Friday, April 26, 2013

The Artistic Politics of David Alfaro Siqueiros

Okay, my friends, today we are talking about one of Mexico’s heavy-hitters, David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974, born José de Jesús Alfaro Siqueiros).  He was a Mexican painter/printmaker who worked with Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco, as part of the Mexican Muralist movement. Overall, Siqueiros believed art should be public, educational, and ideological. 

During his career, he visited the United sattes, the Soviet Union, and several Latin American countries as a guest lecturer and visiting artist. His prints are stellar examples of mass and volume and expressive abstraction. Their capacity to evoke passion and anger are beyond the world's sometimes limited scope of understanding of printmakers and the work they do. His background as a painter helped keep his original prints from Looking like prints, thus making them unique compared with his colleagues. 

Throughout his career, Siqueiros' art accentuated angles, muscles and joints of the human form in his portrayal of a strong, revolutionary figure. In addition, many works prominently feature hands, which could be interpreted as another symbol of heroic strength through work.
Born in  Chihuahua, but growing up in Guanajuato, many details of Siqueiros’ childhood were confusing, in part because he gave misleading information regarding his life. What is known is that Siqueiros was the second of three children. His father, Cipriano Alfaro, was well-off, and his mother, Teresa Siqueiros, watched after their children: David, his sister, Luz, and his brother "Chucho" (Jesús). When Siqueiros was four years old, his father sent the children to be raised by their paternal grandparents after his mother had died.

The main part of Siqueiros’ life was spent between making his art and his interest in politics. Schooling aside, the opportunity to network with fellow students for political debate and marches and protests was a larger part of his educational experience. While in school, he came across the writings of Dr. Atl, who in 1906 published a manifesto calling for Mexican artists to look toward their ancestral roots to develop a national Mexican art style. This inspired the young artist to become active in politics. At the age of fifteen, Siqueiros was involved in a student strike at the Academy of San Carlos of the National Academy of Fine Arts, which eventually established of an “open-air academy”. Three years later, he and several of his friends from the School of Fine Arts joined Carranza’s Constitutional Army. In 1914, Siqueiros became interested in the army’s “post-revolutionary” infighting.  He traveled throughout Mexico during his military service and saw the difficult conditions of his country’s poor working class.  It instilled in him a lifelong passion to speak for the masses with his art and his political activities.

In 1919, he went to Paris and learned about Cubism, the work of Paul Cezanne and there he met Rivera, with whom he traveled to Italy to study the work of the Renaissance fresco painters. During this period, Siqueiros' artistic and political activities had become conjoined and  by 1921 he wrote a manifesto in Vida Americana, called "A New Direction for the New Generation of American Painters and Sculptors." He called for a "spiritual renewal" to bring back classical painting while infusing "new values" about the “modern machine” and the “contemporary aspects of daily life". Through this style, Siqueiros hoped to create a bridge between a national and universal art.
In 1922, Siqueiros returned to Mexico City work for the government with fellow artists Rivera and José Orozco painting murals in several prominent buildings. In 1923 Siqueiros helped found the Syndicate of Revolutionary Mexican Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, which addressed the problem of widespread public access through its union paper, El Machete, the weekly paper that became the official mouthpiece for the country's Communist Party. 
Siqueiros remained deeply involved in union labor activities, as well as the Mexican Communist Party, until he was jailed and eventually exiled in the early 1930s for his political connections.  Siqueiros produced a series of politically themed lithographs during this period, which were exhibited in the United States. His lithograph Head was shown at the 1930 exhibition “Mexican Artists and Artists of the Mexican School” at The Delphic Studios in New York City.   Siqueiros also worked in Los Angeles, where his murals there told the story of America's forceful relationship with Latin America. Siqueiros’s work was honored at the XXV Venice Biennale in the first ever Mexican exhibition with Orozco, Rivera and Rudolfo Tamayo in 1950, which recognized the international status of Mexican art. 
Siqueiros was involved with the Communist Party who in 1940 unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Leon TrotskyIn 1960, he  was unjustly arrested for openly attacking the President of Mexico and protesting the arrests of striking workers and teachers. While imprisoned Siqueiros continued to paint, and his works continued to sell.

He later settled in Cuernavaca where he lived until his death in 1974.

Most of this man's printmaking efforts were composed of strong figures, and the later colorful works, moved toward abstraction and abstracted brushwork that didn't look like his contemporaries. They are in fact quite curious pieces and call to mind spiritual musing upon his own travails and the seemingly bi-polar nature of his career path. I find the subtlety of his prints color, the massive weight of his self-portraits and the political bent of his action figures a reasonable and persuasive argument for his diverse subjects. In all, they relate closely to his painting style, and the somewhat chopped off compositions which remind me of El Greco's paintings of earthly and heavenly realms simultaneously depicted. There is also an element of Francisco Goya's Disasters of War prints with his butchered figures. Siqueiros butchers the body of Christ, showing his suffering, floating his body between the earth and heaven. 

Some people don't get those weirdly surreal images, but no matter. Siqueiros' work was consistent showing us the suffering of humanity, the suffering of the poor and the suffering of an artist as all artists suffer to bring forth their view of the world. His world wasn't a calm or happy place, but it was real, and it still speaks volumes for present-day Mexico's  suffering masses about the societal and political woes that have befallen that poor abandoned country.

No comments:

Post a Comment