(In Brief) the Mexican Revolution
A list that could also have been titled, “Diego Rivera’s friends and dissidents.”
JOSÉ CLEMENTE OROZCO
Alongside Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco was one of the major muralists of the Mexican Revolution. In spite of losing his left hand and sight in one eye, Orozco persisted in his artistic career with a biting sense of humor and critical eye. Like Rivera and Siqueiros, Orozco studied at the San Carlos Academy for Fine Arts in Mexico City, and painted everyday subjects in a realist style. He studied with Gerardo Murillo, a radical who encouraged his students to reject European influences and embrace Mexican traditions. Bolstered by these ideas, Orozco became increasingly involved with social and political activism via his art. He made easel paintings and caricatures for a radical paper, but his public works—grand, allegorical murals throughout North America depicting historical scenes, uprisings, and suffering—would become his greatest legacy.
Rufino Tamayo, a Mexican artist of Zapotecan Indian descent, combined European painting ideologies and Mexican folk motifs in his paintings and prints. Tamayo, who admired Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse, developed a strong interest in pre-Columbian art while working at the National Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City. He reacted against the political overtones of the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco. Instead, he was concerned with form and symbolism, and fusing a Mexican style with Cubism and Surrealism. He was also active in the development of Mixografia, a printmaking technique used to create deeply textured effects.
DAVID ALFARO SIQUEIROS
David Alfaro Siqueiros was a leading figure in the Mexican school of great mural painters, alongside José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, and was wildly prolific in his career. His work often featured social and political subjects, but his style was influenced by Francisco Goya, religious art, and Italian Futurism. Siqueiros’s works are distinguished for their use of dynamic perspective, monumental forms, dramatic shadows, and limited color palettes. In addition to painting, Siqueiros was an avid political activist with a tumultuous personal history: he once led a student strike against San Carlos Academy, and his more violent activities landed him in jail and, eventually, exile.
Frida Kahlo’s life has become as iconic as her work, in no small part because she was her own most popular subject: roughly one third of her entire oeuvre is self-portraiture. Her works were intensely personal and political, often reflecting her turbulent inner life, her illness, and her relationship with the revolutionary muralist Diego Rivera. Kahlo dedicated her life and her art to the Mexican Revolution and the simultaneous artistic renaissance it engendered. Her style of painting has been widely categorized—Rivera considered her a realist, while André Breton considered her a Surrealist, but Kahlo eschewed labels entirely. “I paint my own reality,” she wrote. “The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” She identified most strongly with Mexican popular and folk art, also evidenced in her habit of dressing elaborately in Tehuana costumes.