PASSAGES CUT FROM THE ORIGINAL TYPESCRIPT OF JEAN CHARLOT’S THE MEXICAN MURAL RENAISSANCE, 1920–1925
Edited by John Charlot, 2009
Editor’s Note: When Yale University Press accepted The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920–1925 (MMR) for publication, it demanded that the typescript be reduced considerably in length. Besides a chapter and three appendices, many smaller cuts were made in the typescript. Appendix II: “Orozco’s Stylistic Evolution” was later published under the same title in College Art Journal, Volume 9, Number 2, Winter 1949/50, p. 148–157. Some passages from omitted sections were transferred to new positions in the final text or to later articles. But much of the material remained unpublished, to Charlot’s expressed regret.
Charlot himself extracted the pages from which smaller cuts were made and collected them in a folder, now labeled “J.C. Mex. Mural Ren. –– Unpublished Material,” which is in the Jean Charlot Collection. Those cut passages are all included here between the preceding and following words of the published text. I have included several passages that were much modified in the publication. Passages are identified by the page number of the 1967 edition of MMR followed by that of the typescript (e.g., 73/153). I have regularly used the final version, passing over earlier changes in silence. I have done some light editing, mostly spelling corrections, and have been obliged in a few passages to modify the punctuation or formatting for clarity. I do not provide the original references from footnotes.
315–318/6–10. The last pages of the introduction were used for the last chapter, “Conclusion.”
…This is no longer a way to art.
None of the successive standards of XXth C European painting––as it sprang alive out of Cézanne––are fit to assay the mural achievement of Mexico; but certainly some other standard should be tried before wholesale condemnation is given. To paint in Mexico is not the same as to paint in Paris. The non-Greek nature of the Indian cultural subsoil, the planting of the Cross in the New World a thousand years after its recovery by Saint Helena, the bivalency of the race, the hot revolutionary breath of 1910 that tumbled ivory towers as easily as the wolf blew away the house of straw––these are bound to qualify the Mexican work. If a European expert fails to find here this apple he calls art, art may yet perchance be there in some other kind of fruit, one that has a name only in Indian idioms, and with a taste to upset the stomach of all apple-fanciers.
…back to the lesser way.
Facts are gathered in this book in a slightly different order from that favored by authors who rearrange art history in courteous fashion at the feet of some imperial presence, as an Orozco seen through the eye of Justino Fernandez, or the Rivera of whom Bertram Wolfe tells. As Mexico’s historians go, this book follows rather the democratic musings of a Bernal Díaz praising en masse his past comrades-at arm[s] than it does the egocentric court-digests of Hernando Cortez.
Aesthetics plays its role…
…lightens the task of the artist. Perhaps it does: in New York, I marveled with others before a West 57th Street store, whose window had been sublet to someone dressed in the full regalia of a charro, with embroidered leather riding outfit, vast hat, and sarape de Saltillo. He deftly glued feathers on post cards and transformed them with a few routine touches of watercolor into the semblance of tropical birds. A sign, stuck to the glass pane against which were pressed the noses of curious spectators, read, “Mexican Painter at Work.” Despite this commonly held…
…Napoleon’s comment––already tried out by the Emperor on Goethe––“Monsieur David, vous źtes un homme !”
…Mayan culture confronted by the Aztec, that latecomer on the Mexican scene. For there showed to be more in common between the Aztec and the Spaniard, when the latter landed, than there had been between the two rival Indian cultures. The Aztec was squatty, the Mayan filiform, of green gold contrasting with the Aztec’s dark copper, metaphysically inclined whereas the Aztec was military. The Mayan had a beak nose, bulging eyes, and a brain that shot its skull backward, unlike the snub-nosed, slit-eyed, round-topped Aztec. Of course, the Aztecs conquered the Mayans; though the latter fought hard with hand-propelled javelins, the former sprang on them a superior type of mechanized warfare, to wit, the bow and arrow.
Their tastes were antithetic. Mayan parallels of Washington Crossing the Delaware show the redcoats, the Aztecs, as naked funny dwarfs with a few hairs hanging Chinese-wise from lip and chin; whereas an Aztec warrior billeted in one of Chichén Itzá’s desecrated temples vented his disgust for the slim effetes frescoed on Mayan processional friezes by scratching deep into the beautifully painted mortar a brutal graffito of Aztec manhood.
Their arts were antithetic…
…a national renaissance.”
That same month Charles Michel wrote, “However remote, one feels a moving reminiscence, the twinkle of a star gradually unfurling to splendor, that is the belated opening of the recondite soul of the ancient race of Anahuac!”
Renato Molina, in May of that year: “Diego Rivera…is revitalizing fresco painting just as it was practiced by the ancient Mexicans.”
Dr. Atl in July…
…friends and foes alike?
In the early murals we painted, the pre-Hispanic factor is not as decisive as contemporary opinion implied, though our good will did result in transporting some archeological data from Museum to wall. In 1924 Rivera installed Yoloxochitl, god of flowers, in a jungle where he seems as little at home as Yagdiva and her sofa in Rousseau’s.
Of more import are a few forms where pre-Hispanic and post-cubist aesthetics fuse organically. First in date, even though they are not murals, are the pictures that Carlos Mérida painted about 1919. They put to new creative uses the heraldic colors and unbroken outline found in codices.
Rabid in its pro-Indian subject matter, my own 1922 fresco contains creative passages that parallel the forms and moods of diorite masks. Then came Rivera…
…the roses flung by Our Lady?
Precious to Mexican oneness, this dovetailing of allegedly incompatible cultures has been expressed by Saturnino Herrán in a painting, Our Gods, as well known as it is mediocre. It combines in a single composite figure Christ and Coatlicue.
The religious impulse…
…pink and blue of carpentered drapes.
Though in oil and on canvas, these paintings are eminently mural, even the smallest adhering to the same canons of proportion that dictate the vastness of the nave, as water rings enlarge without breaking the concentric rhythm.
Tresguerras painted directly the walls of a side chapel finished in 1811. Classified by some as fresco, the technique makes use of lime that gives a mat and chalky finish, but seems rather a fresco secco, a kind of lime tempera, as it does not parcel the wall into areas corresponding to working days. Death is the leitmotiv…
…a magenta turns Nattier blue.
The artist’s resolve to reform bred a swarm of cottonwad clouds, but a temperamental bluntness still jars this atmospheric peace. Among well-behaved drapes, one vermilion scarf sticks out a feeler of cast iron; if the jolly angels changed mood and threw harps and cellos at the faithful underneath, one would witness the crash of a hardware stock. Such strident notes in an otherwise chastened ensemble are what still endear the work to us today.
San Fernando had more success…
…(Text fig. III).
The muralists committed many similar leftist faux-pas. The head was willing enough to nod to Marxism, but the hand, being that of a true artist, would lapse into the traditionally pious vocabulary of reredos and retablos.
Communist Rivera painted in his first mural the cardinal virtues….
…its maximum efficiency.
Certainly a claim that religious forms of art were the models best suited for the new murals would have met with coolness in the radical circles that sponsored the work. How could politicians distinguish style and function from content when, as we have seen, the artists themselves could hardly do it either? That they could neither acknowledge openly nor throw overboard colonial influences explains the near lapsus linguae found in the first draft of the constitutions of the artists’ syndicate, as they themselves had written it:
The Syndicate of Revolutionary Painters, Sculptors and Engravers of Mexico advances the following principles on style: make art for the delectation of the people; technique should conform to this aim; produce a plasticity understandable to the masses, Indians and peasants, in a style as simple and clear as a good Christian sermon, which is like a good Marxist lecture.
…to curl around a tree.
Bent on painting walls as eloquent as colonial plastic sermons, as architectural as Aztec carvings, the muralists were partial to what within each tradition suited best their purpose. Of the pre-Hispanic output, they picked the gigantic rather than the delicate, extracted out of the colonial arts the exalted and the bloody from under a silt of petit point, snuffbox, and potpourri.
In folk art…
…her wish was happily granted.
The growing understanding of retablos is gauged by the following quotations:
1920. A critic, Louis Lara Pardo, describes a bad painting: “This little picture has the mangy appearance of a church retablo.”
1921. Atl’s book contains a more sympathetic account but still far from complimentary:
Ex-votos…are pictorial works of great interest because of their incredible naēveté. Subject matter, coloring, perspective, attitudes of the personages, all are of a laughable absurdity. Even the caption redacted in Biblical style proves generally at odds with the facts depicted.
Rivera was the first…
…popular art in modern Mexico City. [Fig. 6]
That a photographer like Weston, jealous of the supremacy of his medium, mentions pulquería realism approvingly is proof enough that it was not of the photographic kind. The Mexican has always shown a strong selective taste in pictorial matters, as did the Greeks, but in reverse. Couto justly remarked in 1860 that Aztec art featured ungenteel objects of disagreeable appearance. In the codices blood gushes as liberally as wine in a French bacchic song. In much of the Mexican fine arts survives a toughness and roughness mistaken by outsiders for provincial primitivism. But that it is rather racial genius is shown in the case of Cordero, who starts painting in a refined Italian manner, to let go in his maturity in the biggest and maddest pulquería painting of them all, the dome of Santa Teresa.
Of all the manifestations of folk arts…
…on consecrated walls.
Do the paintings of the muralists show as great an influence from folk painting as their enthusiastic endorsement in words would lead us to suppose?
In the case of arts that have run their course, those of dead cultures and closed periods, the influence exerted is of a pedagogical nature, easy to spot. It is simpler to estimate the quota of Aztec and of colonial arts in the modern mural style than that of folk art, whose forms were still in flux, and its makers alive, linked to the same present as were the muralists.
The interest of artists in folk forms was no novelty. Valid germs of recognition between folk and fine arts fill the lithographic albums of mid-nineteenth century, México y sus Alrededores; México Pintoresco. Such beautiful graphic works might have ended by creating a true national art but for the hiatus of marbleized neo-Greek and gilded rococo that followed.
Paralleling the lithographic medium in fresco, the courts of the Ministry are filled with a similar subject matter to that of the old albums: picturesque types and costumes, the crafts of weavers, potters, and dyers, folk dances, sandunga, Yaqui hunting dance, dance of the ribbons. But more important than subject matter, which can be caught equally well by the camera, is the absorption of a mood and of a style. The Rivera frescoes of 1923–24 are painted with a certain innocent awkwardness. They share with the retablos, penny pamphlets, and pulquería murals a lack of preoccupation with artistic sciences, anatomy, perspective, “good drawing.”
Revueltas put his first mural under the protection of the Virgin of Guadalupe. His fat easy stroke and splendid coloring-pattern renew the pulquería palette and style to fit the size and mood of the gigantic retablo that was his mural. As successful in its synthesis of folk forms as are the frescoes of Siqueiros in adapting pre-Cortesian ones, this mural is less known; the potentialities it presented were never followed to a conclusion in later murals, while those of the Siqueiros frescoes were exploited to the utmost, though not always by himself.
When Siqueiros started his staircase he contracted a mason and a pulquería painter. The latter covered two side walls with make-believe pillars and perspectives quite in his own taste, to the delight of Siqueiros, who would urge him on with such purposely vague indications as “Raise a bulge here, punch a hole there.” The work blended excellently with the walls that Siqueiros was painting at the time, and is the most genuine of our folk borrowings.
In a way more important than any single detail folk arts influenced the whole of our production in regard to mood and social content…
…that of humility. The strength of folk arts came of racial characteristics that the artist learned to be not too proud to echo. The popular achievement, based on anonymity and communal feeling, taught us that in art also one may lose oneself to find oneself.
…an ensured contact with the next generation. Most Mexican artists up to the present could endorse Cordero’s dedication, embodied in his first important picture, sent from Rome in 1850, “To the Academy of San Carlos, this testimonial of gratitude.”
Even at its ebb…
…Ramos could hardly be overrated as a catalyst. Ramos was always a healthy leaven of opposition. In 1910, Cornyn praises him as “the most promising artist of the realist school, of an inspiration drenched with light and color.” That same year the painter held a show of his European work in San Carlos, including his Primavera, that had been commended at the Paris Salon the year before.
Apropos of this show, Araujo captured in retrospect the mood of the moment, now more eloquent than the paintings themselves:
Academism was further shaken by the publicized arrival of works done in Paris by holders of fellowships…At the dawn of the revolution these works were wholeheartedly endorsed by adolescents whose despair gave vent to violent manifestations against the entrenched academic system, truly execrable and by then a paralytical valetudinarian.
That a diluted impressionism could still cut a revolutionary figure at that date in Mexico only makes clear the continued iron grip of academism on official art.
Once in power…
…the impressionism it sponsored was neither derivative nor decadent. The secret of this hardiness may be found in the opinion voiced by Vera de Cordova in his review of Coyoacán’s contribution to the Fine Arts Show of October 1921: “A group slightly influenced by Manet, Pizarro (sic), Sisley, Renoir, etc.––even though it be by telepathy.” The lack of originals by the masters that the students followed had preserved perforce their originality, and the transformation in Cordova’s text of Pissarro, the mild patriarch, into the conquistador of Peru, is both a misspelling and a significant statement.
When General Obregón…
…copal censers. México Moderno admits the viability of such archaeological data, but only with caution:
Granted that Enciso can introduce a Mexica motif in each one of his works without making them ugly, it is obvious that, become a system, such a habit would be objectionable.
