Category: Siqueiros

Mexican School of Painting in NYC

My friend Estaño, an 86 year old veteran of the celebrated Mexican Muralist Movement, is having a one man exhibition at the Adriaan Van Der Plas Gallery in New York City. The show, titled Mexican School of Painting, has apparently been a success for our esteemed veterano - who has so far sold three paintings at the exhibit - and it’s not hard to imagine why. His figurative paintings are works in the tradition of Mexico’s great revolutionary artists of bygone years. In fact, Estaño, assistant painter with the legendary David Alfaro Siqueiros, wrote the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of the Mexican Muralist painters, Siqueiros: His Life and Works. But Estaño’s art is not a relic of times past. His visual denunciations of war, fascism and greed are as timely today as ever, and his unconquerable belief in humanity is an antidote to today’s bleak postmodernist misanthropy. I highly recommend people in the vicinity make the trek to view Estaño’s paintings. The Adriaan Van Der Plas Gallery is located at 89 South Street, Pier 17, 2nd Floor, New York, NY. 10038. Phone: 212-227-8983. Web: www.vanderplasgallery.com. For those unable to visit the gallery, a trip to Estaño’s official website, located at: www.mexicanmuralschool.com, will reveal a treasure trove of wonders.

How to Paint a Mural

Siqueiros painting on a pane of glass - Photo courtesy of Philip Stein

Richard Schaaf of Azul Editions, a small independent press, informed me of some exciting news. A long out of print book by famed Mexican Muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, has been translated into English and republished by Azul Editions. How to Paint a Mural is the Mexican master’s instructional essay on the fine art of creating a public wall mural. It should go without saying that Siqueiros was one of Los Tres Grandes (The Three Greats). Along with his compatriots Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, the three not only started the influential Mexican Mural School of art, they also helped to create a genuine national art for their country. Prior to Los Tres Grandes, Mexican artists largely mimicked the art produced by their European counterparts, a vestige of having been a colonized people. A good description of Siqueiros’ re-printed treatise comes from Azul Edition’s website:

“In How to Paint a Mural Siqueiros recounts his practical and political experience directing his muralist team in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, detailing virtually every stage of mural painting: the forming of the team, researching the subject and developing the mural composition from the different “spectator” points, the tracing of the mural in an architectonic space, artistic style, developing and constructing improved scaffolding, and making use of new technology - the airbrush and spray gun, the camera, projector, movie camera and other new tools.”

Interestingly enough, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and befriending one of the painters who worked alongside Siqueiros on the San Miguel de Allende mural project - American artist Philip Stein (also known as Estaño). Stein had moved to Mexico in 1948 to study art and soon joined the mural painting team of Siqueiros. The first project he worked on with this group were the murals at San Miguel de Allende, an event Stein wrote about in his brilliant book Siqueiros: His Life and Works. Stein went on to work with Siqueiros from 1948 to 1958, helping the master to paint some of his most enduring mural works. I had the honor of collaborating with Stein when I designed his official website, an extensive online gallery we launched at the beginning of 2005.

It should also be acknowledged that the accomplishments of Siqueiros and his fellow artists inspired the contemporary school of Chicano art here in Los Angeles and throughout the Southwestern United States. The modern mural movement that blossomed in L.A. during the early 1970’s was a direct result of the groundbreaking efforts of Siqueiros and his fellow muralistas. Anyone interested in public art and the methodology of creating a mural would do well to purchase How to Paint a Mural. I’ll certainly be purchasing my own copy. The book by Azul Editions can be purchased directly from their website.

