Mexican visual arts have been very fortunate and prolific, from the start of the 20th century painters, sculptors and even photographers, had the skill to interpret political, social, economical events and create their own styles giving a unique personality to Mexican art.
Mexican painting, in particular, has gone through different representative moments with artists whose proposal doesn’t only focus on style and themes, but on leading ideologies that were taken to all aspects of their lives.
José María Velasco, born in the State of Mexico, is one of the painters and landscape artist recognized for his inspiration in rural provincial Mexico, which he learned to paint with great effort due to his lack of economic means. However, Velasco managed to enroll in various art schools from which he obtained the technical drawing definition he sustained during his whole career for offering works such as “Un Paseo en los Alrededores de México” (A Stroll in Mexico’s Surroundings) from 1866, “El Panorama del Valle de México” (The Landscape of Mexico’s Valley) from 1875, “México” from 1877, “Paisaje de Metlac” (Landscape of Metlac) from 1881 and “Hacienda de Chimalpa” (Chimalpa Estate) from 1883.
Velasco was also interested in other themes, such as marine life, topics regarding the paintings “Evolución de la vida marina” (Evolution of marine life) and “Evolución de la Vida Continental” (Evolution of Continental Life). He died in 1912 being one of the best landscape artists, renowned in Mexico and the world. Afterwards, during the 20th century, Mexican murals predominated as an artistic expression during the first decades, profoundly influenced by the Mexican Revolution and the proposal of a national identity.
The pictorial language that muralists undertook had to be coherent with the goal of vindicating the popular masses, it is not an abstract language, but realist, accessible to the comprehension of anyone living inside and outside post-revolutionary México. Among the most outstanding Mexican painters is José Clemente Orozco. Born in 1883, he took up painting after having been a cartoon artist in emblematic publications of the time such as El Hijo de Ahuizote; then he became a water color artist, dedicated to alternating the diverse techniques he ultimately conjugated in murals.
Among his great format paintings are “Las últimas fuerzas españolas evacuando con honor el Castillo de San Juan de Ulúa” (The last Spanish forces evacuating with honor the Castle of San Juan de Ulúa) from 1915, in which he still hadn’t found his own style, but did have the interest that would lead to revolutionary and nationalist themes, like the ones he produced when approaching other painters such as Diego Rivera and Siqueiros. With that ideological union, Mexican muralism was born, interpreting and creating for the popular masses, with a strong tendency to social and left wing criticism. He contributed his creative works to places such as the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria with “Cortés y la Malinche” and frescos to the Baker Library in New Hampshire. Outstanding among his smaller dimension works are “El Combate” (The Combat) from 1920 and “Cristo Destruye su Cruz” (Christ Destroys his Cross) from 1943.
He created murals in California as “Prometeo” from 1931 and in New York for the New School for Social Research, in which he shows the influence of baroque with really dramatic creations. Of extreme strength and beauty are the murals of Hospicio Cabaña in Guadalajara and the ones he created in Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. He is also the author of the murals of the Supreme Court of Justice, such as “La justicia” (Justice) and finally, “Alegoría Nacional” (National Allegory) in the Escuela Nacional de Maestros. Also born during the XIX century (1886), in Guanajuato, Diego Rivera is one of the emblematic characters of muralism. His academic formation was in San Carlos, continuing his studies in Europe, from where he returned influenced by cubism and realism. But Rivera didn’t stall in the mere influence of European trends, he went on to propose a composition tendency that hadn’t been seen before. Rivera is also an artist committed to communism, which he represented for a long time and got interested because of social causes, acquiring an esthetic vision that lead to painting murals with scenes of national life, always dedicated to popular classes and rural beauty.
By Rivera’s side, but with artistic independence, there was always Frida Kahlo. Born in Coyoacán in 1907, ever since her first attempts at painting she was characterized by compositions referring to herself. Frida was always the central theme of her work, since her life was transformed into a daily and difficult experience of physical limitations that only became worse. The sensibility of Kahlo framed works filled with emotions, metaphors and encounters with herself and her pain.
Among her prolific works are“Autorretrato con Traje de Terciopelo” (Self-Portrait with Velvet Suit), 1926; “Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera”, 1931; “Autorretrato con Collar” (Self-Portrait with Necklace), 1933; “Diego en mi pensamiento” (Diego in my thoughts), 1933, “Frutos de la Tierra” (Fruits of the Earth), 1938; “Las dos Fridas”, (The two Fridas)1939, “Raíces” (Roots), 1943.
José Luis Cuevas is another of the great Mexican painters, whose talents extend to sculpture, illustration and etching. Cuevas marked another artistic trend that intentionally tried to break with Mexican muralism. The trend in the historical-social and nationalist vision that characterized paintings during the first half of the 20th century was divided by this painter.
The themes of José Luis Cuevas have an individualist content, even personal, regarding human nature. He makes a portrait of the darkest and most feared sides of human beings; he concentrated on themes such as death, physical deterioration, but also mental and spiritual deterioration, stemming from this are etchings depicting grotesque, twisted, distorted beings that also belong to humanity. José Luis Cuevas can’t be characterized in a single art form or stream, although many catalogue him as an expressionist.
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