"NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL"
19" x 22" inches - $5.00
First published in
republished Aug. 2010.
more information on the art of Siqueiros - visit the
For A Change web log.
Portrait of Mexico Today
by Mark Vallen, published in the Nov. 2002 edition
of the Los Angeles newspaper, "Change Links."
an artist long interested in the social and political
dimensions of art, few have influenced me as much
as the great Mexican artist, David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Early in my career, exposure to his profound works
of social realism not only inspired me to continue
to pursue the path of an artist, they also convinced
me that art was a force capable of changing the world.
can happily say that the works of the great master
are as relevant as ever, and that his last surviving
mural in the U.S. was presented to the public by the
Santa Barbara Museum of Art on October 20, 2002. Along
with thousands of others, I attended the unveiling
ceremony for Retrato del Mexico de hoy ("Portrait
of Mexico Today:1932"), which is now in the museum's
permanent collection and on display in an alcove near
the museum's entrance.
grew up in a Mexico filled with turmoil and class
conflict. He was a student radical and as a young
man fought in the revolution. He became a committed
communist and a union organizer and was repeatedly
arrested for his efforts. However, the development
of his political views went hand in hand with the
advent of his innovative aesthetics.
his contemporaries Diego Rivera and José Clemente
Orozco, Siqueiros put aside easel painting in favor
of the democratic public mural. Despite his standing
as a highly regarded artist he was eventually driven
into a short exile because of his leftist ideas.
came to Los Angeles as a political refugee in 1932.
He stayed for six months before being unceremoniously
deported after his visa ran out. His arrival in
the U.S. came during the great depression when factories
closed and thousands were thrown out of work. While
in L.A. he painted three important murals. The first,
Mitin Obreo ("Worker's Meeting") was created
at the prestigious Chouinard School of Art. Siqueiros
had been invited by the school to teach a class
in mural painting, and what better way to educate
his students than to directly involve them in the
creation of a mural. The 20 by 30 foot painting
was on an outside wall of the school.
Obrero depicted a militant union organizer
and the multi-cultural crowd of workers who had
put down their tools to listen to his oration.
The painting was almost immediately covered by
a tarp to prevent public viewing and within a
year it was completely destroyed. The
mural represented a great advancement in art making
in the U.S., it was the first outdoor mural to
create a public space on the street. It was also
the very first time in the U.S. that an artist
had used a projector to transfer enlarged images
to a surface, or to use a mechanized spray gun
to apply paint. This was a technique developed
second and most famous of Siqueiros' L.A. murals,
painted on a rooftop overlooking the City's historic
Olvera Street. The Plaza Art Center wanted the artist
to paint an exotic picture of Latin America replete
with tropical birds and lush jungle. Instead Siqueiros
covered the 130 foot wall space with a terrifying
visage. The mural's central focus was an Indian
crucified on a cross, on top of which sat the eagle
of imperialism. The background consisted of ruined
Indian pyramids, a reference to the European sacking
of indigenous grandeur. To
the left and right of this scene, armed peasants
were coming out of the jungle to wage a war of liberation.
Once again the artist used a projector to transfer
his images to the wall, and a spray gun to paint
the mural. Needless to say, conservatives were outraged
over the mural and it was immediately whitewashed.
It sat abandoned for decades until the J. Paul Getty
Museum decided to restore it (a process that today
is still ongoing).
artist's third mural in Los Angeles, Portrait
of Mexico Today: 1932, had better luck. Film
director Dudley Murphy was a great supporter of
Siqueiros, and to show his appreciation the artist
painted a mural at the director's Pacific Palisades
home. Luckily for us all, the 170 square foot
work was donated to the Santa Barbara Museum of
Art in 2001.
in a semi-enclosed garden structure, the mural
depicts two impoverished peasant women with a
partially clothed child standing between them.
The trio are placed on the steps of an ancient
Indian pyramid surrounded by jungle. To the extreme
left of this scene are the bodies of two slain
workers, blood trickling from their mouths.
the slaughter is a portrait of the American capitalist,
J.P. Morgan. Close by and under the gaze of the
approving Morgan, sits the Mexican President, Plutarco
Elías Calles. Shown as an armed bandit with stolen
money bags at his feet, Calles is portrayed as an
errand boy to the foreign masters of El Norte. At
the opposite end of the mural crouches a communist
soldier bearing a rifle, representing the forces
that would forever end the oppression of the workers.
passed away in 1974, never having achieved the
recognition in the U.S. that he so richly deserved
- until the Santa Barbara Museum of Art honored
him with a community celebration. October 20th,
2002 was a milestone for the concept of freedom
of expression, but it was also a great day for
art and a vindication for those artists whose
works reflect a social consciousness.
dozens of luminaries from the world of art, commerce,
and politics were part of the ceremony (including
the Mayor of the city of Santa Barbara and a representative
from the Mexican government), it was the thousands
of ordinary people who attended the unveiling
that served as the highest tribute to the revolutionary
artist. People thirst for art that reflects their
reality and aspirations, and today's artists must
rediscover the path blazed by David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art is located at 1130 State
Street * Telephone (805) 963-4364.
For complete information on the Siqueiros mural,
check the Museum's website, at: www.sbmuseart.org
denitive book on Sigueiros, Siqueiros, His Life
and Works by Philip Stein
Stein, a.k.a. Estaño, wrote the definitive biography
on Siquieros, Siqueiros, His Life and Works.
Estaño is a tremendously talented painter who
worked with Siquieros in Mexico for some ten
years, helping the master to create some of
his most renowned murals. The 400 page book
provides incredible insights into the work,
life, and times of one of the world's greatest
political artists. The book includes 72 pages
of color and b&w plates and photos.
is owned and operated by Mark Vallen © All text by Mark Vallen.