Today in 1883 Mexican cartoonist, painter and muralist José Clemente Orozco was born in Ciudad Guzman. Orozco studied at the fabled San Carlos Academy of Art and was focused on the struggles of everyday life in Mexico and nationalist themes. His first work, ‘House of Tears’ was controversial enough to force him to seek refuge in the U.S., the watercolors series depicted the harsh life of prostitutes living in the red light district of Mexico City.
During the early 1930’s he lived in New York and California painting commissioned murals for numerous universities. Works can be found today at Dartmouth College, the New School for Social Research in New York City, Pomona College in California, among others. He labored hours on his murals, often alone, without the benefit of his left hand that he lost in a fireworks accident early in his life.
Orozco returned to Mexico. with an international reputation and returned to paint his most iconic mural Catharsis for the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City in 1934. His critical view of Mexican life and institutions never left him and evident in this iconic mural.
The Mexican government became his most important employer agreeing to sponsor his work, when he returned home, along with his muralist colleagues Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. His work is often dark and pessimist compared to Rivera’s love of bright colors. The work has been described as “ a mixture of conventional, Renaissance-period compositions and modeling, emotionally expressive, modernist abstraction, typically dark, ominous palettes, and forms and iconography deriving from the country’s indigenous, pre-colonial, pre-European art.”
Orozco along with Rivera and Siqueiros are considered the greatest muralists Mexico has produced. They are credited with introducing ‘public art’ in large scale to the masses that are critiques on the Mexican government and corrupt institutions – themes that remain prevalent in modern Mexico.
In his 1945 autobiography, Orozco wrote “Everything should be done against the grain, against the current, and if some insensate fellow proposes a remedy that would do away with difficulties, we must crush him at whatever cost, for civilization itself is at stake.”
The great social critic and muralist died on September 7, 1949 in Mexico City.
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