Mexican art of the XX century is primarily monumental painting and graphics. The monumental painting of Mexico, and first of all “the three great Mexicans”, representatives of the so-called Mexican Renaissance, Jesse Russell Orozco (1882-1949), Diego Rivera (1888-1957), José David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1973). The interest in this very phenomenon of cultural life in Mexico of our century is natural. The Mexican monumental painting not only left an imprint on all the art of the country but also greatly influenced the formation of national schools of fine arts in other Latin American countries. It was able to combine purely national flavor, fighting spirit, and true internationalism.
The years of establishment and development of the Mexican school of monumentalism are the years of struggle to find its own style in art, inseparable from the historical and social processes that have been taking place in Mexico since the 1910s. It is difficult to overestimate the role of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 for the country’s culture; without it, it would be completely unthinkable to see the leap that Mexican art has made from provincial imitation of European models to true revolutionism, epics, identity and, at the same time, humanity, which has put it on a par with the art of the world scale.
Mexican monumental painting is the birth of the revolution and its chronicles. It was the first to capture the brightest pages of historical and revolutionary struggle in Mexico, to reflect the consequences of the revolution of 1910-1917, to create an image of a new Mexican, to celebrate the beauty of his native country.
Up to the beginning of the XX century, the art of Mexico was oriented to Europe: in colonial times – to Spain and Flanders (XVI – beginning of XIX centuries), in the XIX century – to France. Therefore, it is natural that the artists were engaged in Indian problems as such. True, the characters endowed with Indian features and Indian motifs appeared in the art of colonial times, European in its basis, and artists of the XIX century turned to the image of the Indian in search of ethnographic material, but it stemmed from the impossibility of complete ignorance of Mexican reality, rather than from a conscious rethinking it.
The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 contributed to the emergence of an entirely new type of hero – a man of the people, an Indian. Appealing to him and set its task monumental painting. It was in the Mexican monumental painting was born Indichenism – a direction in Latin American culture, the purpose of which was not just ethnographic interest in the life of the Indian, and search in his image, in his folklore, in his beautiful past of the basis, which would give the opportunity to create art new, truly national. José Clemente Orozco called the monumental painting “the highest, most logical, purest and most powerful form of painting” and, referring to its predominant role over all other forms of fine art, wrote: “This … is the most uninteresting form, as it cannot serve personal purposes: it cannot be hidden for the benefit of a certain, privileged minority. It is for the people. ”
Mexican monumental painting reflected when directly, when indirectly, and all the contradictions of the post-revolutionary development of the country. The style, themes, and images of the paintings of Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros can be traced back to how the artists’ attitude to reality has changed: from an almost unconditional belief in the possibility of rebuilding Mexican society in the first frescoes to disappointment and bitterness from unfulfilled hopes in their works of a later time. Each of the masters expressed their disappointment in his own way: Orozco came to painful expression, Rivera to deliberate stylization, Siqueiros to increased dynamics, the complexity of composition, the complexity of the visual language. Their followers – modern monumentalism of Mexico almost completely moved away from the solution of social problems by means of wall painting, leaving it mainly decorative function.
The emergence and heyday of the Mexican monumental life belong to the 20s and are connected in no small measure with the name of the philosopher and writer José Vasconcelos Calderón (1882-1959). From 1921 to 1924, he served as Minister of Education and, upon his retirement, continued to influence the cultural life of the country. Under his leadership, artists were given the opportunity to work on wall paintings of official Mexican institutions. At this time, Rivera and Orozco created their most harmonious frescoes. There is still hope in them for the changes that the revolution was supposed to bring.
The search for national culture, national art led Mexican artists to the ancient heritage, to the Mayan and Aztec cultures and the older cultures of the Olmecs, Toltecs, Zapotecs, to the folk art of the modern Indians, which preserved some traditions of ancient art, its symbols, and ornamental motifs. Diego Rivera, who saw in it the soil on which the fruits of new American art will grow: “Just as Europe united in the Greek-Latin culture, America can realize its … union, using the wonderful Indian culture of its continent …”.