The fact enthused the poet José Juan Tablada…
…when the buildings were remodeled (Text fig. V).
Deer, parrots, vultures and volcanoes, owls and pines, quetzals and fig-bushes, squirrels and mezquite, turkeys and fountains, were themes chosen for the boys’ school. For girls, there were rabbits and open fields, monkeys and branches, coyotes, birds and magnolias, spider-webs and butterflies, cranes and lakes, eagles and cacti, Mayas modeling and decorating pottery.
In 1912 Cosmos Magazine…
…the painter who was most Mexican.” Manuel Toussaint stated in 1921, unaware of what was to come:
When he refused to leave his country, Herrán made it impossible for Europe to tear apart from us his spirit and his art, as it has done with Zárraga, Diego Rivera, and many another artist who is Mexican by birth, but by fame and works is European.”
…why they should cultivate the milieu of their birth in preference to any other. Would that there were an artistic renaissance to correspond to the Americanist literary renaissance!...Would that artists gave us sensations felt in their patria!” A prominent aspect…
…The Citizen President of the Republic will attend.
El Universal detailed the coming attractions:
Scattered in Chapultepec Park many booths will be built and decorated under the supervision of the artist Adolfo Best; ladies of our high society will keep the booths, selling flowers, confetti, etc.; so that nothing be lacking to the picturesqueness of the celebration, it is proposed that the ladies…be arrayed not only in the classical costume of China Poblana, but that some come as Tehuanas, or in peasant dress, or dressed in the style of the northern states, or as Mestizas, and that the booths be decorated with zarapes, petates, rebozos, flags and many other art objects of genuine national flavor.
The feast took place on the evening of the 27th. A gate crasher was an American stunt flyer in his lighted plane, who bore the Yankee nom de guerre of Mr. Pickup. The next morning Excelsior records the gasps of the crowd:
“––Oh, Mr. Pickup!”
“––Bravo Mr. Pickup!”
“––How pretty––How brave!”
And Mr. Pickup became the hero of the night.
But the other attractions…
…fireworks filled the night sky.”
As a sequel to this success, in 1922 the Best system was adopted by the public schools of the Federal District and called “Mexican Drawing.” In July, class work was displayed at the inauguration of the new building of the Ministry of Public Education and revealed to the public the scope of the reform begun. A textbook was published in July 1923 under the title Drawing Method. Tradition Revival and Evolution of Mexican Art, illustrated with most attractive vignettes by Miguel Covarrubias, who made here his debut. UreĖa vaticinated, “And so this book is born at last to point the way towards further efforts of Nationalism in Mexico and all America.”
Printed at 15,000 copies, the first edition was distributed to teachers of the new method in a ceremony held at the auditorium of the Preparatoria School on November 6, 1923. In his presentation speech, Orozco MuĖoz said prettily of the teachers that they “brought to official schools something like an offering of grace and happiness…these schools where children still applied themselves to copy the nostrils, ears, hands, feet, even, of a great and noble race that is not young…Each day, each hour…
An important task of the nationalists proved to be the reappraisal of folk art. Atl justly remarked in 1921 that under Díaz a certain social wickedness came into play, “relegating native ingenuity to the ranks of the untouchables.” Best Maugard notes in 1923:
Those born with an artistic gift systematically shunned popular arts…Not long ago, the most original and beautified samples of this magnificent art were considered out of fashion and in bad taste.
The turning point…
…‘after the fashion of the exhibition.’” But more important, the exhibition proved to be “a first public step towards official recognition for our National Art, and marks a starting point for its further evolution and transformation.” [Atl]
After its close…
…which made a wealth of untapped patterns and designs available to painters. Roberto Montenegro and his followers base new ornamental motifs on Tonalá pottery and Uruapan lacquer trays. Jorge Enciso and his group are inspired by Michoacán embroideries and primitive art, Adolph Best and others by a miscellany of ceramics and lacquers.
Stylistically, Nationalism found…
…for its timidity.
Araujo spoke for the muralists:
Nationalism deserves praise inasmuch as it focuses attention on local beauty and tradition…but Mexicanists have been partial to picturesqueness and to what differentiates us most obviously from foreigners, and have picked eccentric spectacles as all the more genuine, a fact that dovetails neatly with the touristic point of view.
Orozco spat on the picturesqueness…
…rather to make or decorate a building…Notwithstanding social upheavals, aesthetic manifestations display greatness and permanency insomuch as they answer religious, political or social needs…It is necessary that the criterium that informs future teaching be an answer to the social needs of the republic. Mexico is not geared to produce the same art phenomena that Paris produces, and that impregnates vaguely the spirit of many artists.
Reform must come…
…shouldered a gun and believed in the Revolution.”
Granted that the medium be murals requiring vast walls, and the subject matter one of interest to the people at large, it follows that private patronage would bow to government sponsorship. An accepted fact in the period of mural renaissance, official patronage had already been attempted, for example, in the ill-fated 1910 auditorium incident. Key men of revolutionary art, Montenegro, Atl, Martínez, Rivera, were picked, groomed, and pensioned to Europe by Díaz officials, who thus gave them unwittingly the means of forming an ampler point of view, one that turned them eventually against their very benefactors. The pensioning of Siqueiros to Europe and the first important commission given Orozco were acts of First Chief Carranza, decreed between rounds in the royal melee fought with Villa, Gutiérrez, and Zapata.
An awareness of the mural medium, of social consciousness, and of government patronage already existed before the reconstruction period. The portents that heralded…
…the prophetic vision of the young artists of America.”
Of his own exhibition he had this to say:
I do not presume, as some may believe, to unearth archaeologies. My paintings blend an undiluted observation of nature with a devout love of our autochthonous art.
The catalogue was filled…
…to match the robustness of our great racial gifts…Living apart from the new tendencies of solid orientation, we prejudge them adversely, adopting only phony European trends that poison our youth, hide primordial values…
…stripped of architectural complexities (vast piers of steel and cement anchored to earth), the comfort-conditioned tools and furniture…Above all, we must remain firmly convinced…
…(Mayan, Aztec, Inca, etc., etc.); our climatological identification with them will help us assimilate the constructive vigor of their work; their clear elemental knowledge of nature will be our own starting point. Let us borrow…
…caricature to humanize.
The third appeal was curtly entitled “3”:
Our schools in the open air are outdoor academies (as dangerous as the official academies, which brought us, at least, in contact with the classics), collectivities where teachers are out for gain, the criterion imposed meager, lethal to latent personalities…
We must reject theories postulating the relativity of a “national art” and become universal! Racial and local traits will stamp our work none the less…
We must strip off literary motives, deal with pure plasticity…
…coming into its own…‘We are such complex creatures,’ sighs the modern Ruskin, ‘that only a complex, highly sensitized art can capture…all the subtle nuances of our moods’…Gentlemen…
…syndicates of artists-craftsmen. Thus the Siqueiros manifesto: “We must conform our work to inviolable laws of esthetic balance as did the classics, become as skilled laborers as they…”
…set on returning to such a discipline.
Men of such experience wield an inevitable influence on men lacking in experience; that a master should teach apprentices is proper, and natural that the latter should learn from the former.
…the Revolution in its period of armed action.” He carried to an integrated peak the difficult relationship between fine arts and the brutal tempo of his times. I feel that the artist set out to reproduce in his life and in his work the countenance of the revolution as a stigmatist bleeds in emulation of the Crucified. A landowner…
…by clinging to aesthetics. Of his early meditations on the subject, he has preserved a draft written about 1905: “As I look with loving insight at the core of the object, I conceive of it as a function of beauty; its atomic equilibrium shifts. A chunk of machinery is metamorphosed into a rhythm of jubilation.” But politics…
…perfection to invention.
Even in education, art took precedence over pedagogy.
In the department of fine arts, singing, drawing and gymnastics are taught. I understand of course that a good teacher cannot be a good musician and a good landscape painter as well. There were at hand hundreds of trained musicians and able artists and I decided to use this wasted talent. To the oft repeated objection that neither musician nor painter has pedagogical experience, that they cannot teach because they ignore the methodology of music and of drawing, we answer that we rate music over the methodology of music and drawing over the methodology of drawing.
Never before had a patron…
When his extensive building program was criticized for being planned with the help of artists, he answered: “It is said that I use painters to plan architecture. For this I do not lack impressive precedents, and such honor makes [up] for the lack of originality of the procedure. Architecture is an art and art needs artists more than diplomas…It is my conviction…
…with that of the mason.
Problems are raised by the success of Vasconcelos in handling painters, a success at variance with most governmental inroads into art patronage. Well posted as the Secretary was in regard to music and literature, his personal interest in the plastic arts is not enough to explain this success. For the private taste of the Secretary was that of the average dilettante. He approved wholeheartedly of Bakst’s kaleidoscopic Ballets Russes décor and found Michelangelo guilty of gigantomania.
Far from bringing political credit…
…disinterested and beautiful. These are the necessary poles of every thinkable thing: the material order of necessity and the spiritual order of beauty…They are antithetic. The law that governs the former is the law of causality, of necessity. The law that governs the latter is disinterest, a lack of finality.
A statesman as well as a philosopher….
…and too often a style as well. Few can, like Raphael in the Vatican stanzas, combine a convincing display of the virtues of a protector with superb aesthetic indolence. To remain Pythagorean…
…eager to rehabilitate didactic painting. They considered that public walls should receive themes of public import, clearly expressed, and their inspiration was willingly groomed to toe the mark of a party line. For once artists and patron…
…the scream of the Mexican eagle.
Even after its waning, one can surmise that Vasconcelos remained at heart partial to the nationalist style. Because it was both national (and in that sense revolutionary) and well bred, the Secretary would have welcomed a renaissance on such dainty terms. It is much to his credit that, unprepared for the avalanche of “uglyism” that descended later on his beloved buildings, he did not stifle it, but furthered it instead, in spite of grave inner misgivings.
The first aesthetic decision…
…to many an odd use. The chapel
served from 1821 to 1829 as meeting chambers for the National Congress, became a combination dance hall and theater, returned to the cult from 1832 to 1850, under the name of our Lady of Loreto. Disaffected that year, it served as public hall and library, and in 1857 was adapted for a girls’ school. It functioned as military college from 1858 to 1860, then as combination barracks and hospital, later as food storage for the French army. It was the workshop of the correctional school in 1884, when it was turned again into barracks.
In June 1920…
…Alfonso Cravioto exclaimed: “A most fecund nationalist tendency worthy of all praise. The use of our characteristic flora, of our aboriginal types, of our local color, results in great decorative success and excellent composition. A triumphant climax…”
…in New York at great cost.
A twin window, put in place later, borrowed its theme from a street scene sketched in Manzanillo, on the fruitful cultural trip taken with Vasconcelos:
Graceful and elegant as are all of Montenegro’s figures, the macaw vendor stands in the center, with the showy birds perched on her head. Others are a charro with a rich sarape, an Indian maiden with a jug…The ground seems a river of gems, and the tropical trees with polychrome trunks overflow with dazzling berries.
In September 1921…
…gift of the Italian colony. Planned for the 600th anniversary of the poet’s death, the gift of the statue had to be postponed. Vasconcelos and the Italian minister exchanged belated speeches on November 16th.
Despite the successive unveilings…
…to be open to the public.,” and the decoration may be considered as practically finished.
The apsidal wall…
…domes, arches and pilasters.
In a side chapel Xavier painted a decoration of his own conception: “In the dome of intense blue are the stylized signs of the Zodiac. The effect is marvelous, and Xavier Guerrero, the painter, reveals a powerful originality.”
This work, unique of its kind at that time…
…even before “The Dance of the Hours” was completed.
The sudden shift of taste is evidenced when one compares the rave reviews that the first stained-glass lunette rated in 1921 with the savage criticism leveled at the mural in 1922, though both are matched elements of the same decoration. In October 1922 Pérez Mendoza branded The Dance of the Hours as “A trite work, pretentious, absurd, a mediocrity strutting in the trappings of a nationalistic wardrobe on opening night.”
In January 1923 Molina Enríquez gave us the key to this change of heart:
Enough to compare what Diego Rivera is finishing in the Auditorium of the Preparatoria School with what Montenegro has to offer in the Church of San Pedro y Pablo. While the former tackles with powerful impulse a truly great decoration…the latter does no better than copy out of scale a lacquer tray from Uruapan, and, in the least offensive instance, to have others enlarge two of his illustrations, which he tries in vain to palm off on us as stained glass windows.
The muralists with a social ax…
…one of the handsomest patios of the Capital.
El Universal, July 7, 1923: “Today, inauguration of the important works of adaptation that transformed the ancient convent of San Pedro y Pablo into a modern school.”
Excelsior, July 8: “To start the brief program, the student orchestra rendered to perfection the waltz Words of Love. After a brief allocution by Don Vicente Lombardo Toledano, Director of the School, the student choir interpreted Mexican songs. Boys and girls, attired in characteristic costumes, danced for a finale our classical jarabe tapatio.”
Without waiting for the masons to leave…
Stylistically the mural illustrated Atl’s home-made-ism––pintura sígnica, signic painting––based, clarified the painter, on “two manifestations poles apart––Chinese art and futurism.” It was in his mind, “the rigorously logical deduction from universal manifestations, synthetically expressed by representational signs that are the concretions of deep analysis…”
Technically the mural was executed with home-cooked pigments, Atl Colors, that the painter defined as “a conglomeration derived from the methods of Egypt and Greece.” An awed reporter reported, “He invented and put into practice this medium following his ascetic retreat into the volcano Popocatépetl.”
