After an active three year stay in New York where he painted his first political-propaganda works against the rise of Fascism, Siqueiros joined the cause of many foreigners who had volunteered to defend the Spanish Republic against Franco´s army and his fascist allies, Nazi Germany and Italy. In Spain, Siqueiros quickly went up the ranks and distinguised himself as a brilliant commander in many key battles. For Siqueiros, 1939 was a challenging year. After his return from Spain, his heart felt heavy with defeat. Nonetheless, he continued to promote, with blind faith and unshakable comrad discipline, Stalin’s ideology organizing mass demostrations against conservative newspapers backing Franco. At one of these events, rocks were thrown, windows were smashed and Siqueiros was arrested in the melée. His intense political activities paired the febril pace of his studio work. In 1939 he painted only what he had promissed Pierre Matisse for a solo exhibition in January of 1940. One of the paintings in the exhibition, Ethnography, 1939, was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Painted that same year, Siqueiros by Siqueiros echoes Siqueiros' self-portrait from 1930 in the Gelman Collection. In this early portrait, Siqueiros represents himself in a dark space, arms crossed, his eyes turned to the side. The expression is serious and the artist looks withdrawn from reality. The present painting could not be more different. The close-up basically concentrates on the eyes and the nose. The lights on the nose and on the prominent cheek frame an inquisitive eye. The black wide open pupil, the left nostril expanding to breathe violently. Siqueiros' expression shows a sense of urgency as perhaps looking at a horrific scene. The artist´s red-tired eye and wide open eye lids, and his flushing red skin appear painted on a short pause as in a battle field. Perhaps Siqueiros is showing us an eye that has witnessed great destruction and suffering. It is possible that this eye is an artist´s invitation to really “see” the world around us, an encouragement to get involved in its affairs, not just passively watch as events go by.
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