The immediate forerunners of the Mexican monumentalism were two artists, quite different both in social status and in relation to the problems of creativity, but both understood the need for the emergence of new art. They were self-taught grandson José Guadalupe Posada and teacher of painting at the Official Academy of Art of Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl). Posada and Dr. Atl gave rise to the development of a national school of painting and graphics, drawing the attention of all subsequent masters to folk art and the past of their country. Posada’s busy graphics, which used Mexican folk themes, in particular the so-called Calaveras and skulls and skeletons, opened the eyes of a new generation of artists to the possibility of finding subjects and types in their own environment rather than in Europe. Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and later the artists of the “Folk Graphic Workshop ” pointed to the influence of Posada’s sharp, marked, realistic graphics on their work.
No less important than the graphics Posada had for the formation of future muralist artists and the activity of Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl), who appealed to the students of the Academy of San Carlos to create a new Mexican jasper painting, free from foreign influences. In October 1910, students led by Dr. Atl organized an Art Center in Mexico City, whose goal was to fight for the creation of national culture. Thanks to Dr. Atl’s support, they were already able to get the walls of the National Preparatory School amphitheater to be painted and make their first projects, but the revolution that began made it go away until better times. The artists have gone into a revolution. A 14-year-old boy was first arrested for his participation in the strike of Siqueiros. Orozco fought in the active army and in 1913-1917 made graphic cartoons for the progressive newspaper “Avangard” edited by Dr. Atl. Maybe just because Orozco and Siqueiros were direct participants in the revolutionary events (unlike D. Rivera, who from 1906 to 1921 was in Europe), they have always more sharply and deeply reflected the modern life of Mexico and pay less tribute to the passion for autochthonous and stylization inherent in the art of Diego River.
We can say that since the 20s of our century in Mexico, there are in the bud those two major trends that will later give two distinct trends in all Latin American art. The first one is called “centripetal” by many modern researchers of Latin America, the second – “centrifugal”; the first one is addressed to autochthony, to the rise of the national element on the shield; the second, on the contrary, – to universality and internationality. To some extent, these different trends already in the 20s represent the work of Rivera and his follower Amado de la Cueva, on the one hand, and Orozco, Siqueiros, and on the other – Guerrero. They were all like-minded people in the revolutionary struggle but often disagreed on what true Mexican art should be.
José Vasconcelos, inviting muralists to paint the walls of Mexico’s institutions, was not expecting the results that came to Orosco and Siqueiros at the National Preparatory School (Preparatoria) and D. Rivera at the Ministry of Public Education. Vasconcelos was a man of pro-European orientation and hoped to see on the walls symbolic paintings with literary content, inspired by works of European medieval art and the works of major masters of monumental painting of the Italian Renaissance. The first painting he ordered had the symbolic name “Action stronger than Destiny. Victory!” Performed by an indefatigable fighter for the creation of national Mexican art Dr. Atl, it was still far from what became later Mexican monumental painting. On a golden background, typical of the early Italian Renaissance and Byzantium, there were 12 allegorical female figures, symbolizing the clock and grouped around a knight dressed in armor, leaning against the Tree of Life. These stylistic paintings were very strongly condemned by D. River. But it is unlikely that Rivera had the right to judge it strictly, for his first painting at the amphitheater “Bolivar” National Preparatory School, called the artist “The Universe” (1921 – 1922), was as far from the new national painting, as the painting of Dr. Atl. Performed in the same encaustic technique, the “Universe” by River with angels and golden glow expressed “national” only Mexican features of some types of faces. Working in the same National Preparatory School, Orosco and Siqueiros, who shared its Great and Small Yards respectively, also drew on the work of Italian Renaissance artists in their first paintings. Performed by Orosco in 1922-1924 in the gallery of the ground floor of the Great Courtyard Preparatoria “Motherhood” (encaustic) clearly inspired by the works of Sandro Botticelli. It especially affected the figures of angels in flying clothes, fluttering around the central group of naked mothers and babies. Imitation of the works of the Roman monumentalism trecento with their generalized forms and a few gloomy images is noticeable in the painting Siqueiros “Stichia” (1922-1923; encaustic) in the Small Court of the Preparatoria.