Atl was just putting…
…This means that at that date the fresco had not yet been started.
The next month, September, México Moderno illustrates works by Montenegro. Relevant to our query is a small fresco, a female head. The unpainted edges of mortar have been allowed to dry instead of being cut wet, a necessary step if they were to fit neighboring areas, and the fresco could well be a practice piece, with the big wall in view.
The dates of prepared wall and trial fresco suggest August or September 1923 for the formal start of the painting. The mural was completed roughly…
By January 10, 1924, the fresco was completed. At that date, reporter Sóstenes Ortega asked of Rivera a question about “the fresco that shows somewhat the influence of Haotzu, somewhat the influence of Diego Maria Rivera, and nothing of Roberto Montenegro, unless it be a total lack of ideas on what constitutes mural decoration.”
“Is that so?” answers Rivera. “Well, no, I did not go to see it, in spite of Roberto’s invitation. I am afraid to go there after what I saw of Dr. Atl’s, the first painting in Mexico to impress me adversely.”
Rivera’s opinion of the mural when he did see it proved much more favorable than that of Ortega. On March 2, 1924…
…three tiers of arcades. Bare today, the patios were planted until the start of the twentieth century with ferns and palms, their tops flush with the flat roof.
When the pictorial…
…celebrated the Feasts of Peace. Besides fireworks, the capital witnessed a civic fair, industrial and artistic, housed in a temporary pavilion erected for the purpose.
Says El Ahuizote: “The building is a cluster of shacks precariously put together with wicker and canvas, surrounding a something called ‘a brave rotunda,’ perhaps because of its cheek in staying put in the middle of the Plaza de la Constitución…
This desecration of the heart of the City of Palaces had people mumbling:
Aunque México pierda los tostones.
What a shanty!
It costs Mexico plenty!
It cost in fact 12,790.27 pesos and even its architects felt none too proud. The inaugural speech of Don Castulo Barreda, as secretary of the exhibition commission, attempted to soothe public opinion thus:
This pavilion will disappear as soon as its fleeting fate, its transitory function, renders it feasible. It will vanish as thoroughly as the fugitive cipher scribbled on a schoolboy’s slate.
El Ahuizote again reported:
People go there to look at idols from the museum, stuffed birds from the medical school, and products of foreign industries. There is a china pot full of water with live fish in it: the pot is French, the fish are not Mexican; only the water drawn from a city pump typifies our National Industry.
Yet one care…
…with scientific ones. He enrolled for the job Juan Cordero, paradoxically the last potent link of the religious colonial tradition, decorator of the Churches of Jesús Maria, Santa Teresa, and San Fernando.
Because of this…
…the gift of immortality.
While Vallejo had decorated the sacristy of the school chapel, a place of devotional quiet, it was imperative that the Cordero mural “to impart the light of science to the most remote horizons” be painted in a public place. The chosen spot was the top landing of the main staircase, which makes Cordero the first of the foolhardy phalanx of muralists who defied to their grief the ebullient traffic of youthful students.
Cordero well knew…
Having weathered the shoals, Vasconcelos passed his final examinations and entered law school in the building that became later the nucleus of his ministry.
In 1911, with Díaz ousted and friendly Madero in power, Vasconcelos made a first try at the directorship of the school, though “it seemed foolhardy to covet without adequate preparation a post once hallowed by Don Cabino Barreda…When I learned at last that it was not to be, I felt relieved of the responsibility.
Owing to this apparent failure, Vasconcelos rose to be a political force under Madero. His practice as a private lawyer soared as he enjoyed the confidence of the President, and even more that of the President’s level-headed brother, Gustavo. A cartoon in El Ahuizote of June 15, 1912, shows a puppetlike Madero manipulated by a Vasconcelos labeled “legislative power.” But the successful lawyer’s heart remained set on the humbler directorship of his beloved school, as subsequent events show.
In 1913, Madero was shot, Vasconcelos exiled, and Victoriano Huerta installed himself as boss of Mexico. Under General Huerta…
…cloisters of learning. Michel had sold two of his own pictures to the Mexican government as a sequel to the Belgian show, which may have inclined him to help the Secretary with his pen. Be it this, or sheer aesthetic insight, his article, dated January 1923…
…we shall take them.
The stupefaction of students, parents, and teachers, of which Michel speaks was matched by that of local art critics. Pérez Mendoza remarks in February 1923:
One should point to the lack of sense that presides over the decoration of the National Preparatoria School, for which no plan was evolved, no total scheme that could impart unity and harmony to the whole; with the most appalling irresponsibility, those walls have been painted as if they were samplers of divergent styles of decoration.
…and “Old Stones and New Flowers.” On December 5, Rivas Mercado, director of the San Carlos Academy, wrote to Secretary Justo Sierra, suggesting that eight pictures be bought, “Given that this exhibition is one of the most successful because of the artistic worth of the pictures shown…this Direction believes that the ministry will agree…as an encouragement to national artists.” The Government bought…
…as a full-fledged Parisian cubist in 1913.
Gone indeed was the impressionist painter, a gregarious fellow who started booted at dawn with a pack––easel, stool, canvas, mawlstick, lunchbox, and paint box––strapped to his robust shoulders. Through the heat of the day, he mingled heartily with cows, and was proud of his giant palette as loudly decked with chromas as a peasant bride.
Instead, the cubist painter cringed from the open air, the midday sun, and post-card dawns. He referred to himself as a scientist; he was rather an alchemist picking, weighing, mixing, brewing secret ingredients that the magic properties of the golden section would soon transmute into gold. It was his life faith that, once encountered, the correct formula could breed great art.
In the talks among painters…
…sumptuous architectural settings. Of the Assumption in Verona Cathedral he noted:
A very beautiful picture by Titian framed with dark gray polished marble with ornamentation…in very low relief a thin gold strip between marble and picture altar frontal in marble gray gray-white and subdued ochre make-believe pilasters are flat.
In Ravenna he copied…
…the good news home from Paris: “Diego Rivera is undoubtedly the strongest painter of America. Together with Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin, he will come to mean a force of the first magnitude in the history of contemporary painting. Rivera is looking forward…”
…if realized. The seed of Cézanne was made concrete through Picasso and his disciples, Braque and Juan Gris…Picasso is today the painter of the most genius…”
…the new artistic orientation of Europe…and quoted from the writings of French critics to back his brilliant ideas. The notable painter closed…”
…dancing on sandaled brown feet.
November 29th, the party rides horseback to Uxmal, site of truly fabled ruins. “The rocky terrain bounced the carriage where sat Diego and a few others unaccustomed to horses. The air was criss-crossed by the flight of blue-birds…” The party climbed the steep pyramid of “La Casa del Adivino,” ornate as a gothic cathedral, visited the regal “House of the Governor” with its triangular Mayan arches, and the low-lying “Nunnery” whose fame had already reached Violet-le-Duc in mid-nineteenth century.
The return trip took them through the village of Muna.
One of our most nostalgic memories…Felipe Carrillo greeted the people in the Mayan tongue…The youngest Indian girls vied among themselves at dancing a most beautiful variety of tap dance that they call jarana. Over their white costumes all embroidered, besides gold necklaces and gold rosaries most of them flaunted a red scarf…
…as any church or palace he had seen in Europe.
A mural painting is already conditioned by the surrounding architecture before the painter sets to work. The shape of the bare wall, the proportion of pilasters, cornices and columns, the swing of arches decide––before the first brush stroke is given––what the main linear directions and general style must be. Instead of the rectangle of a standard canvas, the wall that Rivera tackled, over 270 square feet, was arched to fit a vaulted ceiling, and contained a recess, shaped like a semi dome, made to receive the pipe organ.
Multiple points of view mark murals as organically distinct from easel canvases. While the latter fit a single frontal point of view, the former serves a spectator normally in motion along a traffic flow canalized by the function and plan of the building. In the auditorium, side walls forbid lateral vision, but although the spectator is put in blinkers, he still can move from the foot of the wall to a point way back, where the view of the back wall shrinks to postcard size. As he does so, the slant of the amphitheater raises his successive horizons from normal to ceiling level.
Rivera summed up…
…believe that it is there.”
“The background will be mostly gold. Beginning with the heaviest pigment, red earth, the hue will rise to pure color. The [upper] circle will enclose gold stars on a blue field. In the wide border at its periphery, I will paint the colors of the spectrum.”
“And why do you incise…”
…“Creation” was officially completed by March 1923. Its execution encompasses the period when, in the same building, murals by five young painters were begun, and some of them were completed. In December 1922…
…she might in turn covet!
Tehuantepec affects thus most male travelers. In a lecture in English, given at the University of Chicago in 1926, Vasconcelos hints decorously at the beauties of his native state, “Many a voyager knows the fascination of the Tehuana Indian, whose charm resembles the effect of a heavy odorous wine,” and more lyrically in Spanish:
Women, hips undulating, navel bare, the bodice taut over firm breasts, carry on upright heads great round baskets of goods. They tread lightly the golden sand with feel clean and naked. Their naked ankles have the consistency of the royal palm, their lips the opaline freshness of the young coconut.
Rivera came back…
…the hot tropical jungle and its fauna––a theme amplified later along the Ministry staircase––two felines, a crane, a nocturnal bird, rustling through the heavy foliage. He worked now close to the manner of pulquería painters, and closer still to that of the Revueltas mural whose easy buoyancy was acquiring shape and color at the same time in the entrance hall of the same building. The stylistic duality…
…swept away by the revolution.
A reporter describes the auditorium “crowded by the elite. Presiding were Don José Vasconcelos, Secretary of Public Education, and Don Antonio Case, President of the University, and we noticed the presence of our most distinguished painters and craftsmen. A bored…
…Walter Pach in October 1922: “I was not prepared for what I found of admirable originality in the painting that he [Rivera] is doing in the Preparatoria School Constructive art…”
…The prediction is now justified.
December 1922, Sóstenes Ortega: “Diego has finished his decoration al fresco [sic] in the auditorium, a definitive work, and unique in Mexico.”
January 1923, Renato Molina: “Rivera tackles with powerful impulse a truly great decoration in which all his vigorous convictions are aggressively stated.”
In the same month, Charles Michel captured the cold passion that went into the making of the first Mexican murals, in terms that apply best to Creation:
The enormous frescoes began to materialize. Groups of gigantic figures became simplified into vast, harmonious parabolae, with their outline etched in cement. They were simple lines, more like giant diagrams, stripped of accessory inflections that would jar as frills in this austere and rarefied atmosphere…Lines overlap by means of regulated contacts, the rhythmical balance of their geometric trails eternizes ample gestures. Lines ascend and descend, huddle or irradiate in a grave and ritualistic dance.
March 15, 1923, Ortega spoke again:
Deep feeling and total unselfishness inspire a work that is calm and serene, strong and high…The recess has to be seen to feel the dampness of the fecund earth, still tremulous, that sprouts its first fauna and flora, as it becomes “the first augural voice” mentioned by the prophetic verb of Aeschylus.
March 22, Molina was heard again:
He [Rivera] cemented a cornerstone in the monument of future American art with his great mural decoration.
The fossil elements of the older school joined them…Men who ignored the admirable Velasco, and who thought that they followed the great master Rebull by turning out vile religious pot-boilers. All attacked…
…moderns among the muralists.
Whether this widespread invitation to conservative painters was the result of strategy or open-mindedness, the first and more obvious move of the secretary…
…called Jean Charlot.
Why Vasconcelos chose as his emissary a twenty-two year-old “who was only a student at the open air school of Coyoacán” is explained by the previous refusal of older men; also the Secretary’s private secretary, James Torres Bodet, had enough confidence in Leal to own and to hang in his home some of his paintings.
It is prudent to check Leal’s remembrances against a contemporary text. In La Falange of August 1923, Rivera punctiliously underscores the sequence. Before his arrival:
the walls of San Pedro y Pablo were beginning to be “potted.” After that, the painting of the Auditorium of the Preparatoria School was begun, and after that Alva, Charlot, Cahero, Leal and Revueltas came to paint on the walls of this same school…
To supply the missing dates: San Pedro y Pablo was commissioned June 1920, Rivera’s Creation reached the wall early in 1922, and the five young men were called in simultaneously about May 1922.
It is undeniable…
…the decoration of the Auditorium.”
Later critics embroider the theme, for example, Frances Flynn Paine jocosely wrote in the foreword to Rivera’s New York show of 1931:
For a time the young painters were strongly influenced by the work in the Auditorium of the Preparatoria School. The monumental idea took possession of them. There was an almost comic anxiety to create things that were much alike and the less the distance from which to view the figures, the larger they seemed to make them. Some of the figures painted by these young followers of Diego in the Preparatoria School were impossible to see from any point because one could not get at a sufficient distance from the wall, owing to the narrowness of the corridors.
We witness here the illusion bred by uncertain dating, that the works of a recognized master, aggressively visible now and of vast bulk, must have somehow influenced works less publicized and less exposed, and done by very young men. Checking on dates proves that there was instead a give and take, and that, if Rivera’s example was a spur, in exchange some of the essential lines along which the renaissance grew were stated first by the maligned Dieguitos.
