Monday, 2 March 2015

Orozco - The Hospicio Cabanas

Continuing with images of Orozco in Guadalajara with descriptions of the frescoes from Desmond Rochfort's Mexican Muralists. The Hospicio Cabanas was founded in 1791 by Bishop Ruiz de Cabanas, who planned it as a combination workhouse, hospital, orphanage, and almshouse. The architect who designed it was Manuel Tolsa from Mexico City, but he died before it was completed. It served as a hospital until 1980, when it was converted to the Cabanas Cultural Institute.

Orozco painted 57 frescoes in the building, covering the vaulted ceiling and walls with scenes of the history of Mexico from before the Spanish arrived to early 20th century industrialization. Like the other Guadalajara frescoes, his history has few heroes and does not suggest either an idyllic pre-Hispanic world or progress toward a peaceful and cultured present.

The transepts have images of ancient Mexico as a barbaric world, with rituals for the god of war, Huitzilipochtli.
Huitzilipochtli, God of War


In the vaults of the nave, he depicted the Spanish conquest, with Philip II of Spain carrying a cross and crown, two-headed horses, and a Franciscan monk who carries a cross that doubles as a dagger. The Franciscan stands in front of a sheet of letters, indicating that the missionaries brought reading as well as torment to the Mexican people.
Philip II of Spain

Cabanas ceiling, Franciscan

Two-headed horse, Spanish conquest

An armored horse, a mechanical, machine horse and rider suggests the invincible force of the Spanish army, and anticipates Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, as the Aztecs, weakened by foreign diseases, were no match for the Spanish weapons and armor.

Mechanized horse and rider

The most puzzling scenes are the walls of the nave and transepts, where Orozco painted both icons of culture and art like Cervantes, El Greco and Cabanas himself, alternated with images of despotism and demagogery. Orozco continues to juxtapose positive and negative back into early history and forward into the contemporary world. Describing himself as a "free thinker," he does not adopt any political dogma and questions all ideology. Unlike most traditional narrative painting cycles, this one does not promote the idea of historical progress or lead to a happy ending, or even to an unhappy ending.


Bishop Cabanas
The culminating image, in the high dome of the hall, is Man of Fire, a nude figure rising through red and orange flames above three grey figures seated or reclining below. The grey figures are identified as either observers or as the other elements: air, earth and water. Below and around them are smaller panels depicting trades or occupations in grey. While one wants to see this as a heroic image, an apotheosis, it also looks like a horrific immolation.

Man of Fire, with surrounding trades/occupations

Man of Fire and three surrounding figures

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Orozco in Guadalajara

Preparing for a brief presentation in anticipation of taking a group to Guadalajara, I hunted all over the web for descriptions of Jose Clemente Orozco's (1883-1949) frescoes in Guadalajara, especially those at the Hospicio Cabanas, which is considered his masterpiece. Basic biographical information can be found at Wikipedia and other online sites. Finally I found what I needed in the book by Desmond Rochfort, Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1993, pp 111-119 and 134-145. For others who would like a brief explanation of the murals, I thought I would give a summary of what I learned, plus an observation or two of my own, with my own photographs from the cycles.

Orozco was in the United States from 1927 to 1934. When he returned to Mexico, he first painted the mural Catharsis in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, a devastating image of humanity overwhelmed by mechanization, depravity, and war.
Orozco, Catharsis, detail
Almost immediately after Orozco completed this upsetting image, the governor of Jalisco invited him to Guadalajara, where between 1936 and 1939 he completed three monumental fresco cycles. At the assembly hall of the University of Guadalajara, he painted the dome and the backdrop of the stage. 

Orozco, University assembly hall dome fresco, Creative Man
Four monumental figures dominate the dome: 1) the worker emerging from some kind of machine; 2) the scientist with heads facing in all directions and holding tools referring to his inquiring mind; 3) the philosopher/professor with one armed raised and the other hand clasping that of 4) the rebel, whose head is down and in a noose (not visible in the photo above) while he holds a red flag in his free hand. The latter two represent thought and action, the active and contemplative life. 

Orozco, The Rebellion of Man: The People and their False Leaders

Orozco, The Leaders

Orozco,The Victims
On the stage, the imagery is more negative. The People and their False Leaders depicts skeletal masses furiously attaching idealogues like Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, union bosses and a worker holding a book and a saw. The left wall shows ape like Leaders and the right pitiable Victims. 

At the Government Palace Orozco painted the iconic image of Father Hidalgo, whose cry (El Grito de Dolores) started the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. Heroic as he is, below him are warring figures, none of them truly heroic. The left wall is Phantasms of Religion and Alliance with the Military and the right is The Carnival of Ideolgies.

Orozco, Government Palace, Father Hidalgo
Carnival of Ideologies, detail

Orozco, Hidalgo, detail, Guadalajara Government Palace
For years I have had difficulty figuring out what the Orozco murals were supposed to be saying, looking for the resolution of the narratives, for the good guys. Finally I realize that except for Hidalgo, whose revolutionary acts resulted in his death, no one is a hero and things don't work out in the end in these murals. Unlike Rivera, with his peasant heroes, Orozco seems not to heroize any group or have faith in any political system.. 

Constraints of space and time compel me to post this section and continue with the Hospicio Cabanas in my next post.