However, these were only failed attempts. Artists continued to look for a new form, which would meet their aspirations to reflect in the monumental paintings the spirit of the revolution. And they found it. Each of the masters developed his own, unique form, from year to year becoming more and more individual, but all of them were united by lapidary volumes, clarity of the drawing, local color. The Syndicate of revolutionary painters, sculptors, and technicians, created in 1922, certainly played a huge role in this. Although the syndicate existed only until the autumn of 1924 and collapsed due to the changed political situation, and most importantly due to disagreements between the artists themselves, these two years of stay of masters in the syndicate laid the foundation for all their further creativity. Noisy, long debates about the purpose of Mexican monumental painting, about where to look for a basis for it, on what to emphasize – international or national – and what is national and how it differs from the folk, often lasted all night, and the artists never came to a single conclusion. D. Rivera considered the source of inspiration for the ancient and modern folk art of Mexico, Indian rites, nature and customs of the abandoned Mexican corners. But he never went as far as Amado de la Cueva and some other painters, for whom everything European became alien and harmful, and the return to Indian painting and technology was considered “national cleansing. A. de la Cueva tried to return even to the promising conventions of pre-Spanish art, which, of course, could not but lead to a pictorial archaism.
The work of leading Mexican monumentalism has gone through a number of periods, sometimes refuting one another. If in the ’20s artists had a lot in common, then starting from the ’30s their views on the monumental painting are increasingly divergent. Siqueiros, who first agreed with Rivera in the need to study the ancient past of the Indians living in Mexico, their art, and folklore has become an active opponent of the use of folk motifs and ancient Indian symbols in the art. Siqueiros, whose side Orozco often took, accused River of narrowly nationalist folklore tastes of foreign tourists. Responding to Rivera’s accusation of cosmopolitanism and rejection of national style, Siqueiros said: “Yes, art is national, but art is national, linked to the powerful cultural traditions of the nation, but not art for sensitive tourists, not speculative art for snobby formalists, the so-called “Mexicans”.
The most consistent was the work of Diego Rivera. This was due to the character of the master, able in the name of painting to sacrifice even his ideas and friendship with people close to him, and the fact that, as already mentioned, Rivera, not being an eyewitness and participant in the revolutionary events of 1910-1917, less experienced the unfulfilled expectations. In contrast to Sekeiros – a fiery active fighter – Rivera entirely decided to devote himself to painting, believing that it is necessary to fight in the hands of the artists, in the hands of weapons – brush and paint. He was the most harmonious painter, whose frescoes until the last year of the artist’s life have always differed balance.
The miracle saved the frescoes of Rivera in the Preparatoria when in the summer of 1924 there were aggressive young men from the reactionary students and destroyed the paintings of Orozco and Siqueiros. This barbaric act had different effects on Orozco and Siqueiros. The first, though he found the courage to return to the Preparatoria in 1926 and create frescoes in the third floor of the Great Courtyard Gallery, so painfully survived this incident that it had a significant impact on all his subsequent work, in which every year there was more bitterness and pessimism. For Siqueiros, the destruction of the frescoes was a signal for decisive action – he is entirely devoted to political activity. The former organ of the syndicate, the newspaper El machete, becomes the organ of the Mexican Communist Party, while Siqueiros and Guerrero become its permanent publishers. From that moment on, completely different traits are outlined in Siqueiros’ work: his aim is to create art that is universal and universal.
Uniting in the syndicate, the artists move from encaustic techniques to frescoes in which they have not worked since the Spanish colonization period. The main difference between the pre-Columbian and European frescoes was that lime was mixed with a binding solution of Mexican cactus juice. The longest resisted the new technique Rivera, but he also defended it later in front of a technique developed by Siqueiros, which consisted of the use of synthetic universal paints “polytex” and sprayer-aerograph.
