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Mexican Muralism Collage

Mexican Muralism

Started: 1920

Ended: 1950

Mexican Muralism Timeline

Quotes

"I had tried to achieve a harmony in my painting with the architecture of the building."
Diego Rivera
"Do you wish to see with your own eyes the hidden springs of the social revolution? Look at the frescoes of Rivera. Do you wish to know what revolutionary art is like? Look at the frescoes of Rivera."
Leon Trotsky
"Art is a weapon that penetrates the eyes, the ears, the deepest and subtlest human feelings."
David Alfaro Siqueiros
"I set to work consciously to over-power the ornamentation of the room."
Diego Rivera
"As an artist I have always tried to be faithful to my vision of life, and I have frequently been in conflict with those who wanted me to paint not what I saw but what they wished me to see."
Diego Rivera
"Errors and exaggerations do not matter. What matters is boldness in thinking with a strong-pitched voice, in speaking out about things as one feels them in the moment of speaking; in having the temerity to proclaim what one believes to be true without fear of the consequences."
José Clemente Orozco
"In every painting, as in any other work of art, there is always an IDEA, never a STORY."
José Clemente Orozco
"I mentioned a desire which I had to paint a series of murals about the industries of the United States, a series that would constitute a new kind of plastic poem, depicting in color and form the story of each industry and its division of labor."
Diego Rivera
"Marx made theory... Lenin applied it with his sense of large-scale social organization... And Henry Ford made the work of the socialist state possible."
Diego Rivera
"As I rode back to Detroit, a vision of Henry Ford's industrial empire kept passing before my eyes. In my ears, I heard the wonderful symphony, which came from his factories where metals were shaped into tools for men's service. It was a new music, waiting for the composer with genius enough to give it communicable form."
Diego Rivera

KEY ARTISTS

Gerardo MurilloGerardo Murillo
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Diego RiveraDiego Rivera
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Jose Clemente OrozcoJose Clemente Orozco
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David Alfaro SiqueirosDavid Alfaro Siqueiros
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"The artist must paint as he would speak. I don't want people to speculate what I mean, I want them to understand."

David Alfaro Siqueiros Signature

Synopsis

Originally spawned by the need to promote pride and nationalism in a country rebuilding after revolution, the Mexican Muralist movement brought mural painting back from its staid retirement in the history of ancient peoples as a respected artistic form with a strong social potential. With it, a rich visual language emerged in public spaces as a means to make art accessible to all. It provided an opportunity to educate and inform the common man with its messages of cultural identity, politics, oppression, resistance, progress and other important issues of the time. It was a fiercely independent movement; many of its early artists rejecting external influences and using this new, vast and freeing canvas to achieve personal expression. It proved that art could be a valid communication tool outside the confines of the gallery and museum.

Key Ideas

Murals were originally used as a way to spread visual messages to an illiterate population, which opened up new possibilities in the inclusion and cohesiveness of community within a people. Oftentimes these messages promoted pride in cultural identity, rich historical traditions, or political propaganda. The potential in murals bypassed more traditional forms of advertising and pamphlet printing.
Although the early Mexican murals were inclined toward the favoring of socialism - as did its most important artists including Diego Rivera - they would evolve over time to also favorably portray the industrial revolution, the progress of technology, and capitalism. The mural's role as key gauge of current events cannot be denied.
Mexican Muralism was a heavy predecessor of today's public art. It liberated art from the art market and its elitism, making it free and available to all people. The opportunities this presented for artists was vast and unfettered. They could now find exposure on a grander stage.
Many mural artists commissioned by government or other authoritative bodies would come to reject the direction being handed down to them, instead creating work that incorporated some of their own ideas and values. Sometimes this proved highly controversial and sometimes they were allowed to get away with it. This impetus can be seen as an early example of what would later influence the graffiti and street art scenes. It is also interesting to note that in today's social media (Facebook) sphere, the sharing of our opinions - both visual and textual - are called "posting" on our "walls."

Most Important Art

Mexican Muralism Famous Art

The Creation (1922)

Artist: Diego Rivera
The Creation was Diego Rivera's first government-commissioned mural painting, chosen for Mexico's oldest high school. Dr. Atl had originally been commissioned to paint the mural before the Revolution took place in 1910, and Rivera's work was both a continuation and advancement of the earlier artist's revolutionary ideas.

