As painters, we often go our merry way churning out dozens of modest size easel paintings--portraits, landscapes, still-lifes, abstracts--congratulating ourselves, patting ourselves on the back for a job well-done, reasonably satisfied by our artistic efforts, sales, and critical acclaim. If we challenge ourselves, we usually do so in terms of technique, or colour, or subject matter. And except for a few abstractionist among us who sometimes let the dimensions of their paintings get a little out of hand, most of us never challenge ourselves in terms of size. How many of you ever completed a painting over a hundred square feet? I figured as much. Neither have I. I'd like to sometime though, before I get too old to climb the scaffolding.
Mural painting brings to mind the geniuses of the Renaissance. On this side of the ocean it brings to mind (first at least) the inimitable Mr. Diego Rivera. Born in 1886, Rivera was a contemporary of Picasso and Matisse, except that he was born on the wrong continent, Guanajuato, Mexico. He began by studying sculpture at the academy of Jose Guadalupe Posada in Mexico City before winning a four-year scholarship, which took him to Spain where he studied with Eduardo Chicharro, a realist painter. However it also served to introduce him to Picasso and Cubism. Both influences stuck. He also picked up a little Ingres, some CÚzanne, and a generous helping of Renaissance muralism to season the mix.
In returning to Mexico he began to emulate the Renaissance masters decorating churches. Eventually, he managed to acquire a government position in the arts allowing him to do his large-scale best all over the country, mostly for the Department of Education. Briefly he served as director of the Academy of San Carlos but was soon booted from that position when his ideas of what an art curriculum should be turned out to be a little too radical for that institution. It was just as well. The freedom allowed him to marry fellow-artist Frida Kahlo (who often appeared in his creations) and pursue more lucrative commissions north of the border during the 1930s, first in San Francisco, where he left behind An Allegory of California for the stock exchange there, then to even more prestigious commissions in Detroit for Henry Ford, and New York for the Rockefellers. He died in 1957 at the age of 71, celebrated as Mexico's greatest artist, and with the distinction of probably having covered more square feet with painted images than any artist since Michelangelo.