In 1947, Orozco gave a description of Mexican monumental painting, highlighting three directions: the first – “Nativist” in two types – archaic (exaltation of motifs of the ancient art of Mexico) and folklore (types and customs of modern Indians); the second – historical; the third – revolutionary.
Orozco frescoes, created in 1922-1924 and 1926-1927 in the Preparatoria, are a vivid example of the third direction. This is the best piece of the artist’s works. If there are still elements of far-fetched symbolism in some of the early frescoes of the gallery of the first floor of the Great Courtyard, then already such paintings as “Trench” (1922-1924; ground floor of the Preparatoria “Forces of reaction” (1922-1924; second floor) and especially the paintings of 1926-1927, stunning with its true realism, generalization and, at the same time, the sharpness of the artist’s vision. Static monumental female images, striking with vitality and spirituality, stand before the viewer in his fresco “Widow” (third floor). They have nothing to do with stylization and borrowing, typical of his first painting “Motherhood”. The monolithic form, outlined by a clear contour, buying up a range of colors (brown-violet – figures, brown-yellow – hillside, saturated blue sky), not a single superfluous element that breaks a strict, firmly built composition – this work. had no analogs before. Only Mexico, with its air, lighting, so clearly outlining the contours of objects, with the color of its land and sky, with its concentrated, wise people could give birth to such an artist and such a mural. Orozco’s epics and majesty are the results of this work.
Other frescoes of the third floor gallery of the Preparatoria are no less expressive, especially “The World” and “The Revolutionaries”. The artist surprisingly accurately conveyed the idea inherent in the names of the paintings. Staticity, peace is the basis of the fresco “Peace”. Orozco achieves this impression, placing in the center of the composition built by a triangle sculptural group of people by laconism and monumentality. The avarice and at the same time the expressiveness of the characters’ gestures, the generalized contour of their figures, the isolation in themselves are undoubtedly inspired by both ancient monolithic Mexican sculptures and images of modern Indians of Mexico.
In a very different way, Orozco builds the composition of the fresco “Revolutionaries”, crossing the wall diagonally going from left to right figures of soldiers and soldiers – “soldaderas”. Only a participant of the revolutionary events and an artist with a very keen vision could convey the collective image of the Mexican soldiers of the revolution with such amazing depth. The figures of three revolutionaries and two “soldaderas” leave the viewer in the depths of the frescoes on the dry, scorched by the heat. Tiredness and, at the same time, inflexibility can be felt in their slightly knotted backs, in the gesture of the arms of the retired “soldadera” with a child tied behind his back. Faith in the Mexicans, in their strength and resilience, fills this job, Orozco.
In the early works of the master, the hero is still the people themselves, while in later frescoes more and more clearly begins to sound the theme of the opposition of the hero suffering in the name of people and a weak, unwilling crowd. Signs of Orozco’s future expressionism can be seen already in the latest frescoes of the Preparatoria – in the “Trinity” (ground floor) and “Indian Civilization” (staircase), rewritten after the destruction. Instead of a clear, balanced attitude of the artist to reality, which appears before the viewer in the reviewed works, here arises expressiveness, testifying to a painfully acute perception of the surrounding life. More and more often the artist has broken lines, the sharp play of light and shadow, cut diagonals, which is especially noticeable in the mural “Prometheus”, which Orozco created in 1930 for Pamon College in Clermont, USA, where he stayed from 1927 to 1934.
It is not by chance that the master chooses for his frescoes the ancient Greek myth about the hero titan who gave fire to mankind. His image becomes for Orozco a symbol of the idea, having lost it, people turn into a faceless, mad crowd. The image of Prometheus, first chained to the rock by Zeus’ order, and then condemned to oblivion and overthrown into the gloomy Tartarus, occupies a predominant, dominating place in the composition. The mighty titan unsuccessfully stretches out the vault of the rocks hanging over it, the figures of people who have lost fire rush in panic, calling for Prometheus’ help. In this work, Orozco undoubtedly pays tribute to the work of El Greco, especially his works of the last period.
