The first decades of the 20th century in Mexico were a period of great political strife as years of revolution gave way to decades of turbulence. Out of the tumult, an extraordinary revitalisation of Mexican art occurred, producing three of the great muralists of the age, Diego Rivera, José Orozco and David Siqueiros.
For Siqueiros, there was no boundary between artist and social revolutionary; he pursued both roles with unrelenting fervour. His political activism would often interrupt his painting, sometimes for years, but together with Rivera and Orozco, he would create a new, politicised art unique to Central America. It would have a profound impact on generations of artists that followed.
Like Rivera and Orozco, Siqueiros studied at Mexico City’s Academy of San Carlos, but by 1913 he had abandoned his studies to join Venustiano Carranza’s Constitutionalist fight against Victoriano Huerta. Sent by Carranza on a diplomatic mission to Europe, Siqueiros visited Paris and Italy, where he was profoundly affected by the Renaissance frescos in Florence.
Returning to the post-revolutionary Mexico of the 1920s, he threw himself into the burgeoning labour movement. In his work for the revolutionary magazine, El Machete, and murals such as Burial of the Martyred Worker (1924), he expounded new theories on the social revolutionary quality of public art. In the early 1930s, his Stalinist beliefs caused him to be exiled from Mexico. He embarked upon a peripatetic existence that took him from Argentina to California and, later, New York, where a young Jackson Pollock trained under him. He joined the Republican armies during the Spanish Civil War, returning to Mexico in 1939 where he was involved in an attempted assassination of Leon Trotsky, and exiled once more. He was permitted to return permanently after 1945 and, in the 1950s, developed esculto-pintura, a unique fusion of sculpture and mural painting.
Siqueiros’s political activism never dwindled. His works are masterpieces of 20th-century agitprop, full of an unflagging conviction that art can be a weapon for social justice. His murals created for the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros during the 1960s and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (1952-56) stand as testament to an uncompromising artistic and revolutionary ambition.
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