Friday, September 23, 2011

Diego Rivera, The People's Artist

Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico in 1886. He began to be interested in art at age ten. He studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. In 1907, he moved to Europe. First, he studied in Spain for two years. There, he studied with Eduardo Chicharro in Madrid. He spent most of the next fourteen years in Paris where he encountered the works of such great masters as Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir, and Matisse.
Around 1917, inspired by Paul Cézanne's paintings, Rivera shifted toward Post-Impressionism with simple forms and large patches of vivid colors. His paintings began to attract attention, and he was able to display them at several exhibitions. However, he felt that his own paintings of that period were only enjoyed by the well-educated who could afford to buy them for their homes. Rivera believed that art should be enjoyed by everyone, especially the poor and working class people. So, Rivera searched for a new form of painting, one that could express the complexities of his day and still reach a wide audience. It was not until he began to study the Renaissance frescoes of Italy that he found his medium. These frescoes were often painted on the walls of churches so that everyone in the towns could enjoy and appreciate them. It was with a vision of the future of the fresco and with a strong belief in public art that Rivera returned to Mexico. "Mujeres Tehuanas", 1923 From "The Political Vision of the Mexican People"
Frescoes are mural paintings done on fresh plaster. Using the fresco form in universities and other public buildings, Rivera was able to introduce his work into the everyday lives of the people. Rivera concerned himself primarily with the physical process of human development and the effects of technological progress. For him, the frescoes’ size and public accessibility was the perfect canvas on which to illustrate the grand themes of the history and future of humanity. In the autumn of 1922, Rivera participated in the founding of the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, and later that year he joined the Mexican Communist Party. His murals, subsequently painted in fresco only, dealt with Mexican society and reflected the country's 1910 Revolution. A life long Marxist, Rivera saw in this medium something more relevant and lasting than the elite walls of galleries and museums. Throughout the twenties his fame grew with a number of large murals depicting scenes from Mexican history. His work appealed to the people’s interest in the history of technology and progress. The desire to understand progress was visible in the growing industrial societies of the 1930s, and Rivera saw the workers’ struggle as a courageous stand against exploitation by factory owners whose focus was more on profit than the welfare of workers. "The Sugar Mill" (El Trapiche)
Diego Rivera once said, “An artist is above all a human being, profoundly human to the core. If the artist can’t feel everything that humanity feels, if the artist isn’t capable of loving until he forgets himself and sacrifices himself if necessary, if he won’t put down his magic brush and head the fight against the oppressor, then he isn’t a great artist.” Diego Rivera is considered the greatest Mexican painter of the twentieth century. He had a profound effect on the international art world. Among his many contributions, Rivera is credited with the reintroduction of fresco painting into modern art and architecture. His radical political views deeply influenced his art, and made a strong impact. "Me and My Parrots" by Frida Kahlo
His tempestuous romance with the painter Frida Kahlo was an interesting story that people followed. Frida Kahlo wanted to be Diego Rivera’s lover for a long time. However, she had a serious accident, and couldn’t follow her desire to meet him. Finally, when she recovered, she approached him. Diego Rivera met Frieda Kahlo in 1928. She showed him a painting. She wanted to know if she had a future as an artist. They became very close and fell in love. But after they married in 1929, he continued to see other women, and she continued to see other men. They divorced in 1940, but remarried the same year. In a series of visits to America, from 1930 to 1940, Rivera brought his unique vision to public spaces and galleries, enlightening and inspiring not only artists, but everyone who saw his work. In 1930, Rivera made the first of a series of trips that would alter the course of American painting. In November of that year, Rivera began work on his first two major American commissions: for the American Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and for the California School of Fine Arts. These two pieces incorporated Rivera’s radical politics, while also recording history simply and graphically. During his first two commissions in San Francisco in 1930-1931, Rivera and his wife, artist Frida Kahlo, were extremely well-received. Rivera was quite pleased, therefore, to return to San Francisco in 1940 to execute the Pan American Unity mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition. This work represented a culmination of hundreds of murals painted for the public, and also demonstrated his affectionate relationship with San Francisco. "Indian Metallurgy" from the Pan American Unity Mural
The Pan American Unity Mural is now located at the Diego Rivera Theater at the City College of San Francisco, Ocean Campus. In this mural, Diego Rivera unites figures from Mexican mythology and the culture of industrialism. He wanted to bring the North and South together in this art, both Mexican and North American. He wanted to show both the North American talent for making and using machinery and the southern art, which he called “the art of the emotions.”
 One of Rivera’s greatest gifts was his ability to condense a complex historical subject (such as the history of California’s natural resources) down to its most essential parts. For Rivera, the foundation of history could be seen in the working class, whose lives were spent by war and industry in the name of progress. In these first two commissions and all of the American murals to follow, Rivera would investigate the struggles of the working class. Rivera believed that art should play a role in empowering working people to understand their own histories. "Detroit Industry Mural", 1932
In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Rivera arrived in Detroit, where, at the invitation of Henry Ford, he began a tribute to the American worker on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Completed in 1933, the piece depicted industrial life in the United States, concentrating on the car plant workers of Detroit. Rivera’s radical politics and independent nature had begun to draw criticism during his early years in America. Though the fresco was the focus of much controversy, Edsel Ford, Henry’s son, defended the work and it remains today Rivera’s most significant painting in America. Rivera, however, was not very popular with the wealthy Rockefellers in New York City. "Man at the Crossroads"
In 1933 the Rockefellers commissioned Rivera to paint a mural for the lobby of the RCA building in Rockefeller Center. “Man at the Crossroads” was to depict the social, political, industrial, and scientific possibilities of the twentieth century. In the painting, Rivera included a scene of a giant May Day demonstration of workers marching with red banners. It was not the subject matter of the panel that made the Rockerfellers angry, but the clear portrait of Vladamir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary leader of the Soviet Union, leading the demonstration. When Rivera refused to remove the portrait, he was ordered to stop and the painting was destroyed. That same year, Rivera used the money from the Rockefellers to create a mural for the Independent Labor Institute that had Vladamir Lenin as its central figure. Coit Tower Mural Detail
Rivera remained a central force in the development of a national art in Mexico throughout his life. In 1957, at the age of seventy, Rivera died in Mexico City. Perhaps one his greatest legacies, however, was his impact on America’s conception of public art. In depicting scenes of American life on public buildings, Rivera provided the first inspiration for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA program. Of the hundreds of American artists who would find work through the WPA, many continued on to address political concerns that had first been publicly presented by Rivera. In addition to being a celebrated and controversial artist, Diego Rivera was also a provocative political activist who incited debate not only in Mexico, but also in the USA and Soviet Union. Since his death, his hundreds of public artworks, his many oils and watercolors, and his political daring continue to contribute greatly to the development of public art across the Americas.


