The history of Mexican murals is intimately tied up in revolution, radical self-determination, and innovation. It is a long and storied history, overlapping with the use of murals as political tools elsewhere in Latin and South America.
Murals are also a prominent avenue of anticolonial speech in the Latin American tradition. Mexican murals are often intended to honor the indigenous roots and resilience of the Mexcian people, as well as to assert their independence.
Mexican muralists are responsible for developing much of the stylistic vocabulary, and characteristics of social realism in the time after the Mexican Revolution. They were some of the first to depict the everyday worker, and common person as a hero, worthy of elevation in artwork. Mexican muralists did major work establishing the visual vocabulary of postcolonial art, setting the scene for future artists. Their work is also reflective of the move towards Expressionism throughout Europe and the Americas.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of Los Tres Grandes, or the Three Greats, of Mexican mural painting, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Siquieros. They sprung onto the scene after the Mexican Revolution which roughly spanned the years 1910-1920. The war overthrew the dictator Porfirio Diaz, and established a reborn Mexican state that was rooted in the power of farmers and folks who worked the land.
Rivera, Orozco, and Siquieros were approached by the post-Revolution Mexican secretary of public education, José Vasconcelos, and commissioned to execute several murals in public places. Vasconeclos wanted to promote the ideals of the Mexican Revolution, as well as to educate the public on Mexican history. As a majority of Mexicans were illiterate at the time, Vasconcelos thought that murals would be the perfect vehicle.
Los Tres Grandes illuminated the precolonial story of Mexico, for the first time publicly honoring and celebrating the Mesoamerican indigenous people who built the foundations of modern day Mexico. Non-European figures were elevated as heroes in the images of Los Tres Grandes, as was the working man, and the farmer.
Representation is a powerful tool and can encourage community, social growth, and hope. In the post-Revolution period the government-commissioned murals inspired all of those things, promoting the unified vision of a new Mexico.
Diego Rivera is the most well-known of Los Tres Grandes outside of Mexico. He is remembered for his optimistic snapshots of laborers and the working class, as well as his marriage to Frida Kahlo. Rivera worked in the most traditional style of the three, which was heavily inspired by European modernism. His figures were rendered in soft, but expressive brush strokes, and his scenes were often executed in a muted, earthy palette. As he was not in Mexico during the Revolution and had no personal experience with it, his work is the most idealistic when it comes to presenting the war. Rivera was an ardent communist and supported the ideals of the Revolution, which is evident in his stylized and hopeful images of a new Mexico.
José Clemente Orozco was the most emotional and severe of the bunch. His images focused on human suffering and oppression, and warned against history repeating itself. He told stories to educate his viewers about the truth of any situation, and his role as a soldier in the war dictated that he did not glorify the Revolution. His style was dynamic and active, and he is known for his slashing lines and tormented figures.
David Siquieros is remembered as the most radical of Los Tres Grandes. Like all three members, he was a serious and dedicated comminist, but he surpassed both Rivera and Orozco in the politicization of his art. His work is dominated by depictions of the proletarian masses rising up and taking control of their fate. His images are dense with crowds of working Mexicans, symbolizing the power of the people united. Siquieros was also fascinated with the possibility of technology and future scientific advances, a theme which pops up in his images with great frequency.
Los Tres Grandes served as some of the first globally recognized greats of non-European art. They popularized the imagery of Mexico, and brought its story to the world’s attention. Today, their style and legacy lives on in the art of the Mexican and Latinx diaspora. Their ethos is present in mural art around the world, imbuing street art with the potential to change political beliefs and represent a shared experience visually.
The murals of Chicago overlap and borrow from this history, evident across the length of the city. As Chicagoans and art lovers, we want to remember and continue the lineage of murals as catalysts for social change and transformation.
Our mural services program allow you to commission a mural for your office and workspace, while also funding local art programs and education for students in underfunded schools. Schools can also commission murals!
We take the energy and momentum generated by the creation of custom murals and transform it into social impact. Contact us to get involved!
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