Mexican Muralism

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Mexican muralism offers us one of the most politically charged and expressive art forms of the 20th century. David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco are two of the three so called triumvirate of Mexican Muralists, the third being Diego Rivera. Both of the artists have a unique style and a strong sense of morals and political ideals. Their styles are similar in the sense of the amount of expression and movement in their pieces They also share a common ideology that shows up often in their work. Siqueiros’ Portrait of the Bourgeoisie and New Democracy along with Orozco’s American Civilization and Catharsis show you a great cross section of Mexican Muralism, revealing the passions and beliefs of the time period. In order to understand the Mexican muralists, one must first understand the Mexican Revolution. Among the revolutions of the twentieth century, the Mexican Revolution is a unique historical phenomenon. “It wasn’t merely a revolt; it was an uprising of underground Mexican culture. It revealed a new and democratic Mexico; a Mexico that took an interest in culture and art.”(Paz 115) It was the first time that Mexicans took charge of Mexico. “They called on their indigenous roots as a means to recapture their country.”(Paz 115) The Minister of Public Education, José Vasconcelos, summoned artists to collaborate in the task of remaking Mexico. The Revolution can be likened to the idea of the Italian Renaissance; it was a complete rebirth of culture. “Traditional songs and dances were taught to school children, popular art was extolled, books and magazines were published, and walls were assigned to one painter or another.”(Paz 115) This was the birth of Mexican Muralism. Mexican Muralists also owe their roots to the European artistic revolution of the twentieth century, namely the Romantics. The Romantics were the first to show the world the arts and traditions of other cultures. “Without the modern artists of the West who made the totality of non Western styles and visions their own, the Mexican Muralists would not have been able to understand their indigenous Mexican tradition.”(Paz, 116) The muralists are also associated with Expressionism, another European movement. Siqueiros grew up in turbulent times. He lived and fought through both the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. In 1936 Siqueiros came to New York and opened his ‘Experimental Workshop’. The Workshop was an enterprise that focused on innovation in the methods and materials used in the process of art making. Siqueiros gathered a group of artists including Jackson Pollock, Sande McCoy, and George Cox among others. “The group didn’t execute any murals, but the experience of Siqueiros’ Experimental Workshop was fundamentally important to his development as a mural painter.”(Rochfort, 150) The artists experimented with accidental textures by dripping, throwing, and spattering paint against canvas. They also experimented with different types of materials such as sandpaper and wood. “The workshop was dedicated to modernizing the methods and materials of art production and to promoting the aims of the Communist Party of the United States.”(Arnason 401) With the creation of Portrait of the Bourgeoisie, Siqueiros combined the new techniques and idea of experimentation with the mural medium. This shows a break with the customs within which most traditional Mexican mural work had been confined. Siqueiros mixed radical social content with his inventive methods of working with the new materials and instruments of the industrial age. “This mix of content and experimental medium provided the artistic basis for Siqueiros’ ever growing international reputation.”(Rochfort 152) Portrait of the Bourgeoisie is located in the Mexican Electrician’s Syndicate’s headquarters. The mural is situated in a main stairwell of the building, so you literally get enveloped by the mural. Some of the techniques from the Experimental Workshop were used by Siqueiros in this...
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