December 8 – Happy Birthday, Diego Rivera

Posted on December 8, 2015

He may be the most famous Mexican artist of all time.

He was married to another one of the most famous Mexican artists of all time. (Twice!)

Self-portrait of Frida Kahlo, who married
Diego Rivera two times.

I was struck by something said in this short bio – that Rivera influences how we see Mexico, and how Mexico sees itself! That's...pretty amazing, if you think about it!

Born in 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico, Diego Rivera had Jewish ancestry, but his ancestors had been forced to convert to Catholicism; it is, perhaps, not very surprising that Rivera was a nonbeliever. He began drawing on the walls of his house at age three. Instead of punishing him, his parents installed chalkboards and canvas on the walls.

With that kind of support for his wall art, Rivera grew up to do this:

Diego Rivera grew up to make a lot of money
for drawing and painting on walls!

Diego Rivera studied painting at age 10 in Mexico City, and in Madrid, Spain, and Paris, France, as a young adult. After a decade in Paris, he traveled through Italy studying art. One thing he was interested in was Renaissance frescoes. (Frescoes are murals painted on freshly-laid, wet lime plaster. The pigments in the paint merge with the plaster and, by the time the plaster fully sets, is fully a part of the wall rather than being painted “on” the wall.)

In 1921, Rivera returned to Mexico and began painting murals in the fresco style.

Rivera's art is generally LARGE.

It tells stories.

It is influenced by Azteca and Maya art.

Above, Rivera's portrayal of Native Mexican people.
Below, Aztec portrayal of themselves.

It is political and often controversial.

His murals are not all in Mexico; there is one in San Francisco, one in Detroit, and one in New York City.

This mural appears in the San Francisco Art Institute.

Okay, I found this interesting: Rivera's most controversial painting was begun in 1933 for the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Rivera included a portrait of communist Russian leader Vladimir Lenin in the mural. Rockefeller was upset and demanded that Rivera paint over that part of the mural. Rivera refused.

This photo shows a recreation of the controversial mural.

So Rockefeller kicked him off the project.

One of Rivera's assistants managed to take a few photos of the mural. The mural itself was supposed to be destroyed, but there are rumors that it was just covered over.

Rivera was paid in full for the mural, although a commission to paint a mural at the Chicago World's Fair was canceled because of the controversy. Rivera was able to use the photos to duplicate the mural elsewhere, and he recreated the mural in Mexico City. What I found particularly interesting was that he released a statement that he would use the money he was paid for the mural to repaint the same mural for free anywhere and everywhere he was asked to do so!

Diego Rivera
This controversy has been written about in articles and poems, and it has been portrayed in movies. The dispute became part of the discussion of important issues about artistic freedom versus the rights of art patrons to see their visions carried out by the artists they hire...

Also on this date:

Rock musician Jim Morrison's birthday

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