Orozco’s paintings on the dome and vaults of the Cabañas Children’s Shelter in Guadalajara (1938-1939) are even more expressive and departure from the Mexican reality that nourished his early works. The fresco “The Man of Fire” is a composition enclosed in a ring in the dome, where a man caught in fire is circled, pushing each other away, figures embodying the elements. This painting is as if a natural continuation of the theme started by Orozco in Prometheus. Here the master tries, leaving the literary image, by means of painting to create a feeling of struggle and effort, which fills human life. In order to emphasize the severity and incompetence of the elements, Orozco resorts to giving one of the images features of saints from the Byzantine icons and frescoes, which apparently struck the artist with its detachment and at the same time irreconcilability to earthly existence. Probably, this period of creativity meant Orozco when spoke about the presence of Christian iconography in works of revolutionary monumental painting. JI. Zhadova writes: “…in the paintings of the orphanage finds the most grandiose embodiment … the ideal of Christian renewal of the human spirit through suffering”.
The art of Orozco, born in revolution, has undergone significant metamorphoses in its development – from harmonious, integral images created under the direct influence of the Mexican nature, the Mexican people, which combined the Indian and Spanish features, ancient monuments and folk art, the artist came to images fractional, painfully expressive. But the main feature of Orozco – the search for the most expressive means to convey the struggle, joys, and suffering of man – characterizes all of his art. Hope for the power of the human mind is seen in the artist even in the most pessimistic and mournful works: “War”, black and white fresco (1940, Library of Gabino Ortiz, Hikilpan); “Battle” (1940; ibid.).
While Orozco and Siqueiros worked in the Preparatoria (1922-1924), Diego Rivera began painting the walls of the Ministry of Public Education. The decisive moment of his work was a trip to Mexico in 1922, during which the artist was able to see his native country in all its beauty. The sketches of workers and peasants he made during the trip formed the basis for the paintings of the Labor Court of the Ministry of National Education. Rivera was happy to discover that the heroes of his frescoes can be simple Mexicans, rather than abstract symbolic images. The artist saw the coherence and expressiveness of the movements of workers, the beauty of local types of people, the colorful national dress. A visit to Tehuantepec made a special impression on the River. The artist, who was absent in Mexico for 15 years, was captured by the extraordinary color of life of the Indians of Tehuantepec, the riot of colors of nature, the sharpness of the lines of each object. Here he saw, writes L. Ospovat, “not a barbaric past … no, – a serene, harmonious, classical childhood of America, its primitive paradise, the memory of which carried through the centuries of Indian art”.
Rivera’s frescoes of the Court of Labor (1923-1924), the Court of Festivities, and the “General Song” cycle at the Ministry of Public Education (1926-1928) were a direct consequence of the artist’s encounter with Mexico’s rich past and present. Already the first paintings of the Court of Labor: “Workers descending into the mine,” “Search of the miner,” “Death of a revolutionary,” “Rural School”, “Sugar Factory” – reflected the active interest of the master to the social aspects of Mexican life, his revolutionary mood. Rivera wrote that he dreamed of becoming an organizer of the consciousness of the masses, an assistant in bringing them together and make all this with his frescoes. Rivera’s paintings of the Court of Labor most fully and most realistically reflect the spirit of post-revolutionary Mexico. His “Workers going down a mine” are the people of new labor. The composition of the fresco is built on a ring that is open in the center, where you can see a figure of a miner going into the dark. The rhythm of workers’ figures descending on both sides of the steps with lanterns and tools is continuous. Compared to Orozco’s paintings, the Rivera frescoes are less monumental. Rivera is more scrupulous in detail, the forms of his works are less generalized. In his frescoes the artist is always more inclined to the story, so they are more understandable than philosophical works of Orozco. Rivera saturates his compositions with a large number of characters, creating not one, as Orozco usually does, but several groups. Thus, in the realistic fresco “Rural School” the master in the foreground places a group of students sitting on the ground around a young teacher, and in the background – a group of peasants plowing on horses; the connecting link between these two groups is the figure of a rider with a rifle on the front. The latter is also the ideological center of the work – the peaceful life of peasants and the education of children depend on it.