The unusual shape of the wall Rivera was commissioned to fill in part determined the artist's composition. The large niche in the middle contains a pipe organ, and Rivera painted the consequent arch with a number of figures to the left and right, with a symbolic image of God reigning over the narrow curve of the arch. The figures of Adam and Eve sitting at the bottom on each side are depicted as naked Mexicans, gazing up at allegorical depictions of the arts and virtues as well as Catholic saints. The admired figures have both the pale skin of Western figures and the darker skin of indigenous Mexican peoples. The message is one of a new cosmopolitan and racially harmonious Mexico rising into the post-revolution age through an assimilation of modern and indigenous ideals.

This mural represents a key moment in the Mexican Muralist movement. Rivera takes the tropes of Italian Renaissance fresco painting he discovered on his travels in Europe, and combines them with a distinctly Mexican aesthetic, joining old and new styles in a unique and highly influential way. Rivera later felt however that he had borrowed too much from the Italianate style and wanted to create an even more "Mexican" aesthetic in the future.
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Mexican Muralism Artworks in Focus:

Beginnings

Mexico's Traditional Murals

Mexico has a long tradition of mural painting. This legacy dates back to the pre-Hispanic period with an ancient civilization called the Olmecs, which produced some of the earliest known painted art in South America. This tradition continued under Hispanic rule as murals were used to introduce the Mexican people to the stories and ideas of Catholicism. From this point on, mural painting became one of the most dominant forms of art in Mexican culture, a countrywide tool for means of expression. This precedence provided a readymade platform for the politically motivated and fostered the birth of the Mexican Muralism movement.

The Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 with a political revolt against the tyrannical president Porfirio Diaz. This spurred a decade long civil war, led by a number of charismatic individuals whose personal political agendas frequently determined the course of the revolution. These leaders consorted with a group of radical intellectuals, including the artists José Guadalupe Posada and Gerardo Murillo, the latter was more widely known as Dr. Atl. In 1906, Dr. Atl had written a manifesto expressing a desire for a new art movement in Mexico that which would speak to the interests and realities of the Mexican people. This document was an important precursor to the Mexican Muralist movement, and was seen and admired by his artistic acquaintances, including artist Diego Rivera. Dr. Atl is generally credited with conceiving of the first modern mural for the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, Mexico's oldest secondary school construction had begun in 1910 but it, along with the idea of the mural, was postponed due to the revolution and was never completed in that location.

When the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920, Diaz had been overthrown and a new government came into rule, which would eventually establish itself as the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). The new government's aim was to establish a new era for Mexico and its newly empowered people, and one of the ways it planned to do this was through art.

A Government-backed program

In 1920, the new government decided to follow in Dr. Atl's footsteps, and commissioned a large number of public works of art which would promote and support the values fundamental to the revolution and to help establish a new identity for Mexico. This new identity was based on Mexico's rich historical traditions as well as a sense of moving forward into the modern age.

Importantly, most Mexicans at the time were illiterate, and promoting the new government's message could not be accomplished through traditional media such as pamphlets and newspapers. Instead, the government communicated their cause through large-scale murals in public places which could be seen by many. The murals' aesthetic appeal would also help Mexicans adapt to the new regime by affecting an overall sense of pride and cultural beauty within the communities as a whole. The murals were usually painted with themes glorifying the Mexican Revolution, recalling Mexico's early pre-Hispanic heritage and promoting the ideals of the new government. In order to create these murals, the government employed some of the best Mexican artists of the day. Some of these artists, including Diego Rivera, had spent time in Europe before the revolution, and were well acquainted with the European realism movement overseas in which artists used painting to demonstrate the dire conditions of the downtrodden working classes. This was a key influence on the revelatory style of the Mexican Muralist movement.

