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.

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