Diego Rivera is one of the forefathers of modern street art in Mexico. His murals and frescos left indelible impressions and squared us with his insights as a controversial and vocal Mexican nationalist, atheist, and communist. While his artwork was commissioned by various parties, Rivera never, or hardly ever, compromised his message. This was sometimes a problem, as Rivera fearlessly lent his voice to the hard work, blue collar labourers of Mexico.
Many of the murals and frescos Rivera created are still standing in Mexico City, in the historic centre – Centro. Make your way here post-haste and see one of Rivera’s incredible creations up close.
Creation (1922), Rivera’s first government-commissioned mural, is an allegorical composition that depicts wisdom and science as the creator and originator of life and its relationship with the Holy Trinity, pictured at the top. Adam and Eve are present below along with the nine muses, and Christian virtues: love, hope, faith, prudence, justice, and strength. The painting technique is encaustic, a method that uses an applied pigment suspended in molten wax. Rivera was armed with a pistol while he created his mural. It was so controversial for the time that the right-wing students of the school were a threat to Rivera’s safety. Find Creation at Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, Colegio de San Ildefonso.
Nelson Rockefeller, former US vice president, and descendant of one of the wealthiest families in the history of the United States, commissioned Rivera to paint a mural in the Rockefeller Center in New York City. The vision for the mural: a man at a crossroads looking toward a better future. The Rockefellers called it, ‘New Frontiers.’ Rivera unveiled Man at the Crossroads (1932), a mural that would be covered up and then destroyed two years later. Under the pressure of staying true to his beliefs, Rivera was provoked by his peers and community who told him he sold out, so he made some changes. The finished mural depicted Rockefeller on the left as a rich playboy and noted communists on the right, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Rivera recreated the mural in Mexico City and named it, Man, Controller of the Universe (1934) which you can find at Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park (1946), was originally painted for theHOTEL del Prado in Mexico City. This mural depicts some of Mexico’s most influential figures, including the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes who colonialized Mexico, artist Jose Guadalupe Posada standing next to La Catrina, Frida Kahlo, and a student at the Academy of Letran named Ignacio Ramirez who is holding a sign stating his (and Rivera’s) view, ‘God does not exist.’ Rivera was asked to remove the sign to appease Catholic officials, but he refused. The hotel covered the mural with a screen to censor Rivera’s message. After nine years, Rivera finally agreed to remove the sign, but not without acknowledging the compromise. “To affirm that Goes does not exist, I do not have to hide behind Don Ignacio Ramirez,” Rivera’s quoted as saying in a biography of his life written by his American assistant of 10 years, Philip Stein. “I am an atheist and I consider religions to be a form of collective neurosis.” Find Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park at Museo Mural Diego Rivera.