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Mexican Muralism Collage

Mexican Muralism

Started: 1920
Ended: 1950
Mexican Muralism Timeline
"The artist must paint as he would speak. I don't want people to speculate what I mean, I want them to understand."
1 of 11
David Alfaro Siqueiros Signature
"I had tried to achieve a harmony in my painting with the architecture of the building."
2 of 11
Diego Rivera Signature
"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."
3 of 11
Leon Trotsky
"Art is a weapon that penetrates the eyes, the ears, the deepest and subtlest human feelings."
4 of 11
David Alfaro Siqueiros Signature
"I set to work consciously to over-power the ornamentation of the room."
5 of 11
Diego Rivera Signature
"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."
6 of 11
Diego Rivera Signature
"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."
7 of 11
José Clemente Orozco Signature
"In every painting, as in any other work of art, there is always an IDEA, never a STORY."
8 of 11
José Clemente Orozco Signature
"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."
9 of 11
Diego Rivera Signature
"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."
10 of 11
Diego Rivera Signature
"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."
11 of 11
Diego Rivera Signature

Summary of Mexican Muralism

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 used this new, vast, and freeing medium to achieve personal expression. This movement proved that art could be a valid communication tool outside the confines of the gallery and museum.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • 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."

Overview of Mexican Muralism

Part of Diego Rivera's <i>History of Mexico</i> (1929-35) mural at the National Palace in Mexico City

Saying, "The role of the artist is that of a soldier in a revolution," Diego Rivera pioneered Mexican Muralism. He said his portrayals of the revolutionary Zapata and his followers were meant to make "the masses the hero of monumental art."

Key Artists

  • Diego Rivera was the principal actor in the Mexican Muralism movement and one of Mexico's greatest artists. His large-scale fresco cycles tell the histories of labor, industry, society, and other themes.
  • José Clemente Orozco was a Mexican Muralist, a social realist painter who is best known for his large-scale expansive works depicting human toil, Mexican politics, and the advent of the industrial age.
  • Jose David Alfaro Siquieros was a Mexican social realist painter, an active member of the Mexican Communist Party, and one of three artists - along with Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco - who gave rise to the Mexican Mural Renaissance in the early twentieth century. Siqueiros's large-scale fresco murals are defined by their anti-Fascist politics and near expressionistic aesthetic.

Do Not Miss

  • Social Realism refers to a style of figurative art with social concerns - generally left-wing. Inspired in part by nineteenth-century Realism, it emerged in various forms in the twentieth century. Political radicalism prompted its emergence in 1930s America, while distaste for abstract art encouraged many in Europe to maintain the style into the 1950s.
  • Beginning in the 1960s, artists of color, LGBTQ+ artists, and women have used their art to stage and display experiences of identity and community.
  • Founded at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ashcan School was a loose congregation of American Realist artists that challenged the dominant style of Impressionism in favor of a more naturalistic and socially-engaged approach to painting. Initiated by Robert Henri in Philadelphia, the school later moved to New York, where its central members included George Bellows, George Luks, William Glackens, Edward Hopper, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn. Although the group's members incorporated a range of styles, they shared a common interest in depicting contemporary society through both the squalor and vitality of the burgeoning metropolis.

Important Art and Artists of Mexican Muralism

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.

Los Danzantes de Chalma (1922)

Artist: Fernando Leal

Although Fernando Leal did not gain the fame of the "big three" Mexican Muralists, he was one of the first artists approached to decorate the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, because of his interest in depicting the local Mexican people. His mural is Post-Impressionist in style, influenced by depictions of non-Western people by artists such as Gaugin.

Los Danzates de Chalma depicts a moment Leal heard had recently occurred in a Mexican village. During a ritualistic dance to worship a statue of the Virgin Mary, the movement caused the statue to fall over in its case. This revealed another small statue of the native Mexican goddess of water, which had been hidden under the Catholic sculpture. For Leal, this demonstrated the current synthesis of Catholicism and local religion that was quintessential to the Mexican character. In presenting a Western religious rite as a scene of riotous movement and indigenous colors, Leal offered what the historian Dawn Ades describes as "a new, darker form of Indianism".

Leal was allowed to choose the spot for his mural in the school, and unusually he chose a section of wall above the central stairway. The space was geometrically awkward and dark but a prime example of Mexican Muralism's impetus to use the distinct characteristics of any given architecture as a blank slate outside the normal constraints of canvas, thus upending the hierarchies and traditional formats of art.

The Banquet of the Rich (1923-24)

Artist: José Clemente Orozco

This mural was painted in the three-story courtyard of the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, commissioned by the post-revolutionary government as part of their mural project for the school. In it, we see Orozco's characteristic caricature style, which was notably different to the Mexican-Italianate style being developed by Diego Rivera. Orozco borrowed this artistic technique from his years illustrating propaganda papers under the direction of Dr. Atl during the revolution. Jose Vasconcelos, who oversaw the mural project, recalled that Orozco was the "only painter who did not obey my orders and who painted what he wished."

The mural depicts a clear political message. The working classes, depicted at the bottom of the mural to represent their position at the bottom of the social order, are busy fighting amongst themselves, leaving the caricatured wealthy to enjoy their luxurious banquet. As Leonard Folgarait puts it, "the ridiculously grotesque distortion of the faces and bodies of the rich trio in the upper register is clearly intended to represent their decadence and abuses of power. They are able to frolic in this manner, not heeding any danger from the working class, because the workers are too busy fighting amongst themselves to pose any threat to their bosses." The workers are using their tools to attack one another in a self-destructive way, rather than using them to build up a better society. This is a vital early example of Mexican Muralist art being used to speak directly to the often-illiterate working classes, in an attempt to improve their conditions of living.

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Content compiled and written by Anna Souter

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols

"Mexican Muralism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Anna Souter
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols
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First published on 22 Jan 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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