Mexican painting of the first half of the XX century (part 3)
The workshop absorbed the wonderful traditions of Mexican art, became a phenomenon of world graphics of the XX century. The masters of this association developed the progressive traditions of other countries, using the experience of F. Mazerel or R. Guttuso, Soviet cartoonists and poster artists, especially D. Moore, and American graphic artists-communists. The workshop was preceded by the schedule of Posada, and it is no coincidence that the leader and founder of the workshop, Leopoldo Mendes, depicts Posada: he angrily watches the reprisal against the popular manifestation. Another important source of the workshop’s revolutionary traditions is the work of artists in the newspaper El Machete, which was published by the Revolutionary Syndicate of Technicians and Artists, created in 1922 on the initiative of Siqueiros.
The flowering of Mexican graphics began with the creation of a workshop in 1937. Mendes already had considerable experience by this time, he studied at the Academy of Arts after the revolution, from the mid-1920s he worked as an engraver, in the 1930s and 1940s he completed two cycles of wall paintings, and from 1932 he headed the plastic arts section at the Ministry of Education , in 1933-1937 he was one of the leaders of the League of revolutionary writers and artists. Combining dozens of artists for collective work, the “Workshop of Folk Graphics” simultaneously contributed to the creative growth of Mendes himself. In 1938, he directed the creation of a series of anti-fascist posters, in 1939 he performed a series of documentary lithographs depicting the brutal murder of rural teachers by bands of religious fanatics, in 1942, an engraving on the linoleum “Train of the Doomed” for The Black Book of Fascist Terror in Europe. One can clearly see how rapidly growing both political consciousness and the graphic skill of the artist. In 1948, he became one of the largest graphs of the XX century.
Mendes performs ten linoleum prints for the film “Rio Escondido”, which was created by the wonderful filmmakers Emilio Fernandez and Gabrielle Figueroa, not without the influence of Sergei Eisenstein and Eduard Tisse who worked in Mexico. Cinema was only an impetus for the artist, the engravings themselves do not resemble a cinematic frame. The nature of the series brings to mind the graphic cycles of Goya, Mazerel, Kolwitz, but there is something new in Leopoldo Mendes’s work – a sequence of actions from which not a single link can be removed. The story told by the film and Mendes is simple and dramatic: a young teacher comes to the village, where the sovereign owner is a local headman, a gangster who enslaved the peasants. He organized the rout of the school, seized the source of drinking water and established bloody terror in the village. Only a defenseless teacher managed to rally the peasants who had cracked down on their oppressor and his minions, but she herself died.
Mendes continues the traditions of the socially active art of Posada and Orozco, and in a peculiar way uses monumentality and symbolism characteristic of Mexican graphics. Each sheet is subordinated to one pronounced idea, the main emotion and takes on the character of a monumental symbol. The compositions contain a conflict in which not only people take part, but also the elements – earth and sky, airspace and fire. Each plot is a world in itself, a whole poem, but all together the sheets add up to an exciting and moving story.
In the workshop there were many bright artists. Pablo O’Higgins, co-author of Mendes in wall paintings, worked in the technique of lithography, creating charming images of ordinary people in Mexico. Alberto Beltran proved himself to be a master of visual narrative, skillfully building a plot using expressiveness of detail. His cycle “Bus of the poor” – engravings on the 1954 linoleum – is marked by a variety of types and subtlety of observations. Arturo Garcia Bustos, a student of Rivera, is extremely emotional – sometimes tenderly lyrical, then reaches great tragic power (1957 Testament of Guatemala cycle). “Workshop of folk graphics” continued its activities until the 60s. And what was created by progressive Mexican graphics remains one of the pinnacles of 20th-century art. Artists of many countries working in the field of political graphics often turn and will draw on the experience of the masters of Mexican graphics, the highly social, civic orientation of their art.