But if in the frescoes of the Court of Labor there is still space between separate groups of characters, in the works of recent years, Rivera increasingly resorted to carpet deployment of the composition, filling the entire wall space painted vertically. This trend can be seen in the “Dance at the Tehuantepec” fresco. (1924-1925) and especially in the frescoes of the “General Song” cycle on the history of the revolutionary struggle of the Mexicans. At the time, Rivera was fascinated by the idea of creating art that was as accessible to the people as possible. So when he felt that the work was not sufficiently understood, he resorted to inscriptions. In response to criticism, the artist cited the example Posada, who was not embarrassed by the “people” of his engravings and made inscriptions often through the entire graphic sheet.
Rivera reflected in his works “a new spirit that identified the nation with ordinary people whose heroes were the masses of unknown fighters against oppression. It was in the murals of Rivera began to form a new iconography, based on the image of the Indians and mestizos. The idealization of the Indians began to lead little by little the artist to a full identification of concepts of “national” and “Indian”. But if in his early works (Ministry of Industry; Chapingo Agrarian School)…
Rivera introduced organically reworked folk motifs into the composition, then in the frescoes of the National Palace in Mexico City (1912-1946), he comes to the stylization of the ancient Mayan and Aztec paintings.
Modern Western researchers consider Diego River the most “Mexican” of the monumentalism.
In the article “Metish Art?”, the famous Mexican art historian Francisco Stastney provides a vivid example of the mestizo character of a part of contemporary Latin American art, while understanding by “Métisso” the combination of European and ancient Indian visual methods. This is particularly true of his works in the “historical” direction.
Indeed, the frescoes of the Palace of Cortés in Cuernavac (1929) are a qualitatively new phenomenon in Mexican monumental painting, even compared to earlier works of the Rivera itself. If the first half of the 20-ies noted in the work of each monumental revolutionary theme, then in the late 20-ies each of them has its own favorite theme: heroic-philosophical in Orozco, intellectual-romantic in Siqueiros, historical in River. But in Rivera, it is not just a historical chronicle, and often a revealing satire (mosaics and facade painting of the theater “Insurcientes”, 1951-1953, Mexico City), and reflection on the choice of the way for the people (“Man at the Crossroads”, frescoes, 1936, Museum of Fine Arts, Mexico City).
Starting with the paintings of the 16th century palace in Cuernavaca for Hernán Cortés, Rivera decided to depict the brutal history of the conquest of Mexico. The artist builds compositions of frescoes on the contrast between the evil power of the white conquerors and unity with the nature of the legal owner of the Mexican land – the Indian. This opposition appears in River’s handwriting itself, choosing light tones and rounded, soft lines to characterize the Indians, while he depicts “villains” dressed in gloomy hard clothes, outlining their figures with sharp and pointed lines. In these frescoes, the master unfolds the composition vertically, successfully using both European and ancient Indian achievements in perspective. In the painting “Hacienda of the landlord-colonizer,” where most of the work of the Indians under the supervision of the managers, Rivera uses the rhythm of the picturesque compositions of the ancient Maya. In the fresco, depicting the Conquistador enslavement of the Indians, the artist draws on lessons from Bruegel: it echoes the Dutch master’s “Beating of Babies in Bethlehem”.
