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.

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.

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.”

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.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Kimye and Murals

Earlier this year in the quiet city of Chippendale, Australia, a mural appeared that made headlines around the world. The piece, created by Australian street artist Scott Marsh, was a recreation of a meme that circulated around the internet the previous year. The meme, and the subsequent mural, depicted Kanye West kissing his wife Kim Kardashian, except her face was replaced with another Kanye face. The meme had been shown around the world and, consequently, the mural also gained its fair amount of attention, including from Kanye West’s staff.

Marsh claims that he received a call from Kanye’s management shortly after the mural went viral, asking to have the piece taken down. In response, Marsh announced he had created a print of the mural and that it was for sale, for $100,000 and a lifetime supply of Kanye-designed Yeezy Boost sneakers. When that print was purchased, he would paint over the original mural.

While no one from Kanye’s team has taken responsibility, Marsh received the money a few days later and, a few days after that, he painted over the mural. Marsh, for his part, was surprised that things happened the way they did, starting with the mural gaining so much attention. ‘’I’m surprised there has been so much worldwide attention,” Marsh told the Illawarra Mercury. “I did it as a kind of a funny jab at the occult celebrity and celebrity culture and the power of media, in particular social media.’’ Marsh could not have picked a more appropriate subject for his work. Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian have become some of the biggest celebrities in the world precisely because of their approach to social media and their lifestyle (and, in the case of Kanye, because of his music).

When we talk about celebrity in the modern age, we are talking about their permeance, their ability to move through the separations and layers of our society with relative ease. Today, a social media post can be copied, altered, copied again, and sent around the world. It can show up on news sites and, in rare instances, on the side of a wall in Chippendale, Australia. And people can turn celebrity into almost anything. Ronald Reagan used his celebrity to help him win the presidency and another presidential hopeful is using the same tactics again today.

A celebrity’s ability to show up anywhere is a double-edged sword as well, one that the Kardashians have been trying to master for years. There strikes a balance between people’s forgetfulness and the internet’s ability to keep anything and everything easily searchable and accessible. Kanye may have allegedly forked over six figures to have a mural removed, but pictures of the mural are easily found through a simple Google search.

Street art and murals can challenge and provoke in multiple ways, including towards our obsessions with celebrity. For Marsh, tapping into our love of the rich and famous has earned him money and fame as well. But, as he says, these things can be fleeting.

‘’The attention has definitely lifted my profile. It’s just a matter now that I’ve got to work really hard and try and turn that into something tangible rather than 15 minutes of fame.’’

Calvin Nicholls’ Paper Sculptures

When most artists want to create something fine and delicate, they reach for single-hair paintbrushes or extremely fine pencils. When Calvin Nicholls wants to create a realistic style of sculpture, he grabs a sheet of paper. The former designer combined his love of nature and his desire to create paper sculptures into an ongoing project. Since 1989, his series of nature-based paper sculptures have been seen in galleries around his home province of Ontario, throughout Canada, and around the world.

Paper sculpture is a popular and frequent form of art. You can find it almost anywhere, from your grandma’s scrapbooks to your local art gallery, but the level of detail and craftsmanship in Nicholl’s pieces are rare. His sculptures are almost exclusively 3D models of animals, carefully mounted onto mat-board frames. Each sculpture brims with lifelike realism and, because of the 3D effect, look ready to leap off of their frames. The level of detail can be staggering, especially considering the material, and Nicholls recreates dog whiskers and hummingbird feathers in stunning specificity.

Nicholls’ process is actually shared on his website as well, where he walks through the simple steps of creating his realistic and beautiful paper sculptures. He starts out by drawing the picture using a pencil, a sort of conceptualization from which he can work throughout the process. From there, he traces from the pencil sketch and transfers the actual paper used in the sculpture. Cuts are made with scalpels and sharp knives to get the perfect angle and cleanest cut. He then uses a toothpick to attach the tiniest amount of glue to the paper pieces and attaches them, starting from the bottom and working his way up. While much of his pieces are white like the paper, Nicholls occasionally uses coloured paper for an accent effect.

The beauty of Nicholls’ work is clearly in the craftsmanship and time dedicated to each piece, but also how the work straddles navigates ideas of realism. Photorealistic detail usually extends past the point of colour, meaning works that try to look as “realistic” as possible often use colour to achieve this. For Nicholls, his highly-detailed pieces are often monochromatic, void of colour, creating a deeper appreciation for the piece in and of itself instead of its adherence to accurate depiction.

Capturing the beauty and majesty of Canada’s natural environments has been a dominant mode of artistic expression in Canada since even before the Europeans arrived. Artists like the Group of Seven made a name for themselves based on natural landscapes and paintings, as did Emily Carr. To see this subject extended to another medium, that of paper sculpture, is a fascinating development. Hopefully, Calvin Nicholls work will continue to be seen and created for Canadians and people around the world.

Loving Vincent: The World’s First Fully-Painted Feature Film

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the world’s most recognizable painters. Hailing from The Netherlands, Van Gogh became one of the most influential and important painters in history, and a major contributor to the Post-Impressionist era of painting. Moving away from his surrounding conventions, Van Gogh crafted dreamy, flowing art pieces that almost seemed to move on their own. It seems only natural, then, that someone would attempt to move Van Gogh’s work from the canvas to film. But for one team of talented filmmakers, they decided film was the right medium, but canvas was still essential to capturing the feel of Van Gogh’s paintings.

Loving Vincent is a truly unique film experiencing that will be coming out later this year. It tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh through his work or, rather, painted frames that animate Van Gogh’s work an life. Produced by BreakThru Films (perhaps most famous for the special effects in La Vie En Rose) and Trademark Films, the film is written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Cast members include Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd, St. Vincent), Saoirse Ronan (Hannah, Brooklyn), and Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones), who will play various characters featured in Van Gogh’s paintings. Perhaps fittingly, the project was partially funded through an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, which helped cover the large costs involved with making the film.

The film bears a striking resemblance to rotoscoping, an animation technique used in films like Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, but it couldn’t be more different. Unlike rotoscoping, which animates over film cells of real-life actors, the crew behind Loving Vincent created the film using only canvas and paint. Each of the film’s 62,450 frames is a full oil painting, painted in the style and technique of Vincent Van Gogh, and is done by a team of 85 individual painters. The result is not only the world’s first fully painted feature film, but a captivating exploration into the art of Van Gogh’s paintings. So, just like traditional animation, the cast only lends their voices.

The film is set to be screened in an elaborate art exhibit that will tour around major art galleries. The exhibit will include, according to the film’s website, “original paintings and artwork from the film, a real-life painting animator, and large scale bespoke exhibits that show how this unique artistic endeavour was accomplished.”

Loving Vincent, besides being appropriately named, is yet another example of how art can push and change entire mediums. When we generally think about painting and film, we think of documentaries, or perhaps paint on glass animation, but Loving Vincent pushes the medium of film, well, completely past its actual physical components. Hopefully the film will feature a widespread release on top of its art exhibition so more people can experience this entirely new way of making film, and develop a deeper appreciation for one of history’s most talented artists.