“SINCE ART IS ESSENTIAL for human life, it can’t just belong to the few.”
So demanded Diego Rivera, the leading Mexican muralist whose creative ambitions swept across the 20th century as large as his class-spanning public art. And Thursday, Google does what it can to spotlight Rivera’s essential art for an audience of millions.
Today, on the 125th anniversary of Rivera’s birth, Google’s homepage ”Doodle” celebrates the artist with a mural rich not only in color, but also in biographical detail.
Between the Doodle’s columns is the historic panorama of a towering career and transforming country. At left, in typical attire, Rivera himself stands on the telltale scaffolding, the full-bodied painter placed in telling proximity to a star-like image whose hues burn as bold and bright as the artist himself. (Like the burst of a sunflower surrounded by leaves, the image also sprouts thoughts of such agrarian Rivera works as “The Blood of the Revolutionary Martyrs Fertilizing the Earth.” from 1927.)
Beneath the scaffolding is a feminine silhouette — as if a shadowed nod to such Diego Rivera models as 1949’s ”Ruth Rivera” and her reflection beheld as if in the sun. And then there’s the prominent scaffolding itself — as if inspired directly by 1931’s “The Making of a Fresco, Showing the Building of a City.”
Rivera believed that outdoor public art helped visual mediums reach the masses across the classes. “Art is the universal language,” Rivera said, “and it belongs to all Mankind.”
And so it is telling that as our eye sweeps to the Doodle’s right, we see a man in red scarf, clad as a laboring campesino — so evocative of his “Peasants” and the iconic “The Flower Carrier.” And moving still right, by contrast, we see a bowler-topped, urban fellow — as if he migrated directly from the middle of 1948’s “Dreams of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.”
Then, the central striking image of two faces — mother and offspring — that summons the emotional poetry of “Mother and Child Sleeping.”
And so it is fitting that as we move to the foot of the “L” in “Google,” we get an industrial worker wielding a tool — a visual reference to one of Rivera’s controversial American commissions. Rivera was hired by the Ford Motor Co., and his series of politically charged fresco panels was called “Detroit Industry.” Ultimately, Edsel Ford allowed that it was acceptable for an artist to displease his patron; the work is now recognized as one of Rivera’s masterpieces.
Rivera also believe that art was a great source of national pride, so as the Doodle’s Mexican flag waves to the right, we see buildings reflective of his official commissions and his modern-day nation.
And there, admiring all this, are two women. The woman with the trademark flowers in her hair is clearly Frida Kahlo — the legendary Mexican painter and wife of Rivera whose life and career is so inextricably intertwined with Rivera’s. Kahlo, in fact, has already received her own Google Doodle — back in 2010.
And the woman in white? That could an allusion to Lupe Marin, who was referred to as “Rivera’s other wife.”
(The figure could also be read as a reference to Rivera's numerous other depictions of women in white — or perhaps even as sly allusion to how Kahlo painted herself as twinned women.)
It is with obvious care that Google composed its Doodle — for the artwork, true to the design of Rivera's own murals, is intended to tell a story of man and country.
Rivera's own story began in 1886, when he was born in Guanajuato with Spanish nobility in his blood. He was drawing on the walls before age 3 (his parents wisely soon set him up with a studio), and he was at Mexico City's Academy of San Carlos by age 10. A scholarship from a state governor would send him to Europe by 1907, where he studied in Spain before being distinctly influenced by the Cubist movement in France. He remained a part of the Parisian art world through World War I, when he befriended Elie Faure and was encouraged to turn his focus to murals and — after a trip to Italy — frescoes.
Upon his return to his native nation in the 20s, he painted hundreds of commissioned frescoes to help lead Mexican muralism — as well as the revival of mural painting in general.
In 1929, he married the 22-year-old Kahlo, launching a temptuous — and creative — quarter-century together, their two marriages bookending a brief divorce. (These stormy "soulmates" were depicted by Alfred Molina and Salma Hayek in 2002's Oscar-nominated "Frida"; the womanizing Rivera was also depicted onscreen by Ruben Blades in 1999's "Cradle Will Rock.")
Rivera's fame brought major commissions from up north, including a Rockefeller Center work, "Man at the Crossroads," that was reportedly destroyed after Rivera — a Communist — insisted on depicting Lenin. The "Detroit Industry" work, though remains majestic in the Motor City.
For decades, Rivera's murals spawned controversy for their social and religious politics (he would render Stalin, Mao and his friend Trotsky in later works, and trumpet his atheism). But many of them also boldly told the tales of Mexico's turbulent history.
Rivera died in November of 1957, at age 70, in his studio and was buried in the Rotunda of Famous Men in Mexico City's Civil Pantheon of Mourning.
He is a folk hero. He is a larger-than-life legend. And today, gloriously, he is part of Google's digital art that is meant for all — in the spirit of Rivera — to see.
RIVERA and KAHLO:
RIVERA y TROTSKY:
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