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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.