In this four Part exploration of Mexican Muralism I will be considering the art of Diego Rivera the best of the Mexican Muralists who for a short time joined the Fourth International and became a close political ally of Leon Trotsky Co Leader of the Russian revolution exiled by the Stalinists and who spent his last years before his assassination in Mexico. Trotsky’s literary criticism was incisive and together with Alexsander Konstantinovich Voronsky the great Bolshevik literary critic represented the best of Marxism before they were both murdered by the Stalinist killing Machine.
In Part 1 I will start with Rivera’s return to Mexico in the 1920’s from France where he had been trying to develop a Cubist style. It never suited him and Muralism dubbed ‘painting on walls ‘ is where Rivera showed his brilliant talent.
Andrea Kettenmann describes the reasons why Rivera returned to Mexico.
” On his return to Mexico Rivera was immediately enlisted to help carry out the Governments cultural policy”. .
Jose Vasconceles Minister of Education in the new Mexican Government was encouraging artists using Mexican ideas and Humanist language to propagate a new cultural policy in Mexico.
” Jose Vasconceles had begun to put interested artists of the country to use his Mexican Ideology and humanist ideals in a programme of wall paintings and was determined through the cultural reform programme to support the social and racial equality of the Indian population which had been the Ideal of the Mexican revolution”. .
” In January 1922 six months after his return from Europe Rivera began work on his first mural creation”. .
Kettenmann shows how Rivera used mural painting as a renewal of a Mexican renaissance in art.
” His (Rivera’s) work here was the prelude and touchstone of the so called renaissance of Mexican mural painting. While a number of other artists worked on the walls of the courtyard Rivera spent about a year in completing the experimental Fresco in the Bolivar Amphitheatre at the school “. .
” In the murals Rivera painted next his pictorial language was modified acquiring a political slant not present in the amphitheatre mural”. .
” His (Rivera) work of the next few years critically depicts the past as well as the present and conveys the (utopian) (conviction) that Man can creatively change society to achieve a better more just future”. .
Here Kettenmann displays all of her Idealist Bourgeois convictions and a very cynical attitude to art. Society can be changed , that is what the Russian Revolution did . Is Kettenmann so blind that she cannot recognise material reality instead of using her cynical bourgeois impressions.
Referring to one of Rivera’s famous murals the Proletarian Revolution.
” The proletarian revolution which consists of scenes of revolutionary struggle the setting up of cooperatives and a victory over capitalism opens with what is probably the best known mural of the whole cycle the Arsenal”. .
Frida Kahlo a surrealist up and coming young Mexican artist became Rivera’s wife in 1928.
” In the only landscape-format mural of the series Rivera portrays friends and comrades of the circle around Julio Antonio Melba (Melba was the lover of Tina Modotti Photographer , artist and Stalinist GPU agent who I have written about in a previous posting) the exiled Cuban communist living in Mexico. At the centre of the mural stands Frida Kahlo distributing arms and Bayonets to the workers who have decided to fight”. .
In 1928 Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party a pro Stalinist Organisation who supplied GPU agents for Moscow and were heavily involved in preparations for the Murder of Leon Trotsky.
” She (Kahlo) joined the Mexican Communist Party in the same year and Rivera shows her like the other party members with the Red star of the Communist activist on the breast”. .
” These paintings are like a vast extended fan which , little by little reveals the multi faceted unique artist , the portrait painter rediscovers -the colour rich art of Benozzo Gozzoli and his seductive combinations of physical , animal and human nature”. .
As a leading member of the Literary and artistic section of the Mexican Communist Party Rivera made a Trip to the Soviet Union.
” After completion of the chapingo project Rivera made a trip in Autumn 1927 to the soviet union to take part in the 10th anniversary celebrations of the October revolution as a member of an official delegation of the Mexican Communist party”..
As I will argue further on in my exploration of Mexican muralism I will make a distinction between Rivera’s work and Socialist realism which was nothing more than Stalinist art. At this time Rivera was employed at the school of Fine arts and it is clear that Rivera rejected Socialist realism.
” He gave lectures at the school of Fine arts and maintained close contact with the newly founded Moscow artists organisation October (The members of this group rejected Socialist Realism and the abstract art of the Soviet avant -garde”. .
Rivera was now developing an anti-Stalinist critique of the Gangsters of the ruling clique in the Soviet Union. When Trotsky arrived in Mexico in 1937 Rivera would move closer politically to a Trotskyist position.
” Rivera’s deviant political and cultural views caused the Stalinist government to suggest that he should return to Mexico”. .
” Rivera had just been elected as Director of the academy of Fine arts in San Carlosky by the Students. Rivera prescribed that teaching had to be organised in a system in which the school was seen more as a workshop than as an academy”. .
Rivera faced enormous hostility for his teaching methods from Stalinists mainly the functionaries in the Mexican Communist party who together with extreme right wing critics attacked him.
” He was shown the most bitter hostility by students .Within a year they were joined by various enemies of Rivera from among conservative artists and also the Mexican Communist Party”. .
Rivera travelled to the United States in 1928.
” At first Rivera was refused entry into the United states. as Genera secretary of the anti-imperialistic League of American Countries he had severely condemned President Herbert Hoover for his Nicaraguan policy”..
While in the United states Rivera painted a series of Frescos of Detroit Industry for the Ford Motor Company.
” In the United states the fresco series Detroit Industry is today considered one of the Century’s outstanding achievements in monumental art. The Frescos are a synthesis of the artist’s impressions during his studies of the Ford Family’s industrial plant”. .
Rivera soon found out when he started too paint a mural in New York depicting revolutionary Communism and Bolshevism that he was attacked mercilessly by Reactionary critics and pro Imperialist elements in the United States. The mural was destroyed and painted over under instructions from The Rockefeller Family rich Bankers and arch capitalists who were opposed to any depiction of Vladimir Lenin the Leader of the Russian revolution.
” While Rivera was still working on Detroit Industry he was commissioned to paint a mural (In the Rockefeller centre in New York) . In 1933 continued the leading theme of the Detroit Frescos He painted Man at the Crossroads”. .
” However a portrait of Lenin with other Communist ideologues now suddenly appeared in the mural as representatives of the New Society. in February 1934 the mural was wholly destroyed”. .
This was of course a shock to Rivera and was to teach him an important political lesson about so called freedom in this most Imperialist nation. The politics of Revolutionary communism would never be accepted.
” The destruction of the mural was the destruction of the illusion that he (Rivera ) had found in the United states a country of clients who would allow him to make free artistic use of his political views”. .
This concludes the first part of my Exploration into the Revolutionary art of Diego Rivera, his disenchantment with Stalinism and his political development towards Trotskyism. In Part 2 I will continue with Rivera’s development including his expulsion from the Mexican Communist Party and his commitment to Revolutionary Communism.
- RIVERA . ANDREA KETTENMANN TASCHEN BOOKS . PG.22
- DITTO.PG. 53.