Arts & Entertainment

Mexican artist Siqueiros wielded brush, gun with the same commitment

By Juan Carlos Espinosa

Mexico City, Dec 29 (EFE).- Not even the most respected authorities on the history of Mexican art would dare to try to sum up muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros (1898-1974) in a single word.

The future artist, soldier, labor organizer and Communist militant who tried to assassinate Leon Trotsky was born 125 years ago Wednesday in the northern state of Chihuahua.

Siqueiros was an 18-year-old art student at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City in 1913 when he joined Venustiano Carranza’s Constitutionalist Army in its conflict with the government of President Victoriano Huerta.

Among his classmates at San Carlos was Jose Clemente Orozco, who would become one of the three towering figures of Mexican muralism alongside Siqueiros and Diego Rivera.

While the faculty included Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo), a landscape painter whose political views and championing of Mexico’s indigenous cultures had a great influence on Siqueiros.

“He entered the war at a very young age and he didn’t do badly. He was decorated. Later he was sent to Europe, where he continued learning new artistic techniques,” Irene Herner, director of the documentary series “¿Quien era David Alfaro Siqueiros?” (Who was David Alfaro Siqueiros?), told Efe.

Paris was where he met Rivera and where both men absorbed avant-garde notions about art and the ideas of the international Communist movement.

In the 1920s, Mexican Education Secretary Jose Vasconcelos recruited Siqueiros, Rivera and Orozco to create murals aimed at educating the masses in the values of the post-revolutionary democratic order.

Siqueiros, who aspired to be a “citizen artist,” embraced the task.

“Unlike Orozco and Rivera, Siqueiros saw in muralism a vanguard project for the future of art, but above all, a completely politically project,” says Silverio Orduña Cruz, art historian and curator at La Tallera Siqueiros, a museum, workshop and artists’ residence in Cuernavaca.

Siqueiros offered his reflections on the revolutionary era in the mural “From the Dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz to the Revolution,” at Chapultepec Castle in the capital, a work he began in 1957 but did not complete until 1966 because he spent four years in prison for his Communist views and union activism.

It was not the first time his politics drew the ire of authorities.

After an earlier spell behind bars, the artist went into self-imposed exile in the United States in the early 1930s, only to eventually be deported for political reasons, though he remained long enough to create several murals in Los Angeles, including “Tropical America.”

In 1937, Siqueiros went to Spain to join in the defense of the Republic against Franco and ended up leading troops in battle.

His involvement in a failed May 1940 plot to kill Trotsky at the Mexico City home where the former Red Army chief was living led to another sojourn abroad before he returned to Mexico for good in 1948.

Art historians say that Siqueiros’ constant experimentation set him apart from Rivera and Orozco.

“He didn’t just decorate the walls of public buildings, instead he realized that painting and architecture connect to produce an effect,” Orduña said.

Siqueiros aimed to give his creations a cinematic quality such that the appearance would change depending on the vantage point of the viewer.

His final major work, known as the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros, is a synthesis of art and architecture that forms part of World Trade Center Mexico City and features “The March of Humanity,” at 4,600 sq m (49,449 sq ft) the world’s largest mural. EFE jce/dr

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