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Mexican Muralism Overview Continues

Los Tres Grandes

David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, and Diego Rivera became the leaders of the muralist movement in Mexico and became known internationally as "los tres grandes" or "the big three." Rivera was the most famous of these artists. He incorporated European Modernism and elements of Cubism into his work combined with Mexico's bright colors to depict his people, and particularly the working class, as noble and glorious. Orozco, who had fought in the revolution, drew from European expressionism to portray the suffering of mankind, the horrors of war and the fear of a future dependence on technology in very straightforward ways. Siqueiros was young and radical, using progressive techniques and materials in murals that oftentimes blended visions of science and machinery to convey progress. Although all three men had different political beliefs and ideals, they agreed that art, as the highest form of expression, should be a vital part of Mexico's new post-revolutionary identity. They saw art as a vehicle for education and for the improvement of society. They formed the influential Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors as a body, which could glorify the Mexican people and bring their artistic efforts to wider attention.

Escuela Nacional Preparatoria

The government's initial efforts went toward commissioning murals for the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. The school was a key stepping-stone for anyone hoping to join politics or Mexico's intellectual scene. Diego Rivera, already an established artist, was chosen to paint a mural of The Creation for the school's auditorium. This was a transitional work by Rivera, which laid the groundwork for the Mexican Muralist movement.

The government also commissioned a number of other Mexican artists to create murals for the school, including José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Fernando Leal and Jean Charlot. While Leal and Charlot were not as well known, nor as inflammatory and controversial as "los tres grandes", their participation showed that Mexican Muralism was a countrywide movement adopted by a number of artists who had previously worked in a range of different styles. Following the success of the large-scale project at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, the mid 1920s consequently saw an explosion of mural works across the country and the artists involved quickly gained international recognition for their unique styles.

Mexican Muralism in the USA

By the end of the 1920s, the influence of Mexican Muralism began to spread, particularly to the United States. After gaining success and recognition in Mexico, all three of "los tres grandes" spent some time in the US. This was partly because cracks were beginning to show in the idealism popularly expressed in Mexico immediately after the revolution. The words and actions of the government no longer aligned precisely with those of the artists they employed and, while the initial period of Mexican Muralism was characterized by the artists' freedom to express themselves, the government increasingly sought to control the subjects depicted in the murals they commissioned.

In 1930, José Clemente Orozco was invited to paint a mural at Pomona College in Claremont, California marking the arrival of Mexican Muralism in the US. Diego Rivera also moved to the US that same year and gained commissions to paint murals all over the country, only returning to his native country four years later. David Alfaro Siqueiros was exiled from Mexico in 1932 and moved to Los Angeles, where he painted several well-known murals. The arrival of these artists created a sensation in American art, and murals quickly became a popular form of public art in the US. In Mexico, as the 1940s approached, mural painting became more aligned with private patronage under a growing bourgeoisie; by this point, muralism had evolved a long way from its revolutionary socialist beginnings.

Concepts and Styles

Revolution

Because the Mexican Muralist movement was spurred by the Mexican Revolution and succeeding civil war, one of its key aims was to shake up art in the same way that the revolution had shaken up Mexican society. Mural painting was ideal for inspiring revolutionary fervor in a mostly-illiterate population, due to its narrative content and availability in public places, eschewing the traditionally elitist environment of the museum.

As well as rejecting the traditional places for showing art, the movement hoped to reject all the conventional trappings of artistic production. To this end, they chose to paint directly onto walls with painting materials inspired by traditional native Mexican wall paintings. The resulting murals were shaped according to the architecture of the designated space, rejecting the usual rectangular shape of the canvas that had come to dominate Western art. Similarly, the production of murals under government commissions meant that the art produced was not for sale, undermining the traditionally dominant art market.

Socialism

In the initial post-revolution years of the Mexican Muralist movement, artists were generally given free reign to choose their subjects and express them in whichever way they preferred. Many of the artists involved were ardent socialists or communists, believing in the power of the working classes and in the equal distribution of wealth. Some artists, such as David Alfaro Siqueiros, applied their socialist approach to their artistic process, dividing up tasks and rewarding his assistants equally. Others, such as Orozco, subtly incorporated socialist imagery into their murals, such as the hammer and sickle.

As the post-revolution government sought to cement its control in the late 1920s, however, they began to attempt to restrict artists in the subjects they could depict. As a result, Rivera chose to adapt his style, but others, such as Siqueiros, were exiled for their strong political views.

