The Mexican "Big Three"During the last few years we have seen what I would call a "resurgence of muralism." The small city of Steubenville, right here in Ohio, for instance, has well over a dozen large-scale, outdoor murals painted by almost that many different artists, depicting the city's history and ideals. Quite a number of other cities around the country have picked up on this trend if for no other reason than, in sufficient quantity, they attract tourist dollars. The popularity of murals has been up and down throughout the history of art and specifically, in this country, they were popular in the late 1800s, the 1920s, again in the 1930s under the WPA, and most recently starting as early as the 1970s right up to the present. It's only been with the last period however, that the majority of these murals were done outdoors. Many would credit inner city graffiti with having given birth to the latest resurgence, and to a large extent, there may be some validity to such an assertion. Though such art may be considered ugly by some, it is usually considerably less ugly than the bleak, blank, blocks of blatant urban decay they replace.
However outdoor murals go back further than that, at least to the previous period of popularity during the 1920s when the "Big Three" Mexican muralists departed their homeland for greater freedom of expression and the economic support to express their often boldly socialist messages. It was, after all about the time of the 1929 stock market crash and its aftermath, when people all over the world were wondering if capitalism might be dead and socialism was the wave of the future. The "Big Three" of course, refers to Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Jose Orozco. As with any triumvirate, one figure always dominates, in this case Rivera. Siqueiros was somewhat more radical in style and content, and Orozco, the most radical of all.
Orozco was born in 1883, and came to mural painting much as did Rivera and Siqueiros, through the famed San Carlos Academy, though in his case, without the moderating effects of European study as with the other two. Perhaps as a result, Orozco's work is often seen as unnecessarily brutal and bombastic. His Dartmouth fresco from 1932-34, Departure of Quetzalcoatl is a good example of this. Unlike Rivera's monumental realism, or Siqueiros' complex surrealism, Orozco's work is more symbolic, more simplified, and often seems to "pound" the viewer, screaming out his point and his socialist point of view. Although most of the mural work of the Mexican "Big Three" was done inside, they eventually grew so large in scale that only the sides of buildings could accommodate them. Of the three Orozco, in his later years, painted far more outdoor murals than did the other two. His style allowed him to paint more freely and prolifically. And it is undoubtedly the work of Orozco that has had the greatest influence on the current generation of outdoor muralist. Incidentally, speaking of influence, it was at a workshop taught by Orozco in New York in 1934 that Jackson Pollock first learned to drip paint.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
27 August 1999