1. The wealthy Rockerfellers of New York City didn't like "Man at the Crossroads" because _________________ .
a: it didn't use the fresco style
b: it depicted a Communist Revolutionary
c: it wasn't Rivera's best work
d: it contained an offensive demonstration against capitalism

2. Diego Rivera's relationship with Frido Kahlo has been described as ______________ .
a: loyal and devoted
b: balanced and peaceful
c: tempestuous and uneven
d: cold and distant

3. In the "Detroit Industrial Mural", Diego Rivera celebrates ________________ .
a: Midwest agriculture
b: workers in the auto industry
c: progress and technology of Detroit engineers
d: native Americans in the working class

4. In his public art, Diego Rivera drew most of his inspiration from ______________ .
a: Renaissance Frescoes
b: Paul Cezanne
c: Post Impressionism
d: Mexican History

5. In the Diego Rivera Theater at City College of San Francisco, you can view Rivera's famous mural: " __________________________ ".
a: Man at the Crossroads
b: Me and My Parrots
c: Pan American Unity
d: Indian Metallurgy

6. Diego Rivera believed that one could not be a great artist if he or she ______________ .
a: didn't spend 12 hours a day working on one's craft
b: only exhibited works in elite galleries
c: didn't engage in tempestuous relationships with the opposite sex
d: didn't fight to overcome oppression of working people and the poor

7. People who intensely disliked Diego Rivera's work were mostly ________________ .
a: the upper class, the wealthy, and the privileged
b: aspiring artists
c: laborers in fields and factories
d: experimental painters and impressionists

8. Diego Rivera firmly believed that art _____________________ .
a: should be only for the privileged and well-educated
b: should be only large murals and frescoes
c: should be made available for everyone
d: should be so popular that the artist could name his price

9. Another name for this article could be, " _________________ ".
a: Diego Rivera's Career and Legacy
b: Diego Rivera's Influence in Russian and Mexico
c: Diego Rivera's Romance with Frida Kahlo
d: What Diego Rivera Learned from French Artists

10. This article is mainly about ______________________ .
a: how Diego Rivera discovered his artistic methods
b: the ways in which Diego Rivera's radical politics affected his art work
c: the amazing range of styles Diego Rivera explored in his lifetime
d: a great and compassionate Mexican muralist and his continuing influence today

Youtube videos showing the work of Diego Rivera:

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