David Alfaro Siqueiros
Best known as a major proponent of Mexican muralism, David Siqueiros also frequently worked in easel painting. While always an expressionistic painter, he developed a more abstract figurative style in his later career in an effort to depict a new and darker vision of humanity in the postwar era. Unlike the works of his fellow muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco – who generally focused on historical scenes of national importance – Siqueiros’s paintings are largely allegorical and international in scope.
In Cain in the United States (1947) Siqueiros created a feeling of ominous dread to convey the pervading hopelessness caused by the violent rise of fascism in Mexico and the United States. The painting depicts the vicious lynching of a black man at the hands of a mob of white men and women. It signals an explicit critique of American racial politics. The white bodies with beak-like mouths and gnashing teeth lose their humanity, becoming bestial in their extreme rage. The title refers to the biblical story of fratricide, in which Cain murders his younger brother, Abel, and is subsequently cursed by God, forced to wander the Earth as his punishment. Siqueiros saw racist violence against African Americans as an ugly mark on all of humanity.
David Alfaro Siqueiros constantly sought to express his revolutionary Marxist ideas using equally revolutionary means (airbrush, photographic projection) and new materials (nitrocellulose pigments, plywood). In his dynamic, figurative paintings and murals he developed a pictorial vocabulary and a sculptural treatment of form, working with a limited palette and dramatic light and shadow. Siqueiros began his studies at the Academia de San Carlos (Academy of San Carlos) in Mexico City beginning in 1911. A staunch communist and radical anti-fascist, Siqueiros interrupted his studies in 1914 to join the Mexican Revolutionary Army. While traveling in Europe from 1919 to 1922, he met his fellow countryman, the artist Diego Rivera (1886–1957). Back in Mexico City the two artists, together with José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949) founded the Mexican mural movement. A successful painter of monumental, political mural frescos, Siqueiros received public commissions in Mexico and executed mural projects in Los Angeles, New York, and South America during the 1930s. While in New York in the mid-1930s, he founded the Experimental Workshop for young artists, promoting collective practice and new techniques. One of the students was the young Jackson Pollock. In 1950 Siqueiros was one of the first Mexican artists to participate in the Venice Biennale.