Cultura Article - Issue 42 - by Tlecu Omitl
artist is above all a human being, profoundly human to the
core. If the artist can’t feel everything that humanity
feels, if the artist isn’t capable of loving until he
forgets himself and sacrifices himself if necessary, if he
won’t put down his magic brush and head the fight against
the oppressor, then he isn’t a great artist." Diego
Rivera is considered the greatest Mexican painter of the twentieth
century, the father of Mexican mural art and the father of
modern political art in Mexico. Diego was an important personality
in the art world of the 20th century and his thoughts were
well respected in the art community. He was an innovator in
expressing his ideals unifying art and politics. Among his
many contributions, Rivera is credited with the reintroduction
of fresco painting into modern art and architecture.
Diego María de la Rivera y Barrientos and his twin
brother Carlos were born on December 13, 1886 in Leon, Guanajuato.
Carlos died in 1888, which left Diego as an only child. After
the death of Diego's brother, María Barrientos developed
a terrible neurosis. In order to take her out of it she decided
to study a career and successfully graduated in Obstetrics.
Diego's other mother was Antonia, his Indian nanny. He had
very poor health when he was young and his parents sent him
to the mountains to live with Antonia. Diego had a very precious
memory of her. Antonia was an inspiration for many of his
paintings and his love for the indigenous culture.
Diego's parents gave him colored chalk as a homecoming present.
Diego loved to draw so much that he drew pictures all over.
So his parents gave him a studio with blackboards for walls.
Diego covered the blackboards with pictures so that the whole
room had murals all around. Diego daydreamed a lot in school
and imagined the colors and sights of the mountains and the
jungles. He loved to go to church to see the colorful paintings.
Finally, his parents sent him to art school. However, even
though it was an honor to go to art school at such a young
age, Diego did not like the projects there. He did not want
to paint from models or sculptures of people; he wanted to
paint from real life! So he did paint from life on his own.
He painted people celebrating the Day of The Dead, and people
at fiestas such as at Cinco de Mayo. He also painted things
he saw that were very sad. For example, he painted soldiers
shooting workers on strike. He painted other scenes of the
people's struggle for equality in Mexico.
In 1896, while he was still in high school, he entered the
Academy of San Carlos. He was so obviously talented that in
1906, after his first show, he was granted a four-year scholarship
from the governor of Veracruz, Teodoro Dahesa, to continue
his studies in Europe. In 1907 he goes to Spain, where he
promptly becomes part of the intellectual circles. After studying
there for two years he moves to Paris and starts living with
Diego and Angelina had a son but due to a flu epidemic the
child died in the fall of 1918. Diego had many lovers; among
them was Marvena, another Russian woman. Diego and Marvena
had a child named Marika right after the death of Angelina's
baby. Diego precisely describes his relationship with Angelina
when he says, "She gave me everything a woman can give
to a man. In return, she received from me all the heartache
and misery that a man can inflict upon a woman."
While studying in Spain, Rivera was fascinated by the works
of Cézanne, who introduced him to cubism. He was also
very interested in Mondrian and created many paintings reproducing
his style. His greatest influence, however, was Pablo Picasso's.
Diego was interested in cubism because it questioned the pre-established
conceptions of painting. With his cubist work, such as "Zapatista
Landscape," " Woman at the Well" and "Sailor
at Lunch," Rivera earned recognition among the artistic
circles in Paris. This technique, however, did not fulfill
him completely because he felt a lack of originality in his
work. He was following Picasso's trend and felt that he would
never be like him.
This is why he decides to find his own style by going back
to a more realistic way of painting. The art community abandoned
Diego, which left him in absolute poverty because no one would
buy his paintings. This decision proved costly to his reputation
as a modernist, but not to the evolution of his aesthetics.
The situation, however, forced Diego to go back to Mexico.
Diego arrived in Mexico on July of 1921 and met José
Vasconcelos right away. Vasconcelos was a philosopher in charge
of the Ministry of Education, and part of the new regime after
the revolution. He had very innovative ideas on how to change
the educational system in Mexico. One of these ideas was the
creation of murals on public buildings so that art could be
shared with the masses. The themes of the murals would try
to portray Mexican identity. Vasconcelos sent a couple of
important artists, Diego Rivera among them, to travel around
the country to collect sketches of the daily life of peasants
and indigenous people. At his arrival, in 1922, Diego was
assigned his first mural at the National Preparatory School.
This first mural was called "Creation." Diego Rivera's
style was the product of the influence of many different art
styles, such as cubism, impressionism, classical European
style and Aztec art. His murals had a busyness that reminds
us the Baroque, covering Churches with images and details.
Some critics referred to Diego's particular style as "agoraphobic"
because he seemed to be afraid of having open space in his
paintings. In his murals he uses many symbols that come from
Aztec codices. For example, he uses the colors and figures
of idols, as well as the way in which the Indians used images
to narrate myths and historical events. In some of his work
we can see a use of space that comes from cubism (in Creation,
for example) and a use of perspective that comes from his
early classical studies. In the sketches of the murals we
can see how he used architectural skills as well as a lot
of geometry. Rivera was a very skilled painter, and as José
Vasconcelos says, "everything could be forgiven to Diego
because he knew how to paint with exact drawing and perfect
coloring when he wanted". Diego did not like "Creation"
because, on his view, it did not portray well the Mexican
character. It was based too much on classic European style.
The symbolism of the mural represents the emergence of man
(at the center) who has his arms open to represent sacrifice
and offering; the standing figures represent the theological
virtues: Charity, Hope and Faith; the rest of the figures
are knowledge, erotic poetry, tradition, tragedy, justice
and strength; the mestizo couple represents the fusion of
racial strains. The mural was inaugurated on March 9th of
Diego's second wife was Guadalupe Marín of Guadalajara.
Concha Michel, the famous singer, introduced Diego and Lupe.
About the way in which they met, Diego recalls that Concha
wanted to be his lover but she could not be because she was
married. In order to take away the temptation of an affair
with him she decided to find for him a woman who would be
"handsomer, freer and braver" than her. Diego loved
and admired Lupe. He also loved her body, which he painted
in many of his work (in the Chapingo murals for example).
In his biography he refers to her as a "beautiful, spirited
animal", with hair that "looked more like that of
a chestnut," with hands "that had the beauty of
tree roots or eagle talons." The problem with Lupe for
Diego was her jealousy and possessiveness, which, added to
the fact that Diego was not a faithful husband created all
kinds of uncomfortable fights. Their relationship ended before
Diego left to go to Russia in 1927 to participate in the celebration
of tenth anniversary of the October revolution.