Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pablo O'Higgins' Unique Trail in US/Mexican Printmaking

Pablo Esteban O'Higgins (born Paul Higgins Stevenson ,1904 - 1983) was an American-Mexican artist, illustrator and a blond-haired, blue-eyed Presbyterian  who became a celebrated Mexican muralist. He  was born in Salt lake City, UT and was raised between there and San Diego, CA. His father was a lawyer of blue-blood 'English of Mayflower' descent, and his mother  was a refined upper-middle class housewife. He had one grandfather who was Scots-Irish, who died before Pablo (then Paul Higgins) was born.  In 1922, he went to study at the Academy of Arts in San Diego, but soon afterward he became a student of and assistant to the famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Rivera said if he ever had a son, he’d wanted him to be like O’Higgins. 
O'Higgins was so taken with Mexican culture from an early age when he lived on his father's rach in California. It was there that he met and became acquainted with the Mexican workers. As for their politics, that came in 1924 when after moving to Mexico permanently, he joined his mentor Rivera and became a member of the Mexican Communist Party (which he remained a member until 1947.)

From 1928-1930 Pablo O'Higgins worked on Cultural Missions in Durango, Hidalgo, Veracruz, and Zacatecas.  In 1930, he co-published, with Jean Charlot and Frances Toor, Las obras de José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican engraver. In 1931 O'Higgins founded, together with Leopoldo Méndez and Juan de la Cabada, the Proletarian Intellectual League.  He also contributed illustrations to the newspaper of the USA Communist Party, called the Daily Worker.  

1933 was a busy year for O'Higgins. He was teaching drawing in primary schools. His illustrations won him a Soviet scholarship to go to Moscow to study at their Academy of ArtHe also contributed artwork to Mexican Folkways magazine, and he co-founded the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists, LEAR). 

One of O'Higgins' major contributions to printmaking came In 1937, when he joined with fellow artists Leopoldo Méndez and Luis Arenal  and became co-founder of the world-famous political graphic arts workshop, Taller de Gráfica Popular ("People's Graphic Workshop"). The Taller became an inspiration to many politically-motivated artists and  a place for artists to speak their minds, so much so that it became a major forum for political artwork in Mexico.  Recently the Taller was commemorated with a publication and a tour of some of the artists' works  by some of the artists associated with the Taller... O’Higgins educational and printmaking contributions continued when he worked with San Francisco artists Byron Randall, Victor Arnautoff, and Adelyne Cross Erikson establish a graphic arts workshop in 1947. With seemingly endless energy, in 1947, he worked with Los Angeles printmakers Jules Heller and Arnold Mesches to establish the Los Angeles Graphic Arts Workshop, which was the predesessor of the now famous Tamarind Institute in New Mexico. O'Higgins also taught at the California Labor School in San Francisco in 1945 & 1949, and in 1948 he and Xavier Guerrero founded the Sociedad para el Impulso de las Artes Plásticas, and the Salón de Plástica Mexicana in 1949. 

Joining the National Assembly of Artists in 1952, O'Higgins exhibited his paintings at the Salón de Plástica Mexicana. In the late 1960s he traveled and taught mural painting courses in Russia and Eastern Europe. 

A side note *O'Higgins once followed Tina Modotti, the radical photographer, to Russia. In the 1950s, he was placed on the U.S. attorney general’s blacklist, and on a Mexican Govt. deportation list . Being from a well-to-do Anglo-American family, he kept quiet about his father’s 1915 involvement as an assistant attorney general in the  execution  of Utah miner and labor martyr Joe Hill. In 1959 Pablo O'Higgins married María de Jesús de la Fuente Casas, a lawyer from Monterrey , Nuevo León. 

O’Higgins is admired not only for his art but also for his love of Mexico and his determination to bridge the two countries and their cultures through art. O'Higgins painted the people he respected… the ordinary, hard-working Mexican campesinos and workers whom he respected as the “Real Mexicans”. His subject was their struggle for dignity. O'Higgins will be remembered for his desire to bridge the two cultures he loved, and for promoting the arts with  so many worthwhile organizations.

Particular noteworthy is that O'Higgins'portrait is included in a mural in Chicano Park, in San Diego County, the largest collection of Chicano murals in the U.S. He appears next to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso,  Che Guevara, and the Virgin of Guadalupe. 

Awards and Exhibitions:
San Francisco at the Art Center Gallery, 1925 and 1927 
John Levy Gallery,1931,
Gallery of Mexican Arts
Association of American Artists, 1943
Burial with honors at the El Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
First prize, Salón Anual de Pintura, Grabado y Escultura of the INBA , 1959
Elías Sourausky Award in Arts, 1971 
He also exhibited in Cuba, Spain, Los Angeles and Mexico. 
He was the only non-native Mexican artist whose work was included in the first major exhibit of Mexican art held in the United States at the MOMA's,"Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art" ,New York, 1940.

Ship Scalers Union, Seattle, WA, 1945
International Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) in Honolulu, HI, 1952. 
and a dozen others in Mexico


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. These pictures show the maxican culture and i am very happy to see that i hope in future you also update us.