The Muralist Movement in Mexico
Mural painting is one of the oldest and most important forms of artistic, political and social expression. Mexican muralists, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros revived this form of painting in Mexico and led the way for the Muralist Movement in Mexico. Their murals were based on the political and social conditions of the times. During the beginning of the 20th century, Mexico went through a political and social revolution and the government began to commission a number of huge frescos to celebrate its achievements. The muralist movement would not only have a great effect on their own country but the rest of the world as well. The first modern artists from a Hispanic country in the Western Hemisphere whose art attracted worldwide attention were these painters known as Mexican muralists. The best known of the Mexican muralists, Diego Rivera filled the walls of public buildings in Mexico and the United States with enormous murals praising social revolution. Murals were seen as an effective way to communicate national goals, especially to an illiterate population. David Alfaro Siqueiros, born in Chihuahua, was very much involved with politics. He fought in the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. He articulated ideas of the artist’s social and political responsibility. He also spent time in exile and was arrested a total of seven times because of political beliefs. Siqueiros often painted the glory of the revolution, the honor of the revolution and the promise of technology. He used the fresco process to paint his murals where paint is applied to freshly applied plaster on a wall. He also painted frescoes on concrete and began to use the innovative technique of airbrushing much like graffiti artists do today. He taught and trained many artists such as Jackson Pollock in workshops he held in New York and Los Angeles. He was also very active with the political revolutions of his country and would join Jose Orozco and Diego Rivera as the 20th Century's most influential muralists. He revolutionized mural content and style by portraying Mexico's rich history and contemporary economic problems in visually bold political terms. Influenced by Marxism in his treatment of the class struggle, Siqueiros believed public murals were a powerful and effective medium to make hi work accessible to a broad audience traditionally ignored by elitist art institutions. After becoming Secretary of the Communist Party in 1928 he was frequently jailed or expelled from Mexico and nearly gave up painting. It was during one of these expulsions that he went to Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles Siqueiros extensively used mechanical equipment, such as the airbrush and created Tropical America which is also significant in Siqueiros's development as an artist, for it was his first attack on American imperialism. Most importantly, it was the first large mural in the United States that created a public space by being painted on an ordinary exterior wall. “As the visual and symbolic focus of the piece, an Indian peon representing oppression by United State imperialism is crucified on a double cross capped by an American eagle. A Mayan pyramid in the background is overrun by vegetation, while an armed Peruvian peasant and a Mexican campesino sit on a wall in the upper right corner, ready to defend themselves”.(Stein) So emotionally charged was this allegorical imagery that within six months, a section of the mural visible from Olvera Street was painted out. Within a year, the work was completely covered. Portraying the struggle against imperialism was particularly offensive to Christine Sterling, the leading promoter of Olvera Street, presumably because it did not conform to her image of a docile and tranquil Mexican village. Virtually forgotten for years, the mural was rediscovered in the late 1960s when the whitewash began to peel off. However, it was severely damager shortly...
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