Siqueiros: Spirit of a Revolutionary

The works of David Alfaro Siqueiros are being exhibited at The Museo de las Américas in Denver Colorado through April 23rd, 2005. Siqueiros: Spirit of a Revolutionary, will feature 22 paintings and drawings by the revolutionary artist that bridge his entire career. A highlight of the exhibit is the 12-foot long study for the 108-foot-long mosaic mural Siqueiros created on the exterior of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

The works on display demonstrate Siqueiros’ fondness for experimentation and improvising. He was one of the first to paint with the newly developed acrylic medium, and he also used a spray gun and lustrous enamel automobile paint called pyroxylin for his murals and small paintings. Many of the works in the Denver Colorado exhibit come from the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City, where they were shown in 2004 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Siqueiros’ death.

There has been much renewed interest in the art of Siqueiros, and for good reason… his works offer profound and meaningful content delivered with masterful figurative realist style. Philip Stein (aka Estaño), an artist who painted alongside Siqueiros for ten years, put it this way, “When an artist is having a problem in seriously seeking a meaningful basis for their artistic endeavors, they could consider it a stroke of good luck if they should stumble on to the Mexican Mural Movement.”

The Art Of Estaño

Painting by Philip Stein

I’ve created a brand new website that reveals the history of the Mexican Muralist Movement and one American artist’s personal connection to it. Philip Stein, also known as Estaño, worked alongside the famed Mexican Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros from 1948 to 1958. He assisted the Mexican master in painting some of his most famous murals. I began corresponding with Estaño in August of 2003.

Based on our mutual involvement in socially conscious art, we agreed to collaborate on creating a website that would present his art to the world, as well as pay tribute to the school of Mexican muralism. A master artist in his own right, he was indelibly influenced by Mexican muralism in both style and content, and has continued to create artworks based on contemporary realities. His paintings are collected and exhibited around the world, and the new website will serve as the premiere online gallery for his work, in addition to being an international educational resource for researchers and art lovers.

In keeping with the theme of progressive humanistic causes and the march towards justice, mexicanmuralschool.com was officially launched on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday January 17, 2005.

The early twentieth century was marked by the conflict of ideas… on the battlefield, in the classroom, on the street corner. Revolutions on all corners of the globe, economic crises, and technological advancements made everyone question where the world was headed. As Europe hurtled towards its eventual conflict of ideologies, the US was emerging as a major world player both economically and militarily. With its revolution, Mexico sought to free itself from the mantle of European colonial values, and create a new and unique national identity.

The artists who emerged out of revolutionary Mexico in the 1930s would launch the most successful attempt in world history at unifying art and politics. They created a national art form that sent shockwaves throughout the world which are still reverberating today. Using techniques learned in Europe, master artists such as David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco took art directly to the people, evoking revolutionary ideology on the walls of major public buildings in the form of murals. In addition to the artist’s sheer technical mastery, their efforts were unparalleled as they taught their audience who they were, where they had come from, and where they were going.

The Mexican Muralists showed the country as it looked before colonial conquest by Europeans… they revealed the agony of centuries of oppression of the indigenous population, and ultimately, brought all of this history together as they plunged their viewers into the ideological conflicts of the day.

The influence of the muralists was not limited to Mexico; all three artists would also create murals in the United States. Mexico City for a time become the pinnacle of artistic fervor, attracting some of the world’s most noted intellectuals. Furthermore, avante-garde American artists of the Great Depression Era would be influenced both in content and technique, by what was going on in Mexico. In the 1960s and 70s, young Mexican-Americans would rediscover the art of the 1930s masters, giving rise to the Chicano mural movement.

As we enter the 21st century and see images by Diego Rivera gracing personal bank checks, and handbags painted with the portrait of Frida Kahlo, we must ask ourselves - “what was the Mexican Mural movement” and “what can we learn from it?” It is for this reason, that mexicanmuralschool.com has come into being.

Siqueiros Mural Discovery!

The Chouinard mural by Siqueiros

Worker’s Meeting (or “Mitin Obrero”), was a two-story mural painted by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Created on an outside wall of the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles, it depicted a militant union organizer addressing a multi-ethnic crowd on a LA street corner. The mural was revolutionary in more ways than one. It was the first time anyone had used an industrial spray gun to paint a mural directly on cement (graffiti artists take note). Unveiled to a throng of hundreds on July 7th, 1932, the pro-worker politics of the artwork were enough to infuriate conservatives. But it was the artist’s depiction of interracial unity that made the mural truly ahead of its time, unacceptable to racists of the day, and a target for destruction.