…the entrance to the same stairway.
The planning and painting of the five walls stretches in time between May 1922, when they all were commissioned, to mid-1923. Though scarce, contemporary data are sufficient to follow their progress. At the end of 1922…
…the panel was close to completion. Together with that of Revueltas, it was inaugurated June 24, 1923.
In spite of…
…Cahero painted only this one before his death. The only contemporaneous description of the work is that of Sóstenes Ortega in December 1922:
Cahero has nearly finished the mural panel assigned to him at the entrance of one of the stairways. Because of a lack of familiarity with decorative fresco (sic), our painters met with certain handicaps. The figures of Cahero cannot be said to be perfect, and much less their color, which shows some clashing tones and very dark ones. In spite of the relative lack of harmony, an integrated vision has been realized, already more serious than that of his other works, regardless of the subject matter that inspires him and that he develops with all his will. The figures of colonial friars draw the most praise, being well realized and possessed of superb dynamic life.
The pioneer panel…
…bespoke the born painter. For such a gift, the moment was scarcely propitious, the trend being to stress, not the pulp and bloom of optical nature, but rather the intricacies of the dry skeleton of the Universe. Revueltas rendered nature…
…“Merde pour les bourgeois.”
Revueltas was a true Bohemian, with the local variations imposed by a revolutionary milieu. Confusing the bourgeois of Marxist disquisitions with that of atelier slang, he had a less stuffy time baiting Philistines than could be had at a Paris sidewalk café.
…a description by Renato Molina Enríquez, published in July 1923:
Its lavish polychrome orchestration is conceived with no other care than to find an equivalent to the primitive equilibrium that Nature offers in her potent harmonies…The simplest theme needs no explanation or involved commentaries. The painter did no more than search for a plastic motif and execute it with the candid ingenuity of an artisan who has no need of intellectual exegesis to be understood by the masses. Dominating the composition…
…the fruits of the earth…The drawing of the figures is robust, and simplified to the point of stylization, a befitting simplicity called for by the wall. The Guadalupe emerges between clouds of golden cadmium-yellow, toned down by carmine shades. At the sides, clouds of grayish blue carry the eye to the gray blue and pearl gray at the top…The praying angels contrast carmine draperies against clouds of chrome yellow. A Prussian-blue sky ties the upper vision with an earth of soiled ochre, with green cactaceae rising at its sides. Attitudes are masterfully observed…the posture of the woman who carries her child, the market woman with a jicara on her head, and the bronzed Indians half-hidden in their wrappings. In the costumes…
…that Blavatsky stuff.”
In The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence mentions a young guide who showed the murals to “Kate” and heard her discourse on their shortcomings, and how the boy came to her room the next day, hat twisted in his hands with provincial embarrassment, to abjure past aesthetic errors. This fictitious account proves that, during our short meeting, neither one of us had made much of an impression on the other.
…to smooth over discrepancies.
THE GOSPEL OF MEXICAN MURAL PAINTING
According to Fernando Leal
The direct roots of the modern movement of Mexican painting are found in the student strike at the School of Fine Arts in 1911.
The heroes of this initial spur of rebellion in our national art were of the generation which preceded mine. I was still a child at that time, but some chums from primary school, friends of the strikers, invited me to visit the school of Santa Anita. Before that, leaning on the influence of the same comrades, I had peeked at the classes of the Academy without daring to attempt to draw, or give the slightest hint of my fugitive presence, for this milieu filled me with disillusionment and almost horror. The half-begun pictures seemed sordid and the students sunk in greasy laissez-faire. They played at Vie de BohŹme, grew long hair, and sang melancholy songs while plucking their guitars in the twilight of the classroom when the teachers were absent. The atmosphere was that of a tavern with half-dressed models indulging in cheap smokes.
To visit Santa Anita was by contrast a revelation, since there reigned a buoyant activity. Director Ramos Martínez was a gentleman who used spats and gloves and discussed art exclusively. Perhaps he put an exaggerated fire in all he said and underlined his endless disquisitions with elegant gestures and French expressions, but the overflowing juvenile enthusiasm was catching.
The students were the same ones who had disoriented me in the dark school of San Carlos, but the open-air light transfigured them. One especially, Jesús Ibarra, I admired when he declaimed with oratorical postures against all academies and against the bourgeois octopus for which he prophesied a sudden and lamentable end. What was being painted there was an impressionism sui generis, which branched into strange groups and subgroups: Divisionism Pointillism, Luminism, Chromatism, Naturalism, Folklorism, Postimpressionism, Neorealism, Paroxism, etc. I felt such an enthusiasm for these nearly mystical intents of impressionism that I asked to be allowed to paint too. To my intense surprise I was given an enormous canvas on a stretcher over a meter square and a set of colors, minus black and the blacklisted earth-colors which I learned to appreciate much later.
This was my first picture. I marveled at the confidence shown in me, as materials were handed out without my having attended any of the classes of drawing or painting or even being an enrolled student of the school. My model was a woman dressed with rose-hued silk and bathed in the light and reflected lights of a rustic village garden. I started painting as if it were a game and soon heard behind me the exclamations that Ramos Martínez never refused to anyone: “It is a Cézanne! One should paint like that without parti pris. What color! Silvery! And la pČte! To what texture it builds!” I could understand only a few of these breathless sayings, but I shall always remain grateful to Alfredo Ramos Martínez for having confronted me with the most fantastic problems which a painter may face, without attempting to humble me with the pedantry of an academic teacher.
Never have I been taught to paint; never have I been taught to draw; and that is the humblest and proudest thing that I can say.
Alas, the brand-new open air school of Barbizon lasted scarcely more than two months for me. The usurper Huerta fell, and the group of painters scattered. The older ones, whose strike had resulted in this short-lived outdoor escapade, enlisted in the revolutionary ranks, either to disappear on battlefields or to deviate their life courses towards politics.
I went on painting for three or four years in the patio of our house, where I pursued the fugitive hues of color in full light, using friends and my sister for models. Successive revolutionary factions held the city only to leave it soon in the hands of their foes. The streets resounded with the perpetual coming and going of irregulars.
At times I joined my friend, Ramón Alva de la Canal, and we lost ourselves in conversations about painting while seated in some Chinese café. We always arrived at the same conclusion. We would not register at the Academy, since that would be a compromise. It would be better to wait for the opportunity to further an expression based on emotion felt from life, rather than on routine academy rules.
We did not wait too long for our opportunity. When Obregón rose to power we knew that the moment had come for us to start a tiny revolution of our own. In cahoots with another friend, Mateo BolaĖos, who was as much of a budding painter as we, we contacted students of the School of Fine Arts who shared our inquietude, and carried on a truly subversive labor in the dim halls of the venerable academy.
The director of the institution, Mateo Herrera, conscientious copyist of Velázquez, was replaced by Alfredo Ramos Martínez, who meant for us a symbol of renewal and the tacit promise of the foundation of an outdoor school of painting.
The roll of those who brought about this change is as follows: Mateo BolaĖos, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Francisco Díaz de León, Enrique A. Ugarte, Emilio García Cahero, Gabriel Fernández (not meaning Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma but the one we referred to as “the Bolshevik”), and myself.
Ramos Martínez interpreted our aspirations by opening the outdoor painting school of Chimalistac. We, the core of seven beginners, lived there in contact with new landscapes and new types, bent upon exploring without prejudices, the first time in modern times, the surrounding beauty.
With blind faith in the fruitfulness of our efforts, we settled to work, and at the year’s end the school of Chimalistac had its first success, presenting an ensemble quite superior to that of the teachers and students of San Carlos. Ramos Martínez boldly used the incident to renew the faculty. He released the older teachers who stood for routine and laissez-faire, and distributed their posts among a group of young painters from Chimalistac, confronting with courage the wave of protests that rose against his decision.
The outdoor school remained active, even with a majority of its members now teachers at the National School of San Carlos. It moved, however, to a much more adequate place in Coyoacán, with a better allowance. The small colony of seven artists was swelled with new members: Fermín Revueltas, who had returned from the United States, Ramón Cano come from Vera Cruz, Leopoldo Méndez, and a few more. The last arrival was Jean Charlot, who came with his mother. They were looking for a little quiet in the New World to forget the horrors of the war that had just swept like a hurricane over the European continent.
Don Lino PicaseĖo, librarian of the National School of Fine Arts, put us in touch and a great friendship began at first sight. I was happy to take Charlot with me to the school of Coyoacán and to have Ramos Martínez confer on him all the prerogatives of a Mexican student.
A few weeks before the arrival of Charlot, the potentialities open to Mexican artists had grown enormously, owing to the active spirit of José Vasconcelos, then the president of the university.
José Vasconcelos was brimming over…
…at Vera Cruz on January 23, 1921. My first impressions of the capital are preserved in “Mexico of the Poor”:
I had staged in my head a sham Mexico, fanned with feathers of blue, green and red, its trees feverish with tropical mimics. I somehow felt cheated at landing, in spite of the guided tours, the marble bulk of the National Theatre, the powdered maidens dressed in organdy, the gentlemen sunk within stiff collars. One of the latter, as wealthy as he was senile, stated: “No equality is possible here; just decent people and wild men.” I was soon to find the truth of his assertion.
At six o’clock in the morning, automobiles and ladies are still asleep, and the true features of the town emerge, washed of this phony coat of paint that disfigures it in the daylight. Beautiful beings people the dawn-lit streets, Ladies of Guadalupe innumerable. They move noiselessly, feet flat to the ground, antique beauty come to life. The wealthier quarters are as empty and soiled as a music hall at noon, but everywhere else, among those low-lying houses, cubic and freshly daubed, processions are staged. At a first glance the crowd is the color of dust. Flesh and cloth, both worn out with use, melt into this grey which is the very livery of humbleness. Eye and mind soon learn to focus, and this race, its confidence won, attests its beauty through its fabrics, its straws, its flesh…
These people have the wisdom of the philosophers who walked with naked feet in a stream while abstracting ideals. They toys have the twist of Aesop’s fables, their bodies the patina of those antique athletes of whom Lucian states that they are the color of sun-baked bricks. When the servant-maids troop out of the earliest mass, the repetitious beauty of their naked feet, the ample petticoats, the draped scarves, duplicate the rhythm of the Panatheneas…
Rebozo, zarape, flesh and hair partake of those shades which are the palette of Nature: yellows, reds and greys of earth colors, the blue-greys, the grey-blues, and as a climax those changing hues of the pigeon’s throat. I arrived with a stock of good chemical colors bought in France, ready to match monkeys and palms, as an explorer carries gaudy calicoes to do barter. How could these pigments stand for these, the very colors of water, earth, wood and straw. Even my up-to-date theories of art need go overboard as I face the features of this land truly secretive and classical, whose perennial mission seems to be the apotheosis of the poor and the scandal of the impertinent.
Ramos Martínez, director…
…what we both had left behind us in Paris.
When Leal relayed Vasconcelos’ call for muralists, I was already working for Rivera, on Creation.
181 f./295 f. Omitted paragraphs placed by date.
“May 19. See Toledano apropos decoration.”
“July 15. Try head on wall.” I tacked in situ a full-scale pencil drawing of a warrior’s head to check perspective and optical deformations.”
“August 10. Draw Diego for wall.” A sketch from nature used for his portrait in the group at the lower right.
“September 8 and 9. Draw horses.” For the Conquistadores.
…seven workdays to complete (Figs. 28a, 28b.)
It remained to letter the explanatory caption that ran under the picture. A quote from the sixteenth-century chronicler Diego Durán, describing the wholesale butchering of Indian aristocrats by Alvarado, it read: “Such was the upset and such the clamor raised that mountains echoed it and stones were split with pain and pity.”
There remained the coloring…
183 f./297 f.
…until the wall was thoroughly dry. After that, the fresco was covered with a tarpaulin to avoid mishaps while school handymen put in a cement dado and refreshed the ceiling moulding in distemper.
“February 1: Fresco inaugurated. Many friends, pop and cookies.” Such feasting was due to Siqueiros’ initiative (Fig. 28c). A photographer took a flash of the affair, that is also a roll call of Mexican painters.
Vasconcelos came the next day and gave his verbal approval, finding the work “quite strong.”
In Mexico at the time, to attempt fresco on a mural scale was truly an adventure. That September 1922, Siqueiros returned from Europe, just in time to witness the execution of the painting. He too felt, for once vicariously, the pioneering fever that pulsed in such a technical exploration. He writes, with one factual slip––I never went to the Fontainebleau school:
What were the procedures of mural painting? In Egypt, in Greece, in Renaissance Italy, in ancient American civilizations, the two essential techniques were encaustic and fresco; as a rule, fresco for interiors and encaustic for polychromies on outer architecture. But what did they consist of? One knew nothing of it, or at least very little in the modern academies of Europe and America. While our disorientation was at a peak for the lack of a solution to such an elementary problem, there fell among us as from the sky a young French painter called Jean Charlot who had studied at the Art School of Fontainebleau. And he was first to enlighten us somewhat on the subject.
…with soft brushes. Black of mediocre adherence. Vermilion…
…and my personal experience.
Cement stops to an extent the pores of the mortar, the color is harder to apply and the drying process is speeded up. However, I believe that cement…
…if my mural work was to shoot valid roots in this new soil. A youth passed among American archeological specimens eased the process somewhat, but my plastic experience remained mostly European. The men who introduced…
…”We are giving him his spoonful,” he grinned.
