|David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974)
Color lithograph, signed in pencil and numbered lower left, 49/125.
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Gift of Jean Stein. MM.2010.01. Photo by Dimitris Skliris.
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David Alfaro Siqueiros was known as the last of “Los Tres Grandes” (The Great Three) Mexican muralists; the others were José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, whose art the Meadows Museum celebrated in last summer’s exhibition Diego Rivera: The Cubist Portraits, 1913-1917. Throughout his life, Siqueiros was in equal parts artist and political activist; he gave up artistic activity for years at a time because of his ideological beliefs. Siqueiros matriculated for a brief period at the Academy of San Carlos in 1911, enrolling in architecture, painting and drawing classes.
In 1914, he joined the constitutionalist army of President Carranza. As a member of the Congreso de Soldados-Artistas in Guadalajara, he was sent in 1919 to Paris as both a military attaché and an artist on scholarship. He also traveled to Italy before returning to Mexico in 1922 to participate in a governmentsponsored mural program. In 1923, Siqueiros was elected to the executive committee of the Mexican Communist Party with Rivera.
Siqueiros’s unwavering Communist beliefs spilled over into his art, which in both content and creation is unabashedly agitprop. He eschewed fresco painting with its traditionally Renaissance and Mexican connotations in favor of modern industrial materials—despite imperfect results—such as pyroxylin, which dries extremely quickly. He wanted his art and its impact to be direct and immediate. Siqueiros once stated that “one can play a revolutionary anthem on a church organ but it is not an instrument suitable for the purposes.” His innovative working methods attracted a following beyond Mexico. Siqueiros ran his “Experimental Workshop” in New York in the 1930s, and it was there that Jackson Pollock learned about throwing and pouring paint to achieve unpredictable results. Siqueiros encouraged Pollock and other New York painters at the workshop to use commercial paints and work on canvases tacked to the floor.
As a commemoration to a political martyr, Heroic Voice is a strong first representative work of Siqueiros in the Meadows collection. Heroic Voice combines the portrait of a fallen hero with a reprisal of one of Siqueiros’s most iconic works, New Democracy. Created in 1945, New Democracy is a 40-foot mural painted on the walls of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. In its lower section, Heroic Voice recalls the central panel of this mural, which depicts a woman bursting from the earth’s crust with volcanic force. Her Phrygian cap indicates that she is a revolutionary, bringing forth freedom with the toppling of fascism, represented by a fallen Nazi soldier (identifiable by his helmet) underneath the large fist.
The upper section of the lithograph depicts Rubén Salazar, noted Los Angeles Times reporter, who became a martyr of the Chicano movement. He was killed on August 29, 1970, while covering the story of the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War—the largest Mexican-American demonstration ever to take place in the United States. While stopping for a drink at the Silver Dollar Bar (near the site of the anti-war demonstration), Salazar was struck in the head by a tear gas projectile shot at short-range by police into the establishment. Though his death was ruled a homicide by the county coroner, the deputy sheriff involved was never prosecuted. During his career, Salazar had investigated reports of police brutality and had received death threats from the Los Angeles County sheriff; the circumstances surrounding his death were therefore considered highly suspect.
This lithograph is an homage to Salazar, whose voice spoke for the Chicano movement and its fight for equal application of democratic principles. His fight paralleled that of Siqueiros’s theoretical revolutionary woman of New Democracy in the wake of World War II. Siqueiros’s choice of lithography as the medium for this portrait of a hero was surely a conscious one. Lithography in Mexico historically has been a vehicle for nationalistic messages since its introduction to the country in 1826. By the turn of the century, woodcut had replaced lithography as the favored printmaking form; lithography at that point had assumed negative commercial and academic associations. In the 1920s and 1930s, however, lithography was revitalized and reintroduced into art school curricula. Established artists like Siqueiros, Rivera and Orozco recognized the medium’s ability to make their mural imagery transportable, not only for commercial reasons, but also as a vehicle to transport the political messages of their lithographs to a broader audience. Prints could be a surrogate for mural iconography, as is the case with Heroic Voice.
In this lithograph, Siqueiros connected the anti-fascist declaration of New Democracy from 1945 with the political message conveyed decades later by the life—and death—of Salazar. This lithograph was generously donated by Mrs. Jean Stein, an avid print collector and patron of the Meadows Museum.
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