WALL pamtmg on a grand scale received its first modern impetus in the
murals of two powerful and energetic Mexicans, RIvera and Orozco. From
the turmoil of their own people, from Irving subject matter, the two Mexicans
produced a living art of the wall,
This primary impetus, destined to play
havoc with the citadels of American culture, not only placed in bold rehef the
possibilities of a mural revival, but opened again the question of the relation
of art to society and to the promulgation of ideas.
The achievements of the
Mexicans, in terms of meaning and function, in organizing ability and drafts
manship, m human significance and social criticism, mark the beginning of
an art movement that has spread throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Rivera is an odd compound of esthete and radical: he is the tribal deity
of the proletariat, and yet he has frequently been employed by capitalists.
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his youth, he left his homeland and went to Paris where he was, for years, a
clever eclectic, a combiner of styles. Well trained in the old and modernist
schools; a jovial soul at ease in the art talk of the boulevards; ingenious,
able, and filled with European experiences,
he returned to Mexico with a
technical and intellectual equipment that lifted hun head and shoulders above
his confreres. He developed rapidly in the medium of fresco; and tremendous
murals literally rolled off hIS brushes.
Facile and brilhant, he won and held
public attention. He was an artist, a most distinguished artist; and his country
men praised him to the skies, or condemned him for his revolutionary ideas.
But they did not ignore him.
Rivera visited the United States in 1932, incurred the hostility of the San
Francisco artists, and in Detroit created a national disturbance.
to decorate the walls of the Institute of Arts, the Mexican painted a panorama
of frescoes which are certainly not flattermg to the capitalist regime or to
preconceived notions of beauty. But as certainly they are not communist
propaganda, as his enemies vociferously claimed.
What offended people was
not the rather cryptic social message, but the absence of prettmess and grace
ful allusions to the gods and heroes of conventional painting.
frescoes are not remarkable for their portrayal of American workmen
American faces baffie the Mexican-but for their phenomenal competence in
the management of large and difficult spaces, and for the ease with which the
artist assembled and depicted the complicated machinery of an industrial age.