Mexican painter Diego Rivera was a hugely passionate man who more than anyone illustrated for his countrymen the beauty of Latin American traditions and culture, particularly that of his homeland. Rivera was as much a revolutionary as he was artist and from the age of sixteen until his death, his life was an ongoing challenge to political bastions. Expelled from art school for his revolutionary ways, he joined the Communist party but found himself driven out for combative ideologies, in his painting he battled with patrons, at times seeing portions of his murals painted over for their Marxist leanings. It was a passionate life of chaos in all walks, fighting with the church, with his women, and frequently weathering scandals. But through it all he painted with the head, heart and hands of a genius.
Self Portrait (1941); oil on canvas
The art of this man has drawn me back again and again with work as fresh on a tenth viewing as it was the first. As recently as last week an example of his work was featured here as part of work done by Latin American artists, and last April a post devoted to Rivera titled “Appetite for Life” included five of his paintings. I can’t seem to get enough.
Born in 1886, the artist spent many years of his life abroad studying and practicing his art. He went to Spain at twenty-one, moving on to France, Belgium, Holland and England. He returned to Mexico but soon left again for Paris. In 1919 he travelled to Italy but was back in Mexico by 1921. His work was in demand and he received a number of commissions to paint frescoes and murals in foreign cities. His one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York broke all attendance records. He died in 1957 in Mexico City.
The above photo is of Rivera’s Fountain of the Aztec Rain God Tlaloc, a tiled fountain constructed between 1950-52 in Mexico City that is still a part of the municipal water system. Basically a shallow pool more than a hundred feet long and a hundred feet wide, it originally served as the ceremonial entry point for water from the Lerma River into the city’s main reservoirs. The flow of water has been diverted into a pipe, but in Rivera’s sculpture, the rain god Tlaloc, still lies on his back in the pool. In the beginning water came through Tlaloc’s face, under his mouth, and on into the Carcamo, a giant tank inside the rotunda, part of the same complex. Until the 1990s, municipal water flowed into the tank, and from here technicians could control the levels in several large reservoirs. Rivera painted the entire cement tank, including the floor, in elaborate, colorful scenes.
Portrait of a Woman (1944); oil on canvas
Portrait of Oscar Miestchaninoff (1913) oil on canvas, painted during the artist’s cubist period
Sleep (1932); lithograph