There are two categories of the art. Fresco is whereby you apply paint on plaster on the walls and ceilings whereas the Buon fresco technique, you paint in pigment and mix it with water on thin wet, lime layer of mortar or plaster. The wet plaster and the dye mix, and when it is dry, the reaction with air glues in place the particles of the pigment.

Fresco Decoration Pictorial Mexico Mural Cancun

Once the process is complete, the painting can last centuries with the pictures looking fresh, and the color is brilliant. Fresco painting is on dry plaster, and therefore the pigment needs a medium like glue, oil, or egg that will fix the pigment to the wall.

Mezzo fresco is another technique that paints on almost dry plaster and came to be in the 16th century by Ignazio Pozzo. The pigment will drive into the plaster lightly and give impeccable murals. The mezzo fresco style of painting considerably took over the Buon fresco method.

Materials used in mural painting

Over the centuries, different materials have been in use for wall painting and the evolution of the techniques has also seen to the change in the materials. The earliest known is the tempera painting which then gave way to oil painting in the 16th century.

Paintings once complete in the old days did not have any protection from sun rays. As the materials and times change, the application of varnish and protective acrylic has taken shape to guard the murals against UV sun rays.

The use of POP clay is what young muralists are using. They mix it with glue to make them even more durable. When the clay dries, you then paint with the colors you want and even apply varnish for protection.

Technology has taken its place in the mural painting. Digital techniques are now taking shape in a mural painting like wall scape. Mural painting has been in constant evolution over the years, and it continues to evolve to incorporate the use of modern materials and pictures.

Advantages of murals

Murals are imperative in the world of art and the contemporary world because they bring art to the public and make people more aware of art. Murals are expensive and take a significant amount of time that is why for a painting to be put up, there has to be a sponsor who is funding the project.

Murals are also a communication tool. You can use a wall painting to communicate the message that you wish the public to know. The size of the painting will attract the attention of the public which makes it an effective way of communicating a message.

Murals affect the attitudes of the people passing by them. Everyone gets their understanding of the painting, and they therefore add aesthetic value to the areas that they are put up. They can be a tourist attraction that brings improvement to the areas.

Murals can also be used as landscapes, especially because they are vast and hard to miss paintings. Every painting is unique, and it’s hard to mistake one for the other. Murals are a way of expression for the muralists. It is their way of speaking to people and the world. They command the attention of the people and leave their mark in the area for centuries to come

Murals are continually coming up, and most people are now aware of the existence of paintings, their artistic value and their significance in the community. They take time and patience to put up and with modern technology taking over, the evolution of muralism is even faster than before.

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.