David Alfaro Siqueiros
Biography of Mexican Mural Painter.

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David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974)


Life and Work
Selected Paintings

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One of three modern artists who dominated 20th century Mexican painting - the others being Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) - the politically active David Alfaro Siqueiros played a leading role in the Mexican revival of mural painting fostered by President Alvaro Obregon (1880-1928). A member of the Communist Party and a champion of the propagandist art movement known as socialist realism, his aim was to create a type of public art that was valuable to the people. Although he only completed his first Mexican wall painting in 1939, thereafter his output - in terms of both oils and fresco paintings - was prodigious. His Mexican murals were more vigorous, colourful and emotionally intense than those of his two compatriots. He was also highly innovative, often experimenting with new painting materials. His last masterpiece was his Polyforum Siqueiros (1971) in Mexico City - an auditorium combining architectural design with painting and sculpture. He was also noted for his printmaking, in particular his engraving and lithography. In 1967 he received the USSR-sponsored Lenin Peace Prize. In 1968 he was elected President of the newly formed Mexican Academy of Fine Arts.



Life and Work

Along with the modern artists Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco, David Siqueiros spearheaded the Mexican muralist movement. Like them, he was a socialist who sought to depict the troubles and sufferings of his people in painting, and thus establish a national identity for his country after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921) with his murals for public buildings. Siqueiros was the most radical of the trio. An avowed Marxist all his life, he espoused the idea of "collective art" - meaning, a modern type of history painting that would educate the proletariat in Marxist ideology. He rarely used an easel, deeming it "bourgeois" preferring industrial paints and methods, such as enamel paint and a spray gun. Influenced by indigenous Mexican peoples and travels that saw him exposed to Cubism in Paris and the Sistine Chapel frescoes in Italy, Siqueiro's own figure painting depicts heroic, muscular peasants and everyday workers struggling against invaders, totalitarian regimes and capitalist oppressors.

His politics led to periods of exile from Mexico in 1932 and 1940, the latter after his part in an assassination attempt on the Russian emigre Leon Trotsky. He managed to turn such periods into opportunities by travelling to the United States, where he received commissions for murals for public buildings. Nevertheless, his revolutionary spirit was unabated, and from 1960 he spent three years in a US prison for inciting a riot. On his return to Mexico City, he completed his last and largest work, at Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros, the epic work known as The March of Humanity on Earth and Toward the Cosmos (1965-1971). The mural fulfills his dream for collective art on a monumental scale - portraying the history of mankind and decorating the building both inside and out. Larger than Michelangelo Buonarotti's Genesis fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the work was nicknamed the "Capilla Siqueiros".

Selected Paintings

An iconic figure of modern art in Mexico, 20th-century paintings by David Alfaro Siqueiros can be seen either in situ, or in some of the leading art museums in Central and North America. Here is a short list of his best known works.

- Portrait of Mexico Today (1932) Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
- Collective Suicide (1936) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Echo of Scream (1937) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- War (1939) Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- For the Complete safety of All Mexicans at Work (1954) Hospital dela Raza.
- The March of Humanity on Earth and Toward the Cosmos (1965-1971) (Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros, Mexico City)

• For biographies of other Mexican fresco muralists, see: 20th Century Painters.
• For more details of wall painting, see: Homepage.

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