When in Paris, I wished for an art identified with artisanship. In Mexico, the wish found its fulfillment in the Rivera workshop with its bracing manual labor, and in hard fresco work of my own. If this resurrection of past methods escaped the faintly gamy flavor that plagued the nineteenth-century pre-Raphaelite handicraft movement, it was not due to us but to the attitude of the Mexican people. The first time that Escobar greeted me by the title of Maestro, it flattered my Paris-conditioned ego. But the fact that he expected to be addressed in return as Maestro taught me to respect his dominion of the mason’s craft as he did my knowledge of art.
Critic Sóstenes Ortega…
…Charlot has decorated one of the walls in the upper corridors in this peculiar style of his that seems so strange to us, and at times extravagant. With a knowledge…
…that remain bland and spongy…
Let us see if, on the ground of pure plasticity, the work is correctly planned and solved, if the whole is as serene and harmonious as befits all mural decoration…This picture produces a most painful sensation of instability. The heavy darks at top seem to tumble materially over the lower half. Being the complement of an architecture, great mural decoration should possess a similar basic stability. To prove that the modernism of the work need not be jeopardized by such a rule, we have here the decoration of Diego Rivera, where the greatest freedom of conception and execution is welded to absolute stability.
To return to our painting, its best feature is the distribution of the lines of strength represented by lances, a solution based somewhat on the cavalry charges of Paolo Uccello and Pietro [sic] della Francesca…
At the lower left, an Indian with the face of a suffering idiot holds a shield that bears an inscription to the effect that: This painting was done in fresco, being the first since colonial times, and was executed by Jean Charlot on a wall plastered by master mason Luis Escobar.
…A painter is capable of evolution…
…the start of the ministry frescoes.
I noted in my diary on April 28th, “Drafted an answer to Molina.” Although it seemed of stop-press urgency in 1923, its partial appearance in print is given here for the first time:
On my arrival in Mexico I was struck by the contrast between the spirituality of the Indian race and the mechanical civilization imported first from Europe, then from the United States. There has been between those incompatible cultures a clash in which the Indian mode must yield to the other. Such a racial feud could remain anecdotical but it acquires ampler validity as a symbol of a more general conflict between the search for the Beautiful and Good, and that for Money and Pleasure…History suggests a happening that fits perfectly this preconceived mold, the massacre of the Indian aristocrats by Alvarado while they were performing a floral dance in the Main Temple. A strictly historical presentation of this incident would obscure its symbolism. Satiated by a display of archaeological knowledge, the spectator would look no further. I have purposely used anachronism as a hint that the spectacle witnessed is unreal, that it is rather the hieroglyph that stands for a parallel happening on the intellectual plane…
Anachronisms and details––on the side of the Mexicans, ostrich plumes, jewels, flowers, all harmless accessories that further the idea of intellectuality and of estheticism…The sadness and fright expressed by some participants relate rather to the servile state of the Indian race in times to come than to the present action…
Siqueiros dates his revolutionary beginnings from the art students’ strike of 1911. With the plush ripped off the social order, the traditional fabric of the Academy disintegrated at the seams. The faculty lacked authority. Under a kindly Izaguirre and a stone-deaf Gedovius, presence in class ceased to be checked, while students and models in corners acted sly versions of the vie de BohŹme. Worst, the work routine was carried intact from the days of Díaz, an anachronism now that Madero was president.
The San Carlos strike parallels in matters esthetic the social revolution. Then all of fourteen years old…
Siqueiros understates his case: one missile aimed at the Director of the School landed on the wife of the potentate instead, and the young artist had as a result his first, though not his last, taste of jail.
When Martínez, waving impressionism…his inquietude, his rebellions.” Friends remember how he paid practical homage to picturesqueness, to the fruit vendors rowing to shore in their flat-bottomed chinampas, by devouring boatloads of mangoes and mameyes in a juvenile rash of Indianism.
Siqueiros’ favorite recollections…
…with other dissident artists like Orozco, Emilio Cahero, and Alva de la Canal, to mention only future muralists. They named…
…those who take to the bush as outlaw fighters.
There, the fugitives from an academy became dedicated to a job far from pure estheticism. A press was set up in a looted church to print La Vanguardia, an illustrated periodical that upheld the morale of the Carranzista troops and ridiculed their foes.
Siqueiros soon gave up what Bohemianism…
…We shot him outside.
Siqueiros, whose art is scarcely anecdotal, painted but a few of the many scenes he witnessed, and those stylized––a watercolor of prisoners roped like cattle and herded along a highway to an obvious fate, a drawing of a sleeping peasant with a uniformed drunk holding a pistol to his head. As is the case with Orozco, the pictures are posterior to the events depicted, while contemporary drawings show very different style and content.
With Carranza as victor…
…not free from extravagance…Another interesting phase of his work is his illustrations. At times incongruous, his compositions prize plastic motives above ideas.
A set of watercolors on dance motives: the dancers of Siqueiros…
…armed to the teeth Zapatistas; “México Moderno,” a sombreroed fruit vendor looks at automobiles flowing by a skyscraper in construction; “Grace Triumphs over Strength,” a snake-thin woman fondles the bleeding head of a decapitated corpse lashed to a tree; “Sugar Skulls”…
…the draftsmen he copied. Vaguely disturbed, an editor suggested, “His Portuguese ancestry may be a key to the technical vigor of his drawings. The line is firm, the chiaroscuro brusque. The idea aims at antithesis…Still quite young, Alfaro Siqueiroz (sic) will quickly define his personality.”
The artist did not stay…
In Paris, Siqueiros swapped goods with Rivera. The latter demonstrated his machine to produce the fourth dimension (the same that tantalized André Salmon), helped Siqueiros make the rounds…
…definitive form in 1921.
Two other Mexican artists, Amado de la Cueva and Carlos Orozco Romero, were in Europe at that time, sent by Basilio Vadillo, governor of their native state of Jalisco. They both play a role in the mural movement. Siqueiros struck up in Europe a special companionship with de la Cueva. Together they toured Spain and Italy.
On the day that Mexican newspapers…
published in Barcelona…A native of Chihuahua, until recently chancellor of the Mexican consulate in Paris, Siqueiros is making fruitful studies in the old world under reputable teachers. His promotion…
…usually dated from its appearance.
The magazine printed a photograph of the President of the National University, José Vasconcelos, and commended “his superior cerebrality and intelligent labors,” which suggests his interest in the venture, and probable financial backing. It featured also…
…The Brancacci Chapel was his personal revelation, as Ravenna was Rivera’s. Long after, both Amado and Alfaro loved to extol the beauties of the Brancacci frescoes, backing their assertions with an excellent set of Alinari photographs and beautiful pencil copies of details by de la Cueva.
…an exhibition ready at year’s end.
Mexico, February 27, 1922. Vasconcelos to Siqueiros.
Your plans seem very good and I have advised the Department of Pensions accordingly…We will forward your travel expenses as soon as you wire us that you return.
April 16, 1922.
VASCONCELOS PUBLIC EDUCATION MEXICO
SUM NEEDED RETURN MEXICO NEXT BOAT SITUATION PARIS CONSULATE MOST URGENT
ALFARO SIQUEIROS MEXICAN CONSULATE PARIS
YOURS ARRIVED YESTERDAY IS SUM ASKED FOR RETURN MEXICO.
SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
On April 27…
…at 3.30 pesos daily.”
Rivera described the two painters at landing: “Siqueiros and de la Cueva arrived, ardently eager, their spirits fired by recent contact with the timeless painting, without epoch or fashion, of the great Italians and with the modern Parisian effort, meaning Picasso et al. …”
On arrival Siqueiros…
…both new and strong.” [Text fig. XIV]
The local milieu, rich in human earnestness, quickly tore from Siqueiros the formal trappings of pittura metafisica that still swaddled his genius. One of his first Mexican works represented a small boy seated at the edge of an iron bed, feet dangling. Poles apart from Rousseau, Siqueiros yet conveyed in this drawing maximum emotional content with lamb-like means.
It was customary for returning pensionados to stage substantial shows to justify the expenditure of the State’s money, as had Rivera in 1910. Rather than display his talents as an artist, Siqueiros helped organize on his return the Syndicate of Painters and Sculptors, which bespeaks his worth as an organizer. His only contribution to the “Art Action” show that marked his public reappearance in November 1922 was this tiny pencil vignette of a lonesome boy. Reviewing the show, Ortega moans, “Siqueiros exhibited only a small drawing when a series of vigorous works of new tendencies was expected.”
While Amado de la Cueva joined the group that helped Rivera at the auditorium, Vasconcelos gave Siqueiros…
Note to above: This episode may be the source of the later apocryphous relayed by Schmeckebier, p. 37, “Siqueiros at one time had hung a small drawing of a child on a large wall space as a mural.”
…who had had first choice.
He states now that this choice showed how he already thought of murals as a cluster of illusive bulks and spaces that interplayed with the three-dimensional architecture, and not as a set of panels, larger than easel pictures but similar in essence.
The sparse light…
…stamped in red on his cheek.
While he was in Europe, Siqueiros had insisted with the longing of an exile on a return to native sources:
We must come closer to the works of the ancient settlers of our vales, Indian painters and sculptors (Mayan, Aztec, Inca, etc., etc.); our climatological identification with them will help us assimilate the constructive vigor of their work; their clear elemental knowledge of nature will be our own starting point.”
But, returned to his own milieu, cradle of Indian culture, Siqueiros looked back perversely to Europe:
Our pictorial mural tradition is mostly colonial. In Mexico, all decorable buildings are built in the occidental architectural style. It follows that the mural painter should subject himself to the great Italian tradition as his colonial predecessors wisely did. It is granted that racial particulars are bound to tinge his work unconsciously.
By striving to create an autochthonous style, the muralist would cut himself from the main European current that molds the very material on which he means to work, marring the results.
Transitional works have a fascination of their own. Rivera disgorged, on arrival, stiff Byzantine treasures. My own first mural was a geometrical gloss concerning Uccello. Siqueiros ushered in his Mexican period under the aegis of Masaccio.
…Juan Hernández Araujo. I recorded his birth in my diary June 1, “Begin writing critical estimates.” The nom-de-plume was also…
…toward Mexican sources. The calling of pulquería painters had many points of contact with what we ourselves wished to do, and Siqueiros hired one of them to garnish the walls of the first flight of stairs with make-believe twisted columns, false stonework and fake perspectives.
On the north and south walls of the first landing, Alfaro painted encaustic figures. Gone were the knowing contrasts of light and shade reminiscent of the Brancacci Chapel. The first panel, now half erased, was a nude St. Christopher holding a nude Child, colonial at least in its subject matter. The second was a standing Indian dark, stark, forbidding, red ochre on a red ochre background, closer to pre-Cortesian esthetic. Siqueiros replaced it at a later date by a standing woman, a fresco.
When the communal work in the second court of the Ministry was suspended in August, I joined Siqueiros as helper at the time he was working on the St. Christopher, and I painted in encaustic the vault above his wall. I painted there a head, cut off and levitating upright, the naturalistic soaring perspective putting the emphasis on the neck slice. Dubious of the realistic illusion, Siqueiros replaced this detail soon after with another version of the same subject, more respectful of the ceiling plane.
I was only one of many who “collaborated” with Siqueiros, and some of the work by other hands still remains, now usually identified as by himself. A curious work…
…from Florence to Teotihuacán. While the deep modelings of the lower ceiling are propped on Masaccio, a native Indian tang imbues what remains of the “St. Christopher,” regardless of the colonial subject matter. It blossomed even more freely in the Indian figure, which has now disappeared, in which subject and style synchronized. But it is only…
…descent from the Mayan king Nachi-Cocom (Fig. 32).
In March 1924, Rivera spoke of the frescoes as still in progress. Between March and July Siqueiros directed house-painter Vasquez to cover the ceiling with a motif suggestive of thorns and corkscrews, while he painted, in the wall space…
…as draftsman to the architect Carlos Herrera.
It would be idle to scan his work for the influence of his two teachers. Munich-educated, Germán Gedovius “thinks like a Mexican and paints like a German,” remarked Cornyn approvingly in 1910. The other, Leandro Izaguirre, was known under Díaz for his rendering of popular types (Cornyn reproduces his “Tlachiquero”) as well as for historical “machines.” One could attempt a parallel between his masterwork, “Torture of Cuauhtemoc,” which depicts the slow broiling of the last Aztec emperor by gold-eager conquistadores, and the flame motif that hisses and crackles through much of Orozco’s mural painting, from the hands that transmit and receive Fire, painted in 1925 in the House of Tiles, to the cadaver aflame in the cupola of Guadalajara’s CabaĖas hospital, frescoed in 1942. But the stylistic relationship is null.
In September 1910…
…evidences of its dry rot. Though Creole and rabidly anti-Indian, he no doubt questioned….