Industry

Despite Mexican Muralism's socialist beginnings, many of the artists involved in the movement later became fascinated by the capitalist industrial innovations demonstrated by companies in the US. Most notably, Diego Rivera made a series of murals in Detroit depicting men working in harmony with machines to create the ultimate fusion of human labor and contemporary technology. Others, such as Siqueiros, saw the innovations of technology as a double-edged sword, although Siqueiros remained fascinated by the imagery of industry. In his mural for the Electrical Workers Union, he painted an image of the power of electricity combined with a politically motivated depiction of the "machine" of war causing death and destruction.

Religion

The main religion of Mexico was Catholicism, brought in as part of the earlier Spanish rule over the country. However, it was a form of Catholicism that incorporated the imagery and rituals of indigenous Mexican religions. For many Mexican Muralists, including Diego Rivera and Fernando Leal, this combination of Western and native religious rites was something that made the Mexican identity unique, and they explored this in several of their works. Yet, they didn't necessarily treat religion in the same way. Rivera's Creation and Leal's Los Danzates de Chalma, both painted in 1922, depict different forms of religious integration. Rivera's mural suggests a mystical approach to assimilating Western religious imagery with portrayals of native Mexicans as Adam and Eve, while Leal's uses a Post-Impressionist style to highlight a real event in a local Mexican village which he felt was emblematic of Mexico's unique form of religion.

Later Developments

The influence of Mexican Muralism on art was most evident in the Americas. Visits to the US by Mexican Muralists such as Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros helped influence President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Public Works of Art project, administrated through the Works Progress Administration. It was intended to provide employment for artists and craftspeople during the Great Depression, and to create morale-lifting murals and sculptures for public buildings. It took inspiration from the post-revolutionary Mexican government's program of public murals and even employed some of the Mexican muralists in the US, including Rivera. On the flipside, Mexican Muralism also influenced the rise of American Social Realism during the Great Depression as artists began to sympathize and express the ugly realities of the working class and the gap between the rich and the poor. This included Ashcan School artists such as Edward Hopper, known for showing a decidedly New York perspective of life. It is also encompassed other artists like Reginald Marsh whose paintings portrayed the carnivalesque underbelly of the social classes; the New York School's Philip Guston with his cartoonesque renditions of existential angst, and documentary photographer Dorothea Lange, renowned for capturing authentic faces from the Dust Bowl.

The muralists had even further reaching influence from their positions within the US. For example, when living in New York, Siqueiros gave experimental art classes, and one of his students was Jackson Pollock, whom he encouraged to continue in his experiments, which would become the beginnings of Abstract Expressionism. Like Siqueiros and the other muralists, Pollock rejected the traditional usage of the canvas, but rather than dispensing with it entirely, Pollock began creating wall-sized works and painting with the canvas on the floor.

In 1931, five of Diego Rivera's murals were featured in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, gaining him widespread appreciation in the US. In 1933, after his mural Man at the Crossroads was destroyed by its Rockefeller Center patrons for the inclusion of an image of Lenin, students working on the San Francisco Coit Tower mural went into protest alongside other artists across the country. Some art lovers even tried to get it moved, prior to its destruction, to the Museum of Modern Art.

Mexican Muralism would also serve as inspiration for the Chicano art movement.

In Mexico and South America, mural painting continues to be a dominant art form, particularly notable in the proliferation of street art projects in many Central and South American cities.


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Content compiled and written by Anna Souter

Edited and revised by Kimberly Nichols

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Anna Souter
Edited and revised by Kimberly Nichols
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Useful Resources on Mexican Muralism

Books

Websites

Articles

Videos

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.

scholarly/biographical

Mexican Muralism: A Critical History

by Alejandro Anreus, Robin Greeley and Leonard Folgarait

My Art, My Life: An Autobiography Recomended resource

by Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Mexican Modern Art

by Helga Prignitz-Polga

Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry Murals Recomended resource

By Linda Bank Downs

More Interesting Books about Mexican Muralism
All you need to know about Mexican muralism and muralists Recomended resource

By Angie Kordic
Widewalls

Mexican Muralists: the big three

By Rita Pomade
Mexconnect

How Mexico formed a united national identity through art Recomended resource

By Ellen von Weigand
The Culture Trip

Revolution, renaissance and the Mexican Muralists

By Raul Alonzo
Strike Magazine
August 2, 2013

More Interesting Articles about Mexican Muralism
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