On this day in 1886, the great Mexican painter Diego Rivera was born. He is best known for his murals, but that came later. Born into a wealthy family, he got plenty of encouragement and instruction for his early obsession with drawing. In 1907, he went to study in Europe, eventually making it to Paris. He developed a close friendship with the slightly older Amedeo Modigliani. It was around this time that he started painting in the cubist style. Later he followed in the style of Cézanne. Rivera was something of an artistic sponge — an attribute that would serve him well in his later mural painting.
On his return to Mexico in 1921, Rivera got involved in a government sponsored mural program. This is also when he became actively involved in leftist politics. He combined the two beautifully. And it wasn’t especially controversial until he left Mexico. It’s funny the way countries are. They don’t have a problem with people like Rivera because of the specifics of their politics. They have a problem with such people for not telling them exactly what they want to hear. So first he was thrown out of the Soviet Union and then he was thrown out of the United States.
Between 1932 and 1933, Rivera created a 27-panel mural, Detroit Industry. Here is a detail of one particularly stunning panel:
In the early 1950s, when the country was crazy under McCarthyism, a large sign was put up that explained how great an artistic accomplishment it was, even though the politics were terrible. Again: what did they know of his politics? Only that they were “wrong.” When people act the way groups do, we call them neurotic. No one would take a person seriously who was so insecure that he couldn’t brook the smallest disagreement about how perfect he was. But when our country does it, it is considered noble. It’s very odd. It’s good to have artists and thinkers around to highlight our silliness.
Happy birthday Diego Rivera!