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Artists David Alfaro Siqueiros
David Alfaro Siqueiros Photo

David Alfaro Siqueiros

Mexican Painter and Muralist

Movement: Social Realism

Born: December 29, 1896 - Chihuahua, Mexico

Died: January 6, 1974 - Mexico City, Mexico

David Alfaro Siqueiros Timeline

Quotes

"Let us reject theories anchored in the relativity of 'national art'. We must become universal! Our own racial and regional physiognomy will always show through our work."
David Alfaro Siqueiros
"Understanding the wonderful human resources in 'black art', or 'primitive art' in general, has given the visual arts a clarity and a depth lost four centuries ago along the dark path of error."
David Alfaro Siqueiros
"...Our primary aesthetic aim is to propagate works of art which will help destroy all traces of bourgeois individualism. We reject so-called Salon painting and all the ultra-intellectual salon art of the aristocracy and exalt the manifestation of monumental art because they are useful."
David Alfaro Siqueiros
"The creators of beauty must turn their work into clear ideological propaganda for the people, and make art, which at present is mere individualist masturbation, something of beauty, education, and purpose for the everyone."
David Alfaro Siqueiros
"Our fundamental purpose was to create, invent our art and, if possible, something so ours that it wouldn't look like anything else."
David Alfaro Siqueiros
"No one can deny that the satirical cartoon, or the visual arts themselves, are powerful weapons of social change".
David Alfaro Siqueiros
"Painters and sculptors should follow in the steps of primitive Italian artisans, who put beauty at the service of the Christian propaganda of their time."
David Alfaro Siqueiros
"Tools, like materials, are not inert elements in hands of a creator of the arts, but forces that determine the manner and style of art. The first thing that an artist must understand is that he will not be able to create anything if he is not able to listen to the generic voice of his tools and materials."
David Alfaro Siqueiros

"Our primary aesthetic aim is to propagate works of art which will help destroy all traces of bourgeois individualism."

David Alfaro Siqueiros Signature

Synopsis

Siqueiros was the youngest of "los tres grandes" (three greats) of Mexican muralism, along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. He was also the most radical of the three in his technique, composition and political ideology. Informed by revolutionary Marxist ideology, his career was dedicated to fostering change through public art. Over the course of five decades, he integrated avant-garde styles and techniques with traditional iconography and local histories. He, like Rivera, firmly believed that technology was a means to a better world and he sought to combine traditions of painting with modern political activism.

Key Ideas

Investing his work with his Marxist ideology, even when it cost him commissions and jeopardized his work, Siqueiros epitomizes the politically engaged artist. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he refused any commission that conflicted with his ideology. His commitment to education and his belief that public art could inform and inspire the masses to demand revolution has served as a model of activism for subsequent artists with political or social agendas.
To create his activist and revolutionary public art, Siqueiros brought together elements of avant-garde painting with traditional art historical symbolism and folk art. With this combination, he believed that he generated dynamic forms with popular appeal, capable of delivering educational content to a disenfranchised public.
In his experimentation with unconventional materials and industrial techniques, Siqueiros expanded the range of avant-garde painting. His Siqueiros Experimental Workshop, led in New York, exposed students (including Jackson Pollock) to contemporary notions of automatism and accident, and encouraged them to adopt new approaches to how paint could be applied. His leadership was crucial in breaking away from traditional techniques of fine art to more gestural and individualistic means of painting.

Most Important Art

David Alfaro Siqueiros Famous Art

The Elements (1922-24)

On the ceiling over the staircase in the small courtyard of the National Preparatory School, Siqueiros depicted a monumental winged female surrounded by representations of the four elements. Reflecting Siqueiros's study in Europe, the work combines elements of Byzantine icons in the sandy-colored background, with a sculpturesque figure inspired by Renaissance painter Masaccio. Around this figure are symbolic representations of fire (vivid red abstract flames), wind (horizontal spirals that balance the vertical of fire), water (the seashells) and earth ("two giant bones of a tropical fruit"). In relying on these abstract notations of the elements, Siqueiros creates a timeless depiction of Mother Nature and her realm.

