Diego Rivera

Throughout his career Rivera has been a political figure as well as a prolific mural and easel painter, with ability to incite controversy in both politics and art. One of the controversies over Rivera arose from his mural at the Hotel del Prado, Dreams of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda. What outraged Catholics and set press and public talking was the anticlerical placard Rivera placed in the hands of one of Juarez’ followers portrayed in the mural.

The placard reads Dios No Existe – “God Does Not Exist” a slogan from Mexican revolutionary history. Catholics rioted against the blasphemy, and the archbishop refused to bless the building. Rivera added to the scandal by proposing that “the archbishop bless the building and damn me. ” (Wolfe, 1963, 378) Although many disapprove of the realistic, storytelling murals and potboiling society portraits, Rivera is generally accepted as a great artist.

No one can reject the magnitude of his creative work and the strength of his personality. With his epic murals of Mexican history, on the walls of a half-dozen public buildings, he has achieved a personal and national monument. One of Rivera’s most complex and successful mural cycles was painted in the former Jesuit chapel in Chapingo, which served as the auditorium of the Agricultural School. (Wolfe, 1963, 211) The artist devised a program of 41 fresco panels in which socialist revolution parallels the evolution of nature.

The two themes mirror each other along the opposite walls of the chapel, and the images use symbolism drawn from Christian and Aztec cultures, allegorical female figures derived from academic art and modernist montage techniques. If one examines only the principal panels, the program painted along the southern, windowed, wall begins in the narthex with a depiction of the Blood of the Revolutionary Martyrs Fertilizing the Earth.

Proceeding eastward down the nave are four allegorical scenes, Subterranean Forces, Germination, Maturation and The Abundant Earth, tracing the development of natural growth from seed to flowering plant. Along the opposite wall and corresponding conceptually to these five panels are the Birth of Class Consciousness in the narthex, Formation of Revolutionary Leadership, Underground Organization of the Agrarian Movement, Continuous Renewal of Class Struggle and the Triumph of the Revolution.

The two series culminate in the image painted on the eastern wall, depicting the Liberated Earth and Natural Forces Controlled by Man. The scene is centered around the huge figure of a reclining female nude, representing the fertile earth, and the circular shape formed by a windmill’s blades, which is open to interpretations as wide-ranging as a Christian monstrance and the ceremonial Aztec calendar stone. Rivera’s mural style was distinguished by being boldly realistic and crammed with human-interest episodes.

Though his fellow artists suggested that his style was weak in purely creative qualities it nevertheless was arrived at with full consciousness. Having assimilated and utilized a great wealth of pictorial experience, from the forerunners of Raphael up to Picasso, Rivera managed to create a personal and strong style by which he refreshed old achievements with new ideas and new methods. It had worldwide influence on public mural painting and especially on artists active during the 1930s in the USA.

A number of traits characteristic of this style can be seen in the Liberated Earth. A Cubist compositional structure suspends the pictorial complex between a clearly defined foreground and a background formed by a continuous sky. The sky also forms the background of the ceiling panels, in which male figures holding revolutionary symbols are depicted from below. Through the sky, the ceiling panels and the image on the east wall become united within the architectural frame, which Rivera always respected.

The wall plane is maintained in the Liberated Earth by the use of a relatively high horizon. The unification of that wall plane is achieved by means of a geometric system loosely based on the golden section. The geometrical grid is countered by movement within it, as in this image by the gestures of the various figures. Rivera used simple, bold modeling in his murals, derived from the demands of mural scale and the fresco technique. The murals show a basic palette of earth colors and black, set off with carefully placed bright colors.

Figures are placed one behind the other on a series of overlapping planes that recede from the front to the back of the composition. Rivera frequently attempted to relate the content of his murals to the external world by some system of symbolism based on the physical orientation of the murals. For Rivera, injustice was abstract, not concrete; he was therefore not as extreme in his politics and personal opinions as were his contemporary colleagues.

Although he had a lifelong sympathy with Marxist ideals, he was not psychologically committed to the Communist Party’s shifting line, especially when it interfered with art. This led to his exploitation by capitalist interests during the early 1930s (Wolfe, 1963). Rivera in his remarkable art achieved idiosyncratic fusion of Renaissance, academic, modernist and indigenous Mexican techniques, styles and motifs, and created from them humanistically and aesthetically responsible socialist art forms.

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