By the time Chouinard had closed its doors in 1972 the mural was all but forgotten. After the school folded, the building passed from hand to hand and eventually became a Korean Church. Now a startling new discovery has been made. Due to the investigations of several autonomous researchers the mural has been found intact and a possible candidate for restoration. Chouinard has re-opened in South Pasadena and is playing a key role in the hoped-for renovation. Negotiations are underway to reacquire the old building and have its famous artwork reconstructed. Professional conservators have been brought in and they’ve found evidence of bright hues and shapes under layers of obliterating whitewash. If brought back to life the monumental work could serve as a major cultural landmark for Los Angeles and the world.

Part of “Los Tres Grandes” (the triumvirate of eminent Mexican muralists that also included Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco), Siqueiros visited LA as a political refugee in 1932. During his six-month stay here he painted three important murals -Worker’s Meeting, América Tropical and Portrait of Mexico Today (painted at a private residence in Pacific Palisades). These would be the only murals he would paint in the US. The first two public artworks were marvels of innovation, employing techniques that had never been utilized before, like using camera-projections to transfer the artist’s sketches to the walls. Those first two murals were also destroyed by reactionaries who could not tolerate dissenting opinions - but the fresco Portrait of Mexico Today survived because it had been created on private property (it is now part of the Santa Barbara Museum’s permanent collection).

My colleague Luis Garza is a skilled photographer who documented the Chicano movement of the late sixties, and in an extraordinary suite of photos also captured Siqueiros in Mexico. Along with his associates, Luis established the Legacy & Legend Fund in an effort to help restore Siqueiros’ ruined América Tropical mural. I phoned Luis shortly after the story of the Chouinard mural discovery was made public in the LA Times on January 9, 2005. He expressed guarded optimism about Worker’s Meeting being restored, and voiced the opinion that only mass community involvement and support would guarantee success for the renovation projects.

Siqueiros working on the Chouinard mural

Philip Stein (also known as Estaño), is another artist with a personal interest in seeing the LA murals restored. He worked alongside Siqueiros in Mexico for ten years, assisting the master in painting some of his most famous works. I wrote my good friend Philip and asked for his opinion regarding the Chouinard mural discovery:

“What an amazing discovery to find that the mural Worker’s Meeting or Street Meeting (Siqueiros referred to this mural often using both titles), should show signs of some degree of preservation under layers of whitewash.

Siqueiros himself was not conscious of the fact that the obliteration of the mural (as ordered by the LA Police) was done with coats of whitewash rather than total removal as he always believed. Now 73 years after it was first painted and presumed gone forever, and 31 years after Siqueiros’ death, this remarkable and historically important work holds forth promise that it may one day reappear in its full aesthetic, technical and political glory as Siqueiros had meant it to be seen.”

The works of Siqueiros have had a profound impact on me over the years, and to some extent I credit him for making me the artist I am today. I was only a boy when I picked up an art book and saw his evocative, Echo of a Scream, a nightmarish portrait of a weeping child sitting in the rubble of a war-shattered landscape. Being born and raised in Los Angeles I’ve spent much time on the city’s founding avenue of Olvera Street, where Siqueiros painted América Tropical.

At fifteen I learned that the city had whitewashed that mural in 1932 because of its political content - which for me served as an early lesson on the power of art. My hometown of LA will forever be linked to Siqueiros, whose works eventually helped inspire the Chicano Arts Movement of the late sixties. Today the art of Siqueiros is reaching out to us from an earlier time, and if we pay close attention we won’t find ancient relics from an irrelevant past, but a militantly humanistic aesthetic that can be applied to the present.