Diego Rivera was the most visible figure in Mexican muralism, a large-scale public-art initiative that emerged in the 1920s in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. During the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 Diego Rivera used his talents as a painter to fuel the movement with passion. Widely known for his Marxist leanings, Rivera, along with Che Guevara and a small band of contemporary figures, has become a countercultural symbol of 20th century, and created a legacy in paint that continue to inspire the imagination and mind.
Diego Rivera's Life and Influences
Diego Rivera was born in December of 1886 and first began creating art and murals at the age of three after the death of his twin brother. Young Diego's parents caught him drawing on the walls of their home but rather than punish him for it they instead nurtured his growing creativity. They installed canvas and chalkboard on the walls and let Rivera create as he saw fit. His talents were not lost as Rivera studied art at Mexico City's Academy of San Carlos starting at the age of 10. In 1907, Diego Rivera continued his education in Europe; while in Europe, he became friends with several famous artists, among them are Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Piet Mondrian.
Roots in Revolution
The world in which Diego grew up in was a hotbed of revolution. Much like his art studies and chronicles the political atmosphere of the world around him, being a witness to Russian Revolution while traveled aboard as well as the Mexican Revolution upon his return home only helped guide Rivera's paintings to include this vital theme of life. Combining this timely influence with storytelling similar to Mayan stele Rivera created murals that told the stories of the people rather than the powers that governed over them. Throughout his career this would invite controversy and outright rejection of his work. Rivera held staunch views against the censorship of his work and was not silent about it at all.
Women: Rivera's Weakness
Anyone who knows the tale of Rivera's relationship and marriage to Frida Kahlo knows he was prone to infidelity. Throughout his life he would have only four marriages (five if you count the re-marriage of himself and Kahlo after a year of divorce) but those were plagued with by Diego's unfaithfulness. He had several children in and out of wedlock. Art and women were at the top of Diego's list of things he could never live without and his long marriage to Kahlo underscored that their relationship held something for him that his shorter marriages didn't.
Relationship and Marriage to Frida Kahlo
During their lifetimes Rivera and Kahlo dominated the Mexican art scene as well as stirred trouble waters with their openness on controversial political beliefs. Kahlo and Rivera first met when she was an art student of his and while he was still married to his second wife. She was twenty years younger than Rivera but that only seemed to agree more with their relationship. Their marriage was said to be like that of an elephant and a dove, referring to Rivera's large stature and Kahlo's sylph-like appearance. Both Rivera and Kahlo engaged in extramarital affairs including Kahlo discovering Rivera with her beloved sister Chrstine and Kahlo enjoying an affair with the exiled Leon Trotsky while they offered him asylum. Despite the turmoil their relationship was a bedrock for Rivera in matters of love.
Late Life and Death
While Rivera enjoyed painting and causing controversy during the 1930's and 1940's he was met with a dry spell later in his life. After the death of Kahlo in 1954 Rivera would marry once more with his art dealer before passing away in 1957. His last years were characterized by his battle with cancer and frequent travel abroad to receive treatment that were unsuccessful. As with most artists his paintings became famous after his death. His radical approach to art and his unique style have created a lasting impression on art and continue to do so.
Art and Paintings of Diego Rivera
While Diego Rivera's life makes for fantastic speculation it is his art that continues to live on. Many of his murals can still be seen today and art exhibits that focus on his paintings and life as well as that of Frida Kahlo draw large crowds. Rivera's paintings continue to show the struggles of peoples all over the world while holding onto their specific place in time. What is it about Rivera's works that has made them timeless classics?
Social and Political Findings in Rivera's Art
Rivera made it no secret that he was an atheist as well as a supporter of socialism and Marxism. Finding a natural outlet for expression in painting Rivera added these elements into a few of his works and promptly received the expected controversy that would have come from them during the twentieth century. Several of his most famous paintings have the same vivid story of their inception as they do upon the walls. This tail of controversy that followed Rivera is one of the aspects of his art that made him stand out as a muralist during his lifetime.
Rivera's Views on Art and Censorship
It's already clear that Rivera wanted his paintings and murals to push limits. Several paintings tell stories of controversial subjects and happenings and are on display for all to see. On that same note Rivera also encountered much backlash to portraying these scenes facing such consequences as being removed from the Mexican Communist Party to a mural being hidden away for nine years because he refused to revise the piece. To understand his affinity for raising the ire of his patrons and the people it is best to look at one of his most famous murals that he painted while in the United States.
"Man at the Crossroads"
A commission from the Rockefeller family would bring Rivera to New York City. Given a theme of looking forward and hope to work from he set to work to create a masterpiece that, in Rivera's mind, did just that. The Rockefellers as well as several others did not see it that way. Rivera was criticized for including a portrait of Vladimir Lenin as well as several other socialist themes into this mural. Sadly the original "Man at the Crossroads" met an untimely end and was destroyed... but not before Rivera had it photographed and was able to recreate an almost verbatim version at the Palacio de Bellas Arte in Mexico City.
In 1932 Rivera was commissioned to paint a series of murals that captured the diverse industry of Detroit. Although his communist leanings had brought speculation of his ability to complete the project into play Rivera delivered a stunning series of murals that are said to be one of his best works. Like "Man at the Crossroads" subtle socialist and religious undertones that stoked controversial fires. Since the project was commissioned and funded by the Ford industry there was also speculation that Rivera was chosen for this particular project to generate buzz. Rivera's time in Detroit can also be considered one of his most harrowing times as his wife Kahlo had traveled with him and miscarried their child during their stay.
"The History of Mexico"
From 1929 until 1935 Rivera worked on a mural that told the story of the Mexican people from their ancestral roots to the modern era. Painted at the National Palace in Mexico City this mural is a testament to Rivera's time working with the Mexican government on a mural project throughout the city. This particular mural focuses on the native peoples of Mexico such as the Aztecs. Completed after the Mexican Revolution "The History of Mexico" served to restore patriotism and nationalism to native Mexicans and depict the story of their struggles through various conquests. Using bright colors to contrast the violence and depravity depicted within the mural Rivera effectively restores the hope of the Mexican culture through its adversity and oppositions.