With this, his first public commission, Siqueiros sought to differentiate himself from the muralists that had previously painted in the school, including Diego Rivera. The intense colors maximize the contrast with the simple background. The female figure is weighty and distinct in her plasticity, unlike the flat, picturesque forms seen in the rest of the building (such as Rivera's Creation). Although the work has much in common with the work of other early muralists in its use of allegory and universal symbolism, the formal treatment of the figure is markedly his own, and reflects his understanding of traditional European painting.
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David Alfaro Siqueiros Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

David Alfaro Siqueiros Biography

Born in the small town of Santa Rosalia, Mexico, José de Jesús Alfaro Siqueiros was raised from the age of four by his paternal grandparents after his mother died. His grandfather, Antonio 'Siete Filos,' was a conservative man of harsh temperament and Siqueiros later remembered him as the very incarnation of Mexican machismo, taking it upon himself to toughen up the young Jose and his little brother by unexpectedly throwing rocks at them or waking them up in the middle of the night by tickling them. Such "games" were part of his "School of Men" and continued until Siqueiros was sent to a religious boarding school at age 11.

He studied art at the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City where he participated in the student strike of 1911, protesting against the antiquated teaching methods of the school and demanding the director's resignation. It was the first overtly political act in a life that would be heavily influenced by personal ideology. The strike eventually led to the creation of The Open Air Painting School of Santa Anita, where Siqueiros was one of the first students to enroll.

In 1914, Siqueiros enrolled with the rebel Constitutional army, fighting against the Victoriano Huerta government. During his extensive travels around Mexico with the military, he discovered pre-Hispanic art and witnessed the living conditions of Mexican labourers, two experiences that would deeply inform his art.

Early Training

David Alfaro Siqueiros Photo

Arriving in Europe in 1919 on a government grant, Siqueiros was profoundly impressed by Cubism, Futurism, and Italian Renaissance frescoes. He envisioned an art that would invest the traditions of painting with modern significance and politics. Yet, in his Barcelona Manifesto, he argued for a "new generation" of artists who could break free from the "decadent influences" of European art to embrace their own native traditions. While in Paris, he met Diego Rivera, another Mexican artist who shared his vision for the future of Mexican art, and the pair quickly became excellent friends. Siqueiros returned to Mexico in 1922, where he began working on commissions from a new, revolutionary government. His mission was to create public art that could educate the workers, inspired by his Marxist beliefs. During these years, he also worked together with Rivera to found the Union of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors, and editing the anti-government publication, El Machete.

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David Alfaro Siqueiros Biography Continues

In 1930 he went to the USA, having been forced out of the Communist party and his own country. His stay would last only a few years, as his political interests were at odds with his American patrons. Working in Los Angeles, his two major projects were both whitewashed over shortly after their completion. His difficult ways and moral absolutism also effectively ended his friendship with Rivera, whom he accused of selling out to the bourgeoisie.

In 1936, Siqueiros traveled to New York, where he led the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop, an influential laboratory for modern techniques in art. Jackson Pollock, who had already shown interest in Siqueiros' work, attended the program. Heavily influenced by Surrealism, free association, automatism, and psychoanalysis, the course included an exercise in which a canvas was placed on the ground and paint was thrown on it directly from the cans of paint, which had had a hole poked into them. This was, for Siqueiros, a first step of artistic creation, in which the artist had to engage with the work using his entire body, as if in a ritualistic dance. He would call this the "controlled accident" in painting. The impact of this exercise on Pollock's drip paintings is evident.

Two years later, Siqueiros went to Spain to fight with the Republican army against Francisco Franco's fascist regime. When he returned to Mexico in 1940, he was soon forced into exile for his leadership role in a failed assassination attempt against Leon Trotsky, the antithesis of his Marxist-Stalinist ideology.

