- Also known as
primary name: Rivera, Diego
other name: Rivera, José Diego María
- individual; painter/draughtsman; printmaker; Mexican; Male
- Life dates
- Text from Dawn Adès and Alison McClean, 'Revolution on Paper, Mexican Prints 1910-1960', with the assistance of Laura Campbell, BMP, 2009
One of the best-known Mexican artists, Diego Rivera, was born in Guanajuato. At the age of twelve he entered the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City. Later he travelled to Europe on scholarships funded by a benefactor, Teodoro A. Dehesa, the State Governor of Veracruz who was introduced to Rivera's work by the artist's father. Rivera remained in Europe for fourteen years, travelling to various cities - Madrid, Paris and London - studying Western art and showing his work. He returned to Mexico at the invitation of the Mexican government in 1921 to work on a mural project commissioned by the State.
Rivera's activity as a printmaker is less known than his work as a painter, but the small number of prints he made were fundamental to the history of Mexican printmaking. Unlike most of his contemporaries, who produced prints of political subjects, Rivera reluctantly made his prints for commercial purposes and sold them through the New York based Weyhe Gallery, under the direction of Carl Zigrosser during the 1920s.
In 1930 Rivera produced his first lithographs in editions of a hundred. Three of these depicted flower stalls in Mexico; another two were female nudes, one of his wife, Frida Kahlo (cat. 26), and the other of his friend Dolores Olmedo Patiño (cat. 25). His last print of 1930 was a self-portrait. He also experimented with techniques and produced three proofs known as lithomontages from the block he had used for his self-portrait (see cat. 24).
Rivera's second phase of printmaking began in 1932, when he produced a set of five lithographs for the Weyhe Gallery. These all showed details from mural panels that he had completed in Mexico during the 1920s, including the image of Zapata which has become one of the most important and recognizable Mexican prints (cat. 22). A final print he made in 1938, 'Communicating vessels', was his first in colour. This print is based on surrealist author André Breton's text of the same name in which he explores the relationship between sleep and waking, a concept that Rivera represents by one open and one closed eye. Breton integrated Marxist theory into his text and Rivera followed this political slant because he made this print to stand in for a lecture that Breton had planned to give in Mexico City in 1938 but which was cancelled due to political tension.
Politically, Rivera allied himself with the Left and was an intermittent member of the Mexican Communist Party. His mural paintings reflected his ideology, whereas his printmaking activity, with the exception of 'Communicating vessels', did not address politics. He was never a member of the TGP; his collaboration with other printmakers was forged instead through his role as a founder of 'El Machete' in 1922, as editor of the illustrated magazine 'Mexican Folkways' from 1924 to 1929, and afterwards through a commitment to revolutionizing art.
- Checklist of lithographs in appendix 1 of 'Mexican Prints fom the collection of Dave and Reba Williams', 1998