…and show him to the library…While my guest sits down and spies around through thick glasses, I place him mentally. Orozq? [sic] The cartoonist? Now I remember certain cartoons in El Ahuizote rich in intention , in energy and cruelty. I also remember with what enthusiasm my dear friend Jorge Enciso spoke of their author…
The artist talks in a muffled voice…
…drawings concerned with college girls…caught with keen observation in full action, and climactic intensity of expression. Young women meet…
To Carranza, victor over Huerta, the artist pledged his first, and, one might venture, his last political allegiance. His friend Atl, newly made director of the Academy, in a ringing manifesto that berated academics, urged, “If, in this moment of universal renovation the Mexican artists, pleading the serenity of their sacerdoce, remain inert, refuse to play a consciously virile part in the struggle, if they let others do their job…then the rolling avalanche is sure to leave them behind, in a heap of debris.”
The argument convinced Orozco. Two months later, in November 1914, when Zapata, Villa and Gutierrez smoked Carranza, with Atl in his wake, out of Mexico City…
…future majesty of the Preparatoria frescoes (Fig. 33). The related studies, “The Sea” and “The Bridge of San Juan de Ulúa,” were included in the exhibition he gave the following September.
Throughout his enforced exile…
…and bourgeois hypocrites. Inasmuch as it helped the painter to impress on the spectator the repulsiveness of vice, one must admit that a vigorous work of art has been realized.
Dr. Atl, turned from cleric-eater into an art critic, sided bravely with the painter in his magazine, World-Wide Action:
J. Orozco. He is an excessive. His types of prostitutes are epitomes of prostitution. He carries the unhealthy characteristics of bordello women to a paroxysm of exaggeration. Those watercolors are like a collection of social tumors bared by the deft hands of a surgeon. Orozco is a psychologist who takes pleasure in stressing human morbidity. Because the technical means at his disposal are sound, the display of his feelings results in emotionalism bordering on repulsion…The general intonation reminds one of an ancient fresco long bleached by the sun [a sensitive observation, years in advance, concerning the technique with which the painter came to be identified].
Orozco possesses qualities of cartoonist and draftsman of the first order. Had fate willed him born in France or Germany, his name would be rated above those of the most famous European satirists. The series of works shown here is but one facet of his temperament. To judge him in toto, it is imperative to look at his drawings of school girls, his political and anti-clerical cartoons, and his strong symbolical drawings. The day that Orozco shows these works together, the public will be better able to appreciate him at his worth. Should it fail to do so, Orozco will remain nevertheless a powerful and an original artist.
Later that year…
…and other appetizing “firecrackers” of the native kitchen.
Orozco wrote in 1923:
In 1916, I gave an exhibition of works that summed up my technical progresses and my esthetic ideas up to then…
…my show was thoroughly misunderstood. A public unaware of the new trends embodied in these works dismissed them as caricatures. As usual, public curiosity focused on the subject matter and even on the private life of the author, sidestepping technical and esthetic angles.
One critic wrote…
…villain’s dagger…not so lamentable a blunder as that of confusing life itself with representations of life…I am made to appear…
…dummies of the Kaiser at street corners.
Of his stay in California he keeps an honorific diploma:
His work of tinting photographs having proved quite satisfactory, it is understood that he leaves the job of his own free will. The job remains open for him in case he cares to return.”
Orozco crossed the country…
…the abstract properties of art.
This far-sighted estimate took time to sink into the national consciousness. A month after its publication, Orozco exhibited with the “Art in Action” group. Reviewing the show, critic Pérez Mendoza still attacked “a rough-house naturalism that degrades even itself.” But the article of Walter Pach marked a turning point. José Juan Tablada attempted to bring home its implications in answer to the question of a newspaperman:
Concerning Orozco? Much should be said. Imagine in what class this artist’s work must stand when Walter Pach…manifested that the strong personality of this great painter entranced him. Pach’s opinion gave me intense satisfaction because already fifteen years ago I rooted for the original esthetic of Orozco. Diego Rivera has said that in his opinion Orozco is the best painter living in the world today. Orozco is one of the greatest prides of Mexico as regards plastic art…
Interviewed by Ortega in March 1923, Rivera had this to say: “Point to the case of José Clemente Orozco, a painter of genius that his colleagues ignore or pretend to ignore. Such a one deserves fame and, when we learn to appreciate him at his worth, will be famous.”
In spite of this…
…he works in solitude and silence. Dr. Atl lists, “isolated efforts, little known, revealing strong personalities, such as those of…Orozco.” Never a publicity seeker…
…to bid him godspeed. Slated to begin at one-thirty P.M., the meal did not get underway until two hours later. At each place was set a lovely name card, an original photograph by Tinoco, hand-tinted in color…At three-forty P.M., as we proceeded to attack with extraordinary appetite the smoking soup, a thick applause spread…
and mouths remained open and spoons poised in the air while buxom, lovable Fanny Anitua, the popular contralto, seated herself.
When the time for dessert came…
…the reception room of City Hall.
The gathering broke up at dusk…
The mayor to whom…
…equipped to do mural work. Cubist geometry dovetailed easily with architecture. The horizontals, diagonals and verticals that scaffold cubist easel pictures seemed more proper even than on canvas once enlarged on the walls of colonial buildings, where they echoed floor levels, staircase slants and the upward thrust of columns. To adapt the cubist grammar to Mexican patios and arcades meant to work on another scale, but did not require an essential change of orientation.
Orozco had never been to Europe…
…and on folk ways for their subject matter. Montenegro had used patterns from Michoacán lacquers in “potting” the nave of San Pedro y Pablo, jarabe dancers and a macaw vendor in its stained-glass lunettes. Revueltas based his mural on the fat stroke and candent color of pulquería painting. Leal elaborated on Indian festivals in the staircase of the Preparatoria. Rivera was now unloading a picturesque folk-cargo on the first panels of the Ministry. In the second court of the same building, de la Cueva would start in July his frescoes depicting an Indian ritual dance and village fireworks. And I was painting in the same court a “Ribbon Dance” that featured a Maypole and masked Indians.
As was usually the case…
…even each family or tribe…
To confuse one type of art with the other is a grave mistake; to apply to the one the laws that guide the other is a lamentable equivocation that uproots, disorients and upsets the collectivity, causing a slump in its esthetic progress.
That is why…
…the latter warring against the former.
All esthetic philosophy, whatever its tenets, must progress, not retrogress. In my 1916 show…
…The human body is to be his only subject matter, stripped of all racial tags, stripped of clothing, stripped even of those nondescript drapes that most classic masters were too prudent to shun. “Time, the present…
…mutilated by rioting students in 1924.
After reading Orozco on classical canons, contemporaneous descriptions of the frescoes come as a surprise. To the eye of most outsiders, the ground floor was filled with giant rust-red freaks that a reporter deemed “Apocalyptic monsters” that “breed terror.” Professional critics concurred: these figures “make knees buckle with fright.”
Orozco first painted…
…suggested the workings of celestial spheres.
If Orozco’s backers expected him to meet the wall with the ready wit and apparent technical laissez-faire with which he had been used to brush watercolors, they must have felt puzzled. On his first day on the job, Orozco handled more often the square and the ruler than the brush, patiently incorporating into his work the architectural modules of the surrounding columns and arches. So symmetrical was his intent that one of the preparatory drawings was only one half of a head, split along a vertical axis. Orozco made of it a whole head by tracing it on the wall twice, once straight and once reversed. So precise was his planning that even the width and length of nose and eyes were established through mathematical computations.
This cautious first day, July 7, 1923, mean much to the artist, even long after he had mastered the mural medium. When the time came to scrape away this panel, Orozco spared his first day task long enough to have a photograph of it taken, a startling cut-out of minute brushwork against the rough texture of the destroyed area.
He filled the lower half…
234 f./373 f.
…watercolor on paper.
Contrasting with the heroic nudes that filled most of the ground floor, Orozco’s Lautrec-Goya strain already intruded in the group of school girls and that of the supper party. But it is in the frescoes of the second floor, stylistically close to his biting newspaper cartoons, that the classicism that was Orozco’s first intent was definitely discarded.
“Strident caricatures of the Capitalist and the Church, and of the Rich Woman, and of Mammon, painted life-size and as violent as possible.
“A fat female in tight short dress with hips and breasts as protuberances, walking over the faces of the poor…”
“THE DUMP: a heap of useless things, liberty cap, regal crown, proletarian flag.”
On the third floor only one subject was begun: “The Siege of a Bank.” Orozco attempted in vain to finish it on the same day that he was discharged in July 1924. Conspicuous was the floor pattern…
…and the rich he has sent away empty.”
The faith of Orozco was never meant to be soothing or comforting. With him, it is rather a means to enlarge the human drama to God’s scale, which is after all one of the cogent reasons that theologians advance for the Passion. One finds a similar climate in the Catholicism of French writer Léon Bloy, who could impale his victims on hot words as dexterously as any devil a damned on a cherry-red fork. If Bloy is remembered today, it is because his constructive contribution so immeasurably transcended his destructive jags. In the same way, if Orozco were only a scoffer and a debunker, his criticism would lead to anarchy, an old-fashioned bomb at that, scattering its small shot harmlessly because of a too expansive radius. But both Bloy and Orozco are blessed with a private vision of Beauty, jealously kept to themselves, that makes them all the more muscularly dust and scour their universe of every speck that falls short of an ever throbbing ideal.
To assess contemporaneous reaction…
Rivera’s appraisal of the “classical” ground-floor panels was subdued: “…some of the more talented among the young painters asked themselves if it was not possible to do good painting that, in spite of being good, would not move the average person to protest. The attempted solution was beneficial in that…It helped our great Clemente Orozco…”
…painter to the bureaucrats.
Vasconcelos remembers the man more vividly than the work. He states in his memoirs, “I rarely went to the main building of the Preparatoria School, and each time that I came near his frescoes, Orozco would make a long face.”
The most important contemporaneous text in English to bear witness to the first version of the Preparatoria murals is the account published by D. H. Lawrence. This writer may have contacted Orozco’s work hurriedly as early as November 19, 1923, while waiting in Mexico City for the train to Vera Cruz on his way to England, but it is more plausible to assume that he first saw the work and took the notes incorporated in his book The Plumed Serpent in 1925.
Since Orozco had been forced to abandon his work in July 1924, the mutilated frescoes had suffered eight months of further hardships at the hands of passersby. But Lawrence the story-teller overlooked the story-telling scars.
The little party passed on…
…to defend the heroine from the villain’s dagger.” The comparison with theatrical illusion holds good further. The artist’s business of building the picture is a job of a practical, physical nature. Like the actor, the painter weighs in cold blood what technique, what style, will better impart to his audience the heat of passion.
In Orozco, there is no mental cleavage…
…to take up active membership.
So crass was our infantilism at the moment that, at our second gathering held in the auditorium of the Preparatoria, a motion by Rivera was sustained that our Syndicate (though formed for economic ends) should apply for membership in the Communist International, which is in itself a political body. We did not know yet that economic groups adhere to international syndicalist organizations through their respective branches, national and local.
Rivera’s motion was unanimously approved amidst gleeful manifestations, and the corresponding message redacted on the spot. I never knew the answer, but feel certain that it must have produced in Moscow tender expressions of pity…
The first thing discussed and elaborated was a political program that took three days to redact. We complemented it later with an esthetic program and decisions concerning ways of working.
The resolutions of the Syndicate…
…international currents of modern art…
The Syndicate recommends that folk art be considered, adding however that this expression is a decadent manifestation, produced by folk nuclei and enslaved races; the product of people who created extraordinary monumental works in other social conditions and are potentially able to create them in the future, given different human circumstances.
The Syndicate condemns descriptive picturesqueness that pretends to express the essence of a region by its puerile exterior aspects and folk customs.
The Syndicate strongly condemns conformity to bourgeois class manners, for such a submission, conscious or not, results in a plastic form shorn of echoes, eccentric, mystifying, like that elaborated in modern academies the world over.
In concrete terms…
…abetted by Generals Sánchez and Estrada.
Printed on red and dated December 9, 1923, the manifesto was called:
Declaration, Social, Political, and Esthetic,
Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors.
Its text has been translated and reproduced in part by Anita Brenner, and by Schmeckebier after her; I quote only from the unpublished passages:
The military coup of Enrique Estrada and Guadalupe Sánchez was of transcendental importance in precipitating and clarifying the social status of our country…We will fight because we understand full well that the implantation of a bourgeois government in Mexico would bring in its wake a corresponding depression in racial esthetics, which subsist exclusively in our popular classes today but have already begun to purify our intellectuals. We will fight ruthlessly because we know full well that the triumph of the people will bring in its wake not only a flowering of the social order, but also a universal flowering of art, ethnically, cosmogonically and historically transcendental for the life of our race, a culture worthy of our admirable autochthonous civilizations…
In the name of all the blood shed by the people through years of struggle and in the face of a reactionary uprising…we appeal to peasants, workers and soldiers…to form a united front against the common enemy. We advise privates who are at the point of spilling the blood of their brothers in race and class to reflect and realize that charlatans intend to make use of their weapons to steal the land and comfort that the Revolution has guaranteed to their brothers.
For the world proletariat
Mexico D.F. December 9, 1923
The executive secretary, David Alfaro Siqueiros
first secretary, Diego Rivera
second secretary, Xavier Guerrero
Fermín Revueltas, José Clemente Orozco, Ramón Alva, Ramón Alva Guadarrama, Germán Cueto, Carlos Mérida.
Note to above: Ramón Alva Guadarrama helped Orozco at the time on his Preparatoria frescoes. Germán Cueto, sculptor, has been mentioned in Chapter XI, as host of the mural group for the fiesta given to celebrated the completion of “Creation.”