Mature Period

The 40s and 50s were intense decades of artistic productivity for Siqueiros, as he painted murals in Chile, Cuba, and Mexico. He also taught and gave conferences, spreading his Marxist ideals throughout Latin America. Along with José Clemente Orozco, Rufino Tamayo, and Diego Rivera, he showed work at the XXV Venice Biennale (the first time Mexico had ever participated) and received the second prize.

Late Period

David Alfaro Siqueiros Portrait

In 1960 Siqueiros, ever the polemicist, was imprisoned for the last time for "social dissolution" - a crime that no longer exists. He was sentenced to eight years for his criticisms of Mexico's president and his role in labor agitation, but he was released after four years. From 1965-71, interposed with other projects, he worked on his most ambitious piece: The March of Humanity on Earth and Toward and Cosmos, an immense work that would occupy over 4000 square meters. Although Siqueiros's politics would continue to threaten his artistic production and his freedom, he continued to pursue public mural art as a means of propaganda and activism through the early 1970s. When he won the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967, he donated the money to the then war-ridden Vietnam. Diagnosed with cancer in 1973, Siqueiros died the following year. His extensive autobiography Me Llamaban el Coronelazo (They Called me the Great Colonel), was published posthumously in 1977.


Legacy

The notion of the "controlled accident," as adopted by Siqueiros, influenced Jackson Pollock, who attended his Experimental Workshop in New York. The combination of Surrealist and psychoanalysis that defined this practice was also highly important to Pollock's painting. Siqueiros was also a pioneer in championing the use of industrially-produced materials and techniques for his work; his personal axiom was that revolutionary art demands revolutionary techniques and materials. The use of industrial material, including airbrushes and commercial lacquers, would later be emblematic of Pop art, although those later artists used these materials to produce diametrically opposite content. Where Pop artists embraced these materials to replicate the look of mass-produced objects, Siqueiros considered the paintbrush to be "an implement of hair and wood in an age of steel" and encouraged artists to adopt modern tools as more representative of the modern experience. His work also influenced Street art, specifically socially concerned artists of the 1960s, which were inspired by his short-lived, highly critical and politicized Los Angeles mural, Tropical America (1932). Although his inclusion of anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist imagery led to the destruction of this piece, his unrelenting dedication to his political ideology was memorable. Lastly, the influence of the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros is evident in the work of Israeli-French painter Yaacov Agam.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

David Alfaro Siqueiros
Interactive chart with David Alfaro Siqueiros's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Georges BraqueGeorges Braque
Umberto BoccioniUmberto Boccioni
Gerardo MurilloGerardo Murillo

Friends

Diego RiveraDiego Rivera
Jose Clemente OrozcoJose Clemente Orozco

Movements

CubismCubism
Italian FuturismItalian Futurism
RenaissanceRenaissance
Pre-Columbian ArtPre-Columbian Art
David Alfaro Siqueiros
David Alfaro Siqueiros
Years Worked: 1922 - 1971

Artists

Jackson PollockJackson Pollock

Friends

Diego RiveraDiego Rivera

Movements

Social RealismSocial Realism

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised by Sarah Archino

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised by Sarah Archino
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Useful Resources on David Alfaro Siqueiros

Videos

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The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Siqueiros: His Life and Works

By Philip Stein

Siqueiros

By Mario de Micheli

Siqueiros: Biography of a Revolutionary Artist Recomended resource

By D. Anthony White

More Interesting Books about David Alfaro Siqueiros
The Return of 'American Tropical'

LA Times
October 9, 2012,

How a young revolutionary fooled the city elders

The Economist
September 23, 2010

El Primer Articulo Sobre Siqueiros Lo Escribo Raziel Cabildo (in Spanish)

Procecso
7 Enero, 1984

Review: 'Paint the Revolution' Offers Mexican Muralist Muscle and Delicate Beauty Recomended resource

By Holland Cotter
New York Times
October 27 2016

More Interesting Articles about David Alfaro Siqueiros
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