In contrast to Orozco, Rivera, as L. Zhadova rightly notes, “from the hero-man to the hero-mass more and more often passes to the hero-mass”. In the paintings of the Ministry of Public Education, the Agronomical School in Chapingo, and, to a large extent, in the Cortes Palace in Cuernavaca, Rivera also highlights images of heroic personalities (for example, the image of Zapata in Cuernavaca). In the 30s, the role of the personality is no longer seen by the artist as fundamental in the historical development of society, but only as guides. That is why he placed the images of revolutionary leaders (C. Marx, V. I. Lenin) among the masses of people (frescos of the first cycle of the National Palace in Mexico City, 1929-1935).
In the 1940s, Rivera’s work has a strong decorative background. The most typical example of this is the painting of the second cycle of the National Palace in Mexico City (1942-1946), called Rivera “Life and Life of Ancient Mexico”. Their creation required the artist to study the paintings of the Ancient Mayans (Bonampac) closely and in-depth. The cycle “Life and Life of Ancient Mexico” is executed by Rivera with maximum involvement of Ancient Mexican material. The master intentionally resorts to flat images, partly using Ancient Mexican plant motifs.
The increasing desire for decoration led River to turn to the synthesis of the arts. At this time, he begins with a passion for facade decoration. In 1952, the artist created mosaic bas-reliefs for the arena of the University campus stadium in Mexico City, where he traces the history of Mexican sports from ancient to modern games. The following year, Rivera decorates the facade of the Insurgentes Theatre with a composition that combines fresco technique with mosaics most suitable for outdoor living.
Rivera has devoted all his work primarily to serve the Mexican people. He owes much to modern Mexico the interest of the whole world in the art of the Mayans and Aztecs, in the folklore of the Mexicans. Rivera saw the revolutionary purpose of monumental painting in addressing the people, in expressing their hopes and aspirations,
In the early 20s, David Alfaro Siqueiros began painting the Small Yard of the Preparatoria. But only a small number of the works he had created were preserved here. As we have already said, in the summer of 1924, the reactionaries destroyed the paintings, and Siqueiros did not go back there again. The already called “Stichia” painting (encaustic, “Call to Freedom” fresco and some others) was undisputed. In these first works (except “Poetry”) Siekeiros pays considerable attention to the Indian origin. But already here in the foreground are those features that in the future will dominate in the work of the master – the dynamism of the composition and fixing the viewer’s attention in his hands. The hands become the main ideological center of monumental and easel works at Siqueiros. In them, the artist saw the real power of man-wrestler, man-creator.
The whole life of Skeiros was devoted to active political struggle, and the painting was an integral part of it. From the age of 13, the artist linked his life with the revolution. Through her, he came to the Communist Party in the early ’20s, became the organizer and leader of the revolutionary trade union movement; in the ’30s, he was elected president of the National League of the struggle against fascism and war, fought on the side of the Spanish Republicans; in the ’50s, for a time became secretary of the Central Committee of the Mexican Communist Party.
Honest, uncompromising man, always struggling with sluggishness and filigree, Siekeiros and in painting defended innovative principles: sought for expression of his ideas of the most modern forms, experimented with paint and the technique of applying it to the wall.
Most authors emphasize that it was of great importance for Siqueiros to meet Sergei Eisenstein, which took place in 1930 in Tasco. Eisenstein filmed his film about Mexico here, and Siqueiros was exiled for participation in the May Day demonstration. The influence of the Soviet film director on the Mexican artist was primarily reflected in his bold search for new forms to reflect the social essence of art. One of the most significant paintings, created by Siqueiros in the ’30s, is the painting of the building of the electricians’ union in Mexico City (1939). The complex dynamic composition embraces the viewer from literally all sides, forcing him to be an active participant in the events depicted. It is known that the painting was created shortly after the artist’s return from Spain. It was to become an indictment of fascism, the cruelty of war. Indeed, when you look at the painting the viewer is covered with horror: as in a nightmare, monsters in gas masks are coming at him, blood is pouring, the steel of the muzzle of pistols and rifles is sparkling, houses are burning like terrible birds, planes are circling. The work is on the verge of realism and surrealism, images of reality are mixed up here with eerie semi-dreadful visions. The brutality of the Spanish Civil War, the defeat of the Republicans, and the onset of fascism in Europe have brought this work to life.
