Diego Rivera (1886-1957) is considered by many to be the greatest Mexican painter of the 20th century, whose skills as master muralist had a profound influence on the international art world.
A social realist, with a keen political conscience, Rivera sought to bring art to the people and reflect the lives and struggles of working people in his native Mexico. His murals are theatrical, ambitious and epic, blending elements of Italian fresco with his native Mexico’s culture and history. Farm and industrial workers take centre stage. Lushly coloured and stylised figures, reminiscent of Mayan and Aztec sculptures, dominate his paintings.
He worked prolifically in the US. In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, he was commissioned by Henry Ford to create 27 fresco panels, entitled Detroit Industry, depicting the industrial life of the American worker. Rivera was the catalyst for President Roosevelt’s public art project, which sponsored jobless artists to make murals on public buildings, including the White House.
In 1931/2, record numbers attended his specially constructed portable mural show for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The works were brought back together for a show in 2012.
When Rivera returned to his homeland, he set about making outspoken pieces in oil, paper and fresco. He also painted his great loves, including his wife, the painter Frida Kahlo. He produced much public work. One of Mexico’s top attractions is Rivera’s mural depicting the history of the nation at the National Palace in Mexico City.
Rivera put art back on walls. He is the grandfather of everything that followed in murals, including monumental graffiti and even the work of Banksy. Democratisation of art is one of Diego Rivera’s greatest legacies.