on Paper

Mexican Prints 1910 - 1960
Mark McDonald

(University of Texas Press)
After the Mexican Revolution the government decided that revolutionary themes and ideals should be offered to the Mexican public by means of prints, posters, lithographs, engravings, illustrated books, broadsides, and murals "for a new aesthetic as well as a new political order." Thus in 1922, the Secretary of Public Education José Vasconcelos began his mission to educate the masses through public art.

He hired scores of artists and writers to build a modern if somewhat revolutionary national culture. Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros were the giants, but here in Revolution on Paper we find thirty-two other significant and, in some cases, stunning artists. This includes several masters of woodcuts, Leopoldo Mendez, Emilio Amero, Rufino Tamayo, and Ignacio Aguirre. By contrast, the WPA (Works Projects Administration) art projects to the north were, not only tame, but somewhat of a johnny-come lately (the WPA commenced business in 1935).

These revolutionary Mexican artists were a tough (albeit bickery) bunch, committed enough to the revolution to go into the wilds outside of Mexico City to teach and to create their art. They certainly were no pantywaists: their prints and murals often took on the very government that was supporting them. Among the most testy was Siqueiros, forced to go into exile and finally prison because of his attempt to murder the anti-Stalinist refugee Leon Trotsky. It is said he even hatched a plot to have fellow artist Diego Rivera garroted in his fancy house in Mexico City. (If you doubt Siqueiros pottiness, dig the eyes in his self-portrait below.)

The glory of this volume lies in the 150 large prints, woodcuts, linocuts and lithographs, compiled and presented with copious, informative notes. There is a rich joy in discovering previously unknown artists like Francisco Mora, Alfredo Zalca, and Francisco Dosamantes [See above].

--- Leopoldo Torres Cano
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