LUIS MARTIN LOZANO
After having reached the recognition of art critics as a Cubist painter between 1913 and 1917, the Mexican painter Diego Rivera undertook a renewal of his pictorial language towards the end of the second decade of the 20th century. Having participated in a genuine return to order, Le rappel à l'Ordre, along with painters such as Picasso and André Derain, Rivera received the invitation of the Minister of Education in Mexico, José Vasconcelos, to join an ambitious cultural policy of the Mexican post-revolution in 1910.
The Vasconcelos program supported the creation of large wall decorations in public buildings and aimed to serve as a visual and educational foundation for generations of students; the children who would conceive a modern future for Mexico. Rivera enthusiastically joined Vasconcelos' proposal and in 1921 began a successful career as a painter of murals. With time, Rivera's fame would expand beyond Mexico and into North American cities including San Francisco, New York and Detroit where he painted between 1931 and 1934.
While Rivera was an extraordinary artist who produced hundreds of watercolors and easel paintings, his greatest artistic merit, as well as his significance in the history of art, lies in the production of murals. The artistic career of Rivera as a muralist was always linked to controversy; whether commissioned by the Mexican government or influential businessmen in Mexico and abroad. Rivera never compromised his artistic ideology which was simultaneously committed to the conditions of the worker and the peasant. Indeed, his unwavering convictions would lead to the destruction and censorship of some of his murals, most notably, Man at the Crossroads, the fresco he had designed in 1934 for the lobby of the building of the RCA (Radio Corporation of America) in New York. Once destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller, Rivera recognized that his murals were inevitably doomed to the fate of the walls on which they were painted.
Soon thereafter, Rivera began to design mural projects on portable boards. By 1931, he had already executed some fresco murals on detached walls for his retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Nonetheless, Rivera's first fully realized iconographic program on portable boards were the twenty-one panels he painted for the New Worker's School of New York. In the two subsequent decades, he performed several mural projects of this kind and experimented with a variety of formats and techniques: from authentic frescoes on mesh steel and asbestos, to boards covered with Venetian mosaic crystals attached to walls.
Throughout the 1950s, Rivera executed several wall decorations, public and private, not only on walls but on rooftops, swimming pools, fences, and even fountains often conceived to be seen through mirrors and water currents. Likewise, he explored novel materials such as polyethylene, liquid rubber and coatings of natural stones. Toward the year of 1955, Rivera executed a portable mural to decorate the pool area in the residence of Santiago Reachi, a film producer from Cuernavaca. The mural, measuring nearly nine meters long and fully covered with Venetian mosaic, was to present a bucolic imaginary landscape from the isthmus of Tehuantepec (Southeastern Mexico) on the banks of the River Juchitán. Along the river's shores, Rivera painted children swimming, women washing clothes, mothers bathing their little ones. Alongside, placid female nudes resting among lush leaves and butterflies, evoke the odalisques of Matisse and Paul Gauguin's South Pacific paradises.
A special feature of this project was that both the obverse and reverse views could be equally admired by the viewer, so the tiny colored stones, finely placed on 26.79 square meters, build a kaleidoscope of color and light. Let us remember that when Diego Rivera returned from Europe in the 1920s, he was above all, an avant-garde painter. It was upon the recommendation of Minister Vasconcelos that Rivera traveled throughout Mexico and became reacquainted with the beauty of its land. It was then that Rivera fell captive to the notion of "a lost paradise," rediscovered in the isthmus of Tehuantepec. Like many other painters before him, Mexican and foreign, and even filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein, Rivera found the deepest roots of Mexico in the tropics.
Together, these unique four large scale paintings make up the original design for the mural Rio Juchitán, subsequently realized with Venetian mosaic. The four present paintings represent the first portable mural program conceived and executed entirely by the hand of Diego Rivera.
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