The paper was financed by the Syndicate. Towards expenses, Guerrero gave 6000 pesos, Rivera 2000, Siqueiros 500. The red embellishments…
My diary for March 6, 1924, mentions that “El Machete, the group paper, is published.”
Its first number…
…to see the workers forever. Day and night they intrigue towards such an end, helped by evil military men and public officials who, traitors to their revolutionary origin, wish to disarm the peasants responsible for the victory of this government, and to smash workers’ unions. Sometimes the punch…
…those who work it with their hands” (Fig. 38).
“The Trinity of the Shameless” is another Siqueiros cut. Patterned after the picture of the Trinity that is a popular Mexican devotion, it groups the Anglo-American imperialist, the Mexican politico, and the Spanish tradesman. The Saxon holds a dollar bill, “I loot the world.” The white-collar Mexican holds a scepter, “I am the Iscariot.” The Spaniard jiggles coins, says nothing.
…to shake hands with the President. When he was interviewed, Giurati earned his fee by the slogan “Fascism is the friend of the workers,”––and offered the decrease of strikes in Italy as proof of labor’s satisfaction.
Here was an issue…
Erudite, poetical adolescents, correspondents of bourgeois papers and delegates of a few State Ministries, on their return from Vera Cruz where they welcomed their buddies of the ship Italia, gather to swap reminiscences.
The stage represents the piazzetta del Ajusco, its majestic fountain, and the national stadium for a backdrop.
The time is 5 P.M. Dusk is at hand.
Pet No. 1 Pet No. 4
Pet No. 2 Pet No. 5
Pet No. 3 Pet No. 5–5
The Voice of an Unseen Worker
The six pets recite in chorus:
We went to the sea to see the Boat,
Went to the lovely shore with hope.
Oh! Vessel crammed with beauties to boot,
Oh! Display of fascism’s vast scope!
Ship that rides o’er the deep and proclaims
That ugliness to beauty must bow.
Of fascism the grandiose aims
Breed on art that caters to the know-how!
The recitation over, No. 1, greeting No. 2 with effusive signs of fascist brotherhood, remarks:
[MMR 250, note 10, stanza 1]
No. 2 to No. 3:
[MMR 250, note 10, stanza 2]
No. 3 to No. 4:
Carrara marble, too, too, esthetic
On our hearts beats its tattoos!
Kills our souls with its subtle prick,
As parsley poisons cockatoos!
No. 4 to No. 5:
[MMR 250, note 10, stanza 3 and 4]
No. 5 to No. 5–5:
Forever they paint their proletariat,
Filhy, passé, a-tatter
Surfeit us with their one aria,
A grotesque anti-bourgeois patter…
No. 5–5, wrapped up in remembrances of the sweet vessel, dreamily answers:
Even though sharks give me the creeps,
So eager was I to see the sight
And sweet mementoes to reap,
That I doffed my shorts outright.
As No. 5–5 stops talking, a wave of fascist enthusiasm moves them all. They hug, kiss, and sing a few lines of the fascist anthem. As order returns, No. 3 says:
…I propose, dearies, that No. 1 and No. 4,
The one a good poet, the other an opportunist,
Fecundating their brains as never before,
Hatch a hymn on the mode fascist!
Those alluded to retire to the far end of the Plaza. No sooner have they reached it than INSPIRATION swoops from the skies draped in blatant yellow. The exalted mimicry of the poets is a guarantee that the Muse possesses them. Rejoining after a while their companions, they sing and tan the lyre.
Let us forever exalt
and call a halt
To shirtless gents.
We must arise
With dagger and blackjack
That ill-fed pack…
To cleanse of dirt
We’ll club and hurt
The cursed Indian.
May such gallant stuff
We feel mad enough
To run a fever!
They all sigh, keeping the silence proper to great emotions, until a blast of Fascist Fame’s trumpet startles them…Says Fame:
Distinguished, colossal, divine poets,
Mussolini the Great proclaims you esthetes.
He commands that your brows be shaded
with this crown of laurels never faded.
Your lavish expense of verses and money,
Your anointing of his lackeys with honey,
Your tireless bootlicking
Proved to Mussolini’s liking…
I swear, my sweet suckling sons,
To proclaim your names in person
Over the whole orb, over mounts and vale!
May Death strike me if I fail!
Fame stops of a sudden, scans the horizon with dismay. She puts the trumpet to her ear, the better to detect distant rumblings; her face blanches. Handling her trumpet as a telescope she scans the faraway, and with shaking nerves, mumbles:
The fatherland is imperiled. Alas!
I see red flags, the people rise en masse!
Poor Benito drunkenly drools
And totters on his Imperial stool!
Fame exits hurriedly, flying backwards, rowing the air with her trumpet for an oar. Two by two, the fascist poets faint.
… the borrowed name of my grandfather.
Another day de Negri phoned me, “The military police are after you; your health is in the balance.” I hid eight days in a strange room, my meals brought in, whiling the time away by drawing illustrations for a child’s A.B.C. Then another phone call, “Safe again.”
The executive committee…
…were all removed from the Library.
Weeks later, I began to sketch a portrait of Don Quijote, according to instructions, which were as follows: The painting should be in oils, the time of execution limited to sixty days, and the work should be supervised by Licenciado Torres Bodet, who was the head of the Literature Department. For my good luck, the painting never left the sketch stage; it lacked the approval of Sr. Bodet who found that the Quijote was too realistic, and ought to be given more nobility and dignity. This was maybe right, but the truth is that I could not whip up much enthusiasm for the project, and abandoned the idea without a word of protest.
A few days later, together with Mérida––who had finished the decoration of the children’s library,––Charlot and Xavier Guerrero, I found myself assigned to the frescoes of the second floor of the second patio, a set of shields of the different States of the Republic. Of these, I painted six.
As I finished the work, Orozco, who was lacking an assistant, asked me to take the job, and I worked with him nearly six months on the walls of the Preparatoria School.
The second court…
…Crafts in the Ministry of Education.
Thus the contract drawn by Rivera and Vasconcelos for the decoration of the first court contained no provisions concerning the second court, and as we three knew of no other contract, it appears that there was only a loose kind of verbal agreement entered into by Rivera and Vasconcelos at the latter’s bidding, for Rivera disclaims the initiative when he says: “the Citizen Secretary order the works of this inner patio…”
No specific time…
Of the three painters ready to do team work, Xavier Guerrero was the one most naturally attuned to it (Fig. 43). In the 1910’s, Paris cubists talked of sign and house painters as being truer masters than many an academician, for they alone kept alive wise traditions long forgotten by fine arts schools; Picasso and Braque experimented with the recipes of the trade, and learned how to handle its specialized tools. In Mexico, however, Xavier Guerrero tapped the same rich vein by simple birthright, as the son of a skilled master house painter who rated crews of his own.
Xavier was born in San Pedro de las Colonias, whose native name is Cachuila. His Indian ancestry made him by blood an Aztec, the one undiluted Indian of the original group of Mexican muralists. Xavier learned to toddle his winding way between paint pots and ladders; the fat or flat brushes of the trade were his toys. The future muralist watched his father at his job of painting walls, and learned of a plastic alphabet before he was introduced to his A.B.C.’s. Soon he tried his chubby brown hand at it, challenging with juvenile exercises in make-believe woods and trompe l’Ōil marbles the paternal chef d’Ōuvres. The training of hand and eye was rounded out by practical experience as an architectural draftsman. When fourteen years old, Xavier branched south on his own, from Chihuahua to Jalisco.
1920 having come, the Revolutionary party was top-dog. Vasconcelos was in power and murals were in the air, but not yet on the walls. Only Guerrero could have been described as an experienced muralist. At this juncture, Montenegro at first, and after him Rivera…
…be reserved for himself.
Our work as assistants to Rivera in his first court frescoes was heavy; it started early in the day with instructions to the mason on the portion to be laid, and ended late in the evening by cutting the edges of the day’s design before it had had time to harden. Rivera described our other chores in an interview: “Alas, because the artists of today are trained as individuals instead of in workshops, the collaboration of a painter with another concerns only the more impersonal parts of the work: preparation of the material, preparation of the wall, its division into areas, tracings, and at most plain backgrounds and a few accessories.”
In May, I was thus ingloriously engaged in painting the brickwork in the architectural portion of the “Sugar Cane Refinery,” when on the 18th I noted in my diary that Rivera freed me to start painting my own panels at last. Though far from verbose, the diary, besides the chronological sequence of the work, records the subsequent incidents that plagued our work.
My diary records…
…those exponents of an Abnormal School.
A kinder estimate is that of Cossio:
The disciples of Rivera decorate the corridors and staircase of the Preparatoria School and also part of the Ministry of Education. Certainly none among them has reached the perfection of the master, but, as a group, and with Rivera at their head, they work all day long on a work that, whatever its partial shortcomings, is grandiose in its conception, grandiose in its realization; the job they do is the most important pictorial work done in America.
He does not add that we were shot in the back.
Out of our army’s casualties under fire, there remained to extract gold fillings. On December 11th the Controller of Accounts wrote to Rivera that the cost per square meter of his work in the first court of the Ministry had risen in execution from the original estimate of 8 pesos to 75 pesos 32 centavos, and that already 18,001 pesos had been paid in excess of the total estimate for the completed work. Rivera parried the blow with a counter-claim of 1,892 pesos still due him by the treasury.
Here is the daily payroll listed by the Controller:
Assistant 10.00 [this was Xavier Guerrero]
3 decorators 12.00 [originally Guerrero, de la Cueva and myself]
1 (master mason) 4.50
1 (journeyman mason) 3.50
1 laborer 1.75
2 laborers 3.00
1 assistant 3.50
1 assistant 2.00
a total of $60.25 put in round numbers by the Controller at $60.00.
Here are the salaries per day listed by Rivera in his answer:
half-day’s wage of master mason 2.25
“ “ “ journeyman mason 1.75
one laborer 1.75
a total of $9.75.
How is this remarkable decrease in the daily payroll arrived at?
Rivera’s own salary is not included in his own estimate: “As to the wages of $20.00 daily which the undersigned receives, it has nothing to do with the work of decorating the first court, since he earns it by his regular employment as Head of Plastic Crafts, in which capacity he directed the works of the second patio of the Ministry…”
Guerrero’s salary is also discounted: “As to the wages of SeĖor Xavier Guerrero, he has worked during this time:
1. on the decoration of the second patio
2. on the vestibule of the elevator, and
3. on the gilding of the background of the reliefs on the same interior patio.”
The vestibule of the elevator was at most a small job. The gilding referred to could hardly be regarded as contemporary, as it had happened at the time of the inauguration of the building, in July 1922. The one apparently cogent reason is “the decoration of the second patio.”
Half-salaries are listed for the two masons, a laborer and an assistant because “it is necessary to point out that this personnel worked not only in the painting of the first patio, but also in that of the second, in the corridors [that would be our “coats-of-arms” job] and elevator vestibule.”
The salaries of 3 decorators, 2 laborers and 1 assistant remain unaccounted for, implying that those men are working exclusively on the second patio “with which contractor Rivera has nothing to do…”
Thus Rivera managed to shrink his daily payroll to $9.75 for the work done in the first patio, by loading the remaining $50.25 on the job supposedly going on in the second patio, even though at that date all work had been stopped.
The four panels that still remain today in the second court, two by de la Cueva and two of mine, are easily by-passed, embedded as they are in the even flow of Rivera’s great decoration. But from the time of their completion in mid-1923 until mid-1925, they remained as isolated signposts in the naked court and they leavened much that was to come. When Rivera started the second court in 1925, he had to meet the terms that we had stated two years before. Justino Fernández, the critic, spoke incautiously when he belittled our panels without checking on his dates. “By then,” he says, “totally absorbed by the influence of Rivera, he [Charlot] paints in 1923 two frescoes in the Ministry of Education that harmonize with the general decoration conceived by Rivera for those courts.”
Bertram Wolfe, who knew the correct sequence, used more finesse: “Nearby and opposing panels that might be taken in by the eye of the observer simultaneously with those of Charlot and de la Cueva, he [Rivera] skillfully adapted and shaded off towards their styles and colorings so that they do not merge badly into the whole.”
As originally planned, the second court of the Ministry was to be the logical culmination of the mural trend. In contrast with the Parisian set-up, the ideology of the Mexican movement objected to the accent on the individual. As buyer, Mexico substituted a collective government for a Maecenas or an art dealer. As consumer, it replaced the private collector by the people. In the execution of the work, it used teamwork, identical with that of ancient workshops, in lieu of a strict autography. The technique shifted from oil paint, cuisiné in the secrecy of the studio, to that of true fresco, in which both mason and painter have their say. The logical result to such a shift from the individual to the collective would be a melting of personalities who might build in this new anonymity the modern analogue to cathedrals.
The differences of ideologies, that wrecked the project, were forced into definition as our murals progressed. Rivera thought of collective work on the seventeenth century lines established by such a dictator of taste as Le Brun, who planned vast decors in praise of Louis XIVth, to be executed by docile mercenaries. We felt rather that the inner conformity existing among us was binding enough to impose a plastic unity, without need of an overt interference. With the forced stoppage of the work our basic ideal had failed in practice.
…or reigning condottieri. Such an arrangement makes for public works only as good as the taste of the man in power, and, in Mexico, as in Renaissance Italy…
…on the spirit of a whole nation.