Siqueiros created fewer paintings in the 30s than his colleagues Rivera and Orozco. At that time, he was entirely devoted to social activities and expressed his emotions mainly in easel paintings, which are characterized by monumentality, dynamism, choice of unexpected techniques. This is “Sobbing”, created by Siqueiros in 1939. The depth of despair is concentrated by the artist in the hands that completely cover the face of the man. These strong hands with whitened knuckles, clenched in their fists, in a new way, unusually image the state of human grief. Along with the face is no less important hand and in “Self-portrait” (pyroxylin, 1943, Museum of Fine Arts, Mexico City): thrown forward and deliberately significantly increased in volume, it is as if calls for action.
The hands in the works of Siqueiros are the embodiment of the mighty: the power of the man of labor. The image of the worker characterizes all creativity of the artist, his traits are endowed with allegorical and symbolic works of the master. In the painting (pyroxylin) for the Museum of Fine Arts in Mexico City, which began in 1944 and ended in the ’50s, Siqueiros conveys the image of “New Democracy” through the image of the mighty naked female torso with outstretched forward powerful hands that are strong enough to break their chains. Created immediately after World War II, this painting was a symbol of a new democracy emerging from the victory over fascism.
Unfortunately, sometimes a master fails to realize his plan in images accessible to the people. Excessive complexity of the visual language, not always justified dynamism of the composition gives birth to works very expressive but designed only for the trained audience. Thus, the paintings of Siqueiros sometimes lose their main purpose – appeal to the broad masses of the people. The most indicative in this regard, the painting of the Oncological Institute of the Medical Center in Mexico City, entitled “The Apology of the victory of medicine over cancer” (1958; pyroxylin). The theme of the struggle against the devastating disease, the curse looming over mankind, interpreted by Siqueirosom very gloomy and pessimistic. If still quite justified can be considered paintings of the master on the building of the Ministry of Finance (1946, Mexico City), called him “Reaction and reactionaries,” where in monumental images as if come to life the characters of the Goyevskaya graphic series “Caprichos”, the paintings in the lobby of the Oncological Institute, the use of ominous shades is unlikely to be legitimate.
Capitalist reality and the horrors generated by it, the hallmark of which Siekeiros has consistently performed throughout his life, has imprinted even such a steadfast artist like himself. As time passes, the master more and more complicates the language of his works; sometimes experimenting becomes an end in itself. Siqueiros is occupied by the problems of synthesizing the arts. His search for synthetic compositions (rectorate building), which he began in the 50s, led the artist to create at the end of his life a complex architectural and sculptural-pictorial complex “Polyforum”, located in one of the parks in Mexico City. Here the complexity of the pictorial language, versatility, and complexity of forms are brought to such an extent that without a long explanation this work can not be understood by any viewer.
But along with such works, in the last years of his life, Siqueiros created a number of harmonious paintings, embodying the artist’s belief in the possibility of triumph on earth’s ideas of humanism. These include paintings of the Hospital de la Raza (“Social security of workers under capitalism and socialism”, polytex, 1952-1954), and the Museum of National History in Chapultepec (“The Mexican Revolution against the dictatorship of porphyria”, polytex, 1957-1960). In the images of these works by Siqueiros, the spirit of the Mexican Revolution, its hopes and aspirations are revived.
The name of Siqueiros is associated with the development of monumental art of high ideological content, the romanticization of the image of the modern man of labor. His painting has always sought to express not so much purely national ideas as universal, universal ones.
The art of the three great Mexican masters, born of the revolution, continues to serve mankind with its conviction in the rightness of humanist ideals, active attitude to life, ability to figuratively, and colorfully reflect the surrounding reality. In the complex political environment of contemporary Latin America, the art of the leading masters of Mexican monumental painting is an effective means of fighting progressive forces against reaction.