December 8 marks the 125th birthday of the late Diego Rivera, one of the initiators of the Mexican Muralist Movement. Rivera, who is also remembered today as Frida Kahlo’s husband (although she was not a renowned artist during her lifetime), drew on indigenous influences in his art, borrowing color schemes from Aztec art and using storytelling techniques reminiscent of Mayan steles. Rivera died in 1957, aged 70. Google has chosen to commemorate this towering presence in Mexican 20th-century art with a visual riff on its logo — commonly known as a “Google Doodle” — of the artist atop a scaffold, working on a mural.
The leading Mexican Muralists — Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros — were a defining influence on Mexican identity from the 1920s through the 1960s, and their influence is still apparent today. Not only did they produce works in an identifiable Mexican aesthetic often inspired by indigenous culture and a longing for a lost, pre-Columbian Eden; they also influenced popular political opinion and worked to democratize art itself. The very nature of a mural — public, accessible to all — was crucial to their artistic, social, and political beliefs. Below are several examples of Rivera’s work.
“The Kid” depicts Rivera (as a child) and Kahlo nest to a skeleton-woman who evokes the national obsession with bones and skulls that is also reflected in Day of the Dead imagery.
Rivera was also famous for his unwavering support of Communism; the mural below, “Man, Controller of the Universe,” from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, is a second attempt. In its first incarnation, it was called “Man at the Crossroads” and was to adorn the walls of Rockefeller Center in New York City. However, that project (begun in 1933) was canceled due to the depiction of Vladimir Lenin.
Photo credits, from top: 1. flickr user kudomomo; 2. Wolfgang Sauber; 3. Wolfgang Sauber; 4. Wolfgang Sauber; 5. Wolfgang Sauber; 6. Carl van Vechten/Library of Congress. Images obtained from Wikipedia.