Friday, August 1, 2014

Surrealism (pt. 1)

During this time the first modern mural paintings in Mexico were being produced by Diego Rivera.  His work would launch the Mexican Mural Movement.  Mexican muralism featured works that were public property and meant for the people, not the walls of museums.  Similar to the public displays of the old Renaissance frescos, many of Rivera's works were commissioned paintings for municipal centers; and like the Renaissance artists, Rivera frequently used his art to tell stories.  The artist in fact studied the great Italian frescos and imitated their style in form and technique, but he chose to depict the struggle of the Mexican peasant as his theme.  This bent towards Realism did not keep the artist from infusing his works with personally expressive elements.  For instance, his works often appear simplified, caricature-esque, and unrealistic.  The muralist chose this function specifically to focus his paintings on story-telling, in a similar fashion to the Medieval illuminated manuscripts we looked at which centered around religious tales and parables and did not heed much attention to artistic realism.  But, in place of more devout subject matter, Diego Rivera honed in on the various aspects of Mexican culture, the lives of the Mexican peasantry, and stories of revolution, native traditions, festivals, and legends.
This painting is entitled Flower Carrier, and it humbly depicts just that.  We see a peasant slumped over while carrying an enormous basket of flowers tied around his back—or perhaps he is leaning over while the woman behind him fastens the burden to his back with gentle hands.  The artist has painted everything in the scene with warm, soft colors.  The two figures are drawn rather simply, as cartoon-like people.  Half of the man's face is covered, and the woman turns her head to the work being performed: these are humble, unassuming peasants who devotedly keep to their tasks with quiet tranquility.  But there is something shockingly unnerving about the painting; and it's the flower basket.  Larger than both figures, the flower basket takes up the bulk of the center of the painting as a goliath object of incredible mass.  In reality, this would be backbreaking labor—and such was not far from the reality of the lives of the Mexican lower class at this time.  It makes perfect sense that the carrier should slump to the ground under the weight; in fact it's surprising that he does not completely collapse.  And the woman appears to help without a strain to her muscles, as if she is barely lifting a feather.  The flowers, too, stay neatly in order although the basket has tipped considerably.  The intensity of the scene is muted, softened, stylized (similar to Gauguin's Yellow Christ).  He paints a struggling flower carrier with subtle colors and barely a wrinkle to his clothes.  He paints with delicate form the burdensome flowers that are suffocating the poor peasant and bringing him to his knees.  The basket looks as light as a cotton ball, creating a vivid contrast that infuses his work with such a memorable level of energy.

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