So much is said in this country concerning political impositions that some attention should be paid to intellectual and esthetic impositions, even more despotic and abstruse than the pressure applied by the electoral machinery in the spirited fight for power.
…A score of years ago the positivist clique…had imposed its criterion on the nation. In those days the positivist philosophy was State philosophy in the same way that today there is a State painting, sprung from the brushes of Diego Rivera. If one sought a job as teacher of logic under the Dictatorship, one had to think like Auguste Comte; today, if one would be in tune with the intellectual concert of the Administration, one has to see Nature though the incandescent eye of Sr. Rivera.
The imposition is not restricted…
Gathering in force at the office of Alfonso Islas, they pelted it with rotten eggs, tore down its signs, which were later burned amidst hilarious demonstrations.
One of the students vigorously reproached Dr. Islas as a fraud for assuming the title of Dentist Graduate of the Faculty of Mexico, and demanded that the posters advertising this lie be taken down. Sr. Islas hedged along, arguing that his signs had cost him good money. The student countered with a resounding slap.
The started direct action. A rain of rotten eggs fell on the faćade. Passersby shouted with delight at the free show. The bombardment of rotten eggs left the building a pitiable sight, with an unbearable stink floating over the spot. The glass of the three showcases was smashed. Petty thieves quick to take advantage…made away with the dental exhibits, teeth, crowns, bridges. The odontological students…
…second, and final resignation. Shorn of political pull, the painters would soon be at the mercy of the students. Were not the paintings…
…Rivera’s version of the human form. In a deafening turmoil and possessed of indescribable fury, the initiated the work of destruction by scraping the walls and throwing stones and mud at them.
…soiled and mutilated.
In this case, however, direct action stopped by unforeseen circumstances, fell short of its aims; but the students have pledged that “their work will not remain incomplete, nor will the work of Rivera remain complete.”
The preceding threat, as some of the boys who joined in this practical demonstration commented, means that they will return and attempt the total destruction of the mural paintings of Rivera. They plan to invite…
“But then,” we asked, “a direct action against your own work was not even attempted? What may well have happened…”
…the bourgeois still rampant. Far from feeling offended, we rejoice as those men intellectually passé rebel at our revolutionary labors…
We publicly warn pseudo students and reactionary teachers alike that…the vileness of their actions throws a very serious blot on this whole generation of students, and that we intend to make retaliation…
…for example, these of the Preparatoria School. They were given all facilities and soon were wielding the brush. For some unfathomable reason, they began to tell stories in pictures. They began decently enough…
The Secretary of Public Education and Fine Arts will now apportion to those misunderstood apostles of gruesome allegories some other building, less unfit for the display of their mood. We will take into account…
…his intervention was a necessity…They also apprised this functionary of the intention of the students of the Fine Arts School to exercise direct action against the restless students of the Preparatoria.
Dr. Gastelum indicated…
…already a de facto situation. Even this failed to soothe the foes of the muralists.
More Painters Dismissed.
In scholastic circles it is rumored with insistence that the Ministry of Education will receive a petition asking that the futuristic painters be allowed to teach but not to paint. It is obvious that what money the government spends on such works is money thrown away. It is taken for granted that future Secretaries of Education will order such defacements erased from the buildings under their control.
…in behalf of a more generous cause. We will give the community the benefit of the doubt and grant that those who succeeded in this wholesale lynching of art were students refractory in studies. Though they do not know it, they acted according to a sort of unholy logic, as did other moronic minds which remain branded forever in the pages of History…
When a pioneer creates a novel standard of beauty, it clashes with those already labeled and embalmed. If the work transcends an average instinct, it becomes an insult in spirit and letter, for, to contact it, one must look upwards. It is also a creation, and eunuchs never look with favor on virility.
One cannot explain the true painter in everyday terms. He sometimes works for a salary, but more often without. He is alien to a world where activities are spurred by the profit motive. Nor is painting included in the list of things necessary, as compiled by those sages who know that man lives only on bread. Good art exists rather on a spiritual plane and must experience disdain as do those other anti-social virtues of humility and poverty, which are for their devotees a sentence to suffer and often to die…
…for government publications.
Though this feud between students and artists makes a clear-cut picture in retrospect, the destruction of the Preparatoria frescoes was only a fleeting episode in the complex extra-curricular activities of the students. One month after the riot, attention shifted to another subject. Having already upheld the prestige of D. D. S. dental degrees and pointed the way to a return to true beauty in imitation of nature, the students decided to save Mexican womanhood from Yankee fashions. Their target was now the local flapper, with imported bob and knee-short skirt. A few girls were abducted, hazed and ducked in cold water. This time public opinion was solidly against the pranksters. The headlines of Excelsior read: “Students Commit Censurable Assaults Against Flappers, Dunk and Shave them” In retaliation the cadets of the Military School declared war on the unchivalrous adolescents, but this is scarcely our story.
With the painters dismissed…
…the puritanical janitor plied his trade.
Siqueiros never came back to repair and finish his work. Orozco resumed work in 1926, but rather than touch again the mutilated frescoes he delegated his mason and assistants the task not only of restoring the missing patches, but of repainting them as well.
…Anything else would be a paradox. Still worthy of attention is the fact that Sr. Gastelum, Subsecretary of Education in charge of the portfolio, refrained from severely punishing Sr. Rivera.
What an idea…
…They can do it single-handedly.
When Vasconcelos left the Ministry he ran for the governorship of his native state of Oaxaca against a strongly entrenched political machine. Newspaper headlines tell of this new adventure:
July 9, “Great reception to Vasconcelos in Oaxaca.”
August 5, “Smashing Triumph of Vasconcelos.”
August 10, “Will the election of Vasconcelos be circumvented, thus voiding the vote of the entire population of Oaxaca both civil and military?”
August 17, “Deeds of violence take place in Oaxaca. Pro-Vasconcelos deputies are barred from the official legislative building by strong-arm methods.”
August 19, “Governor Ibarra has brought from the mountains great bodies of troops that occupy the government palace even to the roofs.”
August 21, “Two Oaxaca legislatures. The archivist of the pro-Vasconcelos committee dies, lassoed and stabbed by his opponent.”
August 28, “Pro-Vasconcelos deputies kidnapped.
The last contribution to bear on the incident is labeled “paid advertisement” and spread in large type by the politically vested interests: “SeĖor Vasconcelos will benefit the people of Oaxaca by conceding the triumph obtained by General Onofre Jiménez.”
Thus closed the Vasconcelos era which is the setting for this book.
We have seen…
…capers of the academicians.
But not forever––
In the streets one hears the first rumbles that disturb bureaucrats, panic dowagers and stampede the rich towards Europe.
Of those truly ours, those who remain AFTER will return to their scaffolds.
This is a gloss on what he had once said to Charles Michel in the first flush of mural activities: “Work, food, drink––and colors, those are all our needs. They have been supplied up to now…and if they are denied us––we shall take them.” It shows how, as he believed himself abandoned by the Mexican official world, he returned in spirit to the Paris “bistro,” where comrades leisurely rehearsed the coming anarchistic “Grand Soir” over glasses of black wine.
The destruction of the frescoes…
…of known intellectual worth…Such manners match to perfection the small talent of those who, unable to convince by reasons, take refuge in insults.
The Federation of Students…in short Civilization…
If the novel style of painting that adorns the Preparatoria disgusts both university students and teachers, if they lack understanding of the lofty inspiration from which such works are born, it is still nobody’s business but theirs to say so and to ask that the fantastic caricatures that have invaded its walls be replaced in their House of Study by artistic pictures worthy of its monumental architecture…
The Federation of Students of Mexico begs…
…does not impugn their just motives.
El Universal stated on July 12th:
The Painters Answer the Students…in a pamphlet received in our office…
We protest against the bestial, anti-cultural, anti-scientific action, poles apart from civilization and progress, that consists in destroying a work in progress for reasons either obsolete or venal; such a course would put all efforts, all innovations of human knowledge in peril of constant destruction, as a sop to the amateurish opinions of critical passersby.
The more enlightened students of the National University must brand and chastise with their fists the retrograde teachers and students who oppose the forward march of esthetic transformations, a social revolutionary manifestation in behalf of the people and one taking its roots in their conscience!
As if in answer to this wish El Democrata printed a manifesto in favor of the painters signed by the communist students of the Preparatoria School, one hundred and fifty-four strong by their own count. Its closing lines read:
…The so-called Federation of Students of Mexico…is a nest of clowns and mountebanks. Their answer to the manly manifesto of the artists who decorate our school is full of incoherent and ambiguous mouthings…
We earnestly urge the modern painters to keep decorating our school with works fit to shame students influenced by bourgeois doctrines…
The Executive Committee:
One may question the spontaneity of this outburst. At the time the painters were strong in the councils of the Communist party and well placed to dictate local policies. One detects the two-fisted political style of Siqueiros, while the names of the signatories seem chosen by an artist, mostly for euphonic effect.
Of the Syndicate members…
…as the refrain went.
On a higher level, besides grave-diggers and weeping rebozoed women, a few portraits of mourners included one of master mason Luis Escobar, he whom I had portrayed two years before in my first fresco.
While heaven’s fire…
…New Profanations of Mural Paintings.”
Once more the reactionaries, who, within the very body of the present semi-revolutionary public administration, fight against all that means betterment for the workers, ruthlessly demonstrated their disdain for such plastic manifestations as exalt the virtues of the People, who produce all and create all, and such as roundly flay the vices of a bourgeoisie that produces nothing, yet devours everything; as when they partially damaged the pictorial work that Diego Rivera is executing in the Ministry of Education.
The under-handed cowards who put weapons in the hands of men either irresponsible or vile, who profaned the social painting of Diego Rivera, as they had destroyed but a few months ago those of Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clement Orozco, mutilated imponderably at the same blow all pedagogical reforms that favor the productive class.
…The workers, peasants and revolutionary youth of all the Republic know full well that whatever small progress has been accomplished by Vasconcelos in the Ministry of Public Education must not be lost. If we energetically protest the profanation of a revolutionary work, it is also our ineludible duty to the Mexican people to point at the source from which flows all such villainies, and to make note of the fact that SeĖores Vasconcelos and Gastelum (the former is the material and moral instigator of the social pictorial work now developing in a communal way at the hands of a group of painters, members of the Syndicate of Painters and Sculptors, a work without precedent in the social evolution of Mexico) did not know how to meet their responsibilities, how to protect an esthetic work owned by the proletarian masses of Mexico, and paid for with the people’s money. Their timorousness when confronted by an action that shames the whole Mexican race allowed the swank students, bred of exploiters, to try to lop off this collective effort that buttresses the workers of Mexico in their social revolution.
For the Revolutionary Syndicate of Painters and Sculptors
The General Secretary
The postscript read:
…that greatly surprised Don Segundo.
By 1912, a decade before the best-known Mexican muralists painted walls, Guerrero was already a practiced wall painter. He did, among other murals, a ceiling in the chapel of the hospital of San Camilo, its theme a Resurrection. That was in mid-year, and thee was a string of earthquakes that shook the high scaffold where he worked, while the frightened nuns huddled and prayed underneath.
Xavier also tells…
…I would get it.”
Orozco Romero’s first exhibited works were caricatures, hence the nickname Karikato that clung to him long after he had turned to serious painting. In 1921, Basilio…
…the Madrid Autumn salon of 1921. A puzzled critic remarked, “The two Mexican pensionistas give a valiant note of modernism…These young painters are the only ones to rebel against espaĖolismo. They seem to enjoy but little their sojourn in Spain, and to appreciate but little its pictorial jewels.
After a side trip to France…
…in an unusually friendly tone:
Carlos Orozco finished a few days ago a “fresco” in he State Museum. It is totally…
Later on, when the State Museum corrected its easy rambling ways and got an esthetic lift from museographers, the work of…
…There is also a great figure of Saint Christopher, modeled after the sculpture that watches at the corner of Santa Monica Street, and painted in the tradition..
…saw the work through to completion.
Naturally, Orozco Romero closely followed the progress of the team, and we owe to him the snapshots that record the successive stages of the work. But only a view of the original can communicate the vastness of scale, and the insistent, nearly hallucinatory monochrome of the color scheme, an English red on a red ochre background.
Anita Brenner visited…
…radius in height. Given the closeness of the facing walls, any desire to fill them with an agglomeration of motives had to give way to social symbolism…
At first sight one confuses…
…syndicalists, weavers, mechanics. The figures of Alfaro are concise and of a very close-knit plasticity. Those of Amado have more careful, more ennobled features…
Worthy of praise…
The young painter Amado de la Cueva did yesterday, the victim of a deplorable accident…While riding…
…its motor still running…Engineer Nicolas Pugo carried the unlucky artist to his home to receive medical attention. Alas…
Editor’s Note: The following paragraph was not in the file “J.C. Mex. Mural Ren. –– Unpublished Material.”
From Chapter 20: Ministry of Education: First Court
While at work on his scaffold, Rivera cocked his ear to the opinions of petty employees and master masons, scraped, if need be, and did over a fragment until satisfied that the story was clearly expressed. The naked, flogged and roped man seen from the back that soldiers untie so tenderly in “the Liberation of a Peon” was repainted three times over, the result of a chance remark overheard, “Why kill her after they had had their wish with her.”