Portrait of Diego Rivera and Malu Block and Frida Kahlo de Rivera. Photo by Carl Van Vechten. Wikimedia Commons
Do you think of Mexico when you think of art? If you haven’t already, you should. This vast country has given birth to hundreds of great artists, ranging from sculptors and tattooists to the many, many muralists who have decorated government buildings and public spaces across the country and abroad.
Their contribution to art history cannot be overstated. Their paintings helped to promote Mexican culture and Mexico’s reputation as a creative country.
The art created by these famous artists was very different. Some Mexican painters work on large wall murals, while others work with lead or copper. Depending on how they approached their art, they all produced unique but stunning results.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of famous Mexican artists today and in the past, but I’ve listed the most famous in Mexican history below.
1. Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo. Photo by Guillermo Kahlo. Wikimedia Commons
The incomparable Frida Kahlo, perhaps the most iconic Mexican artist, must be the first to mention. Frida Kahlo is a formidable figure in the Mexican art scene, with a back catalogue of nearly 150 surviving pieces of art, the majority of which are self-portraits focusing on her complex and often tragic life, as well as a cult pop culture reputation. The house where she was born, lived, and died is now a wildly popular and well-visited museum known as La Casa Azul.
2. Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera. Photo by WAGzJzfgxBY74w at Google Cultural Institute. Wikimedia Commons
Diego Rivera, her two-time husband, also deserves a mention. This well-known Mexican muralist is so well-known that he (along with Frida) appears on the MXN$500 banknote. His prolific body of work is still on display in the United States and Mexico, and many of his murals can be seen for free in Mexico City at the Palacio Nacional and the Secretara de Educación Publica.
3. David Alfaro Siqueiros
David Alfaro Siqueiros was the first of Mexico’s “tres grandes” (three greats), the other two being Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. In terms of technique, composition, and, most importantly, political ideology, he was the most radical of the three. Siqueiros’ art reflected his Marxist ideology, primarily depicting the numerous social, political, and industrial changes from a leftist perspective.
He was so committed to his political ideology that he refused any commission that contradicted it. Siqueiros painted numerous large murals for Mexican government buildings. Aside from their monumental size, these murals are notable for their dynamism and vigor, as well as dramatic light and shadow effects. Siqueiros was also a political activist who was imprisoned several times throughout his life for his labor- union activities and communist political activities.
4. Leonora Carrington
Women’s Lib champion Leonora Carrington was a rebellious Lancashire-born artist who, despite being little known in her native UK, was an impressive figure on the Mexican art scene. She was dubbed “Britain’s Lost Surrealist.” Before her death in 2011, she was one of the last surviving (and most prolific) contributors to Mexican surrealism, and her artwork was often revolutionary in its exploration of female sexuality. One of her murals can be seen at Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropologia.
5. José Clemente Orozco
José Clemente Orozco, allegedly the most complex of the Mexican Muralists, was one of the movement’s founding fathers and was heavily influenced by political issues, a theme that runs throughout his mural repertoire. While his work can be found all over Mexico, from Jalisco to Michoacán, and the world, from California to New York, his most famous pieces can be found in Guadalajara’s Palacio del Gobierno and the Hospicio Cabaas.
6. Gerardo Murillo Cornado
Gerardo Murillo Cornado. Photo by Tomás Montero Torres. Wikimedia Commons
Gerardo Murillo Cornado is regarded as a forefather of the Mexican artistic nationalism movement. Following the Mexican Revolution, it was his art that established Mexico’s artistic identity. Gerardo Murillo is better known as Dr. Atl (the Nahuatl word for “water”).
He chose this name to express his rejection of his Spanish ancestors and his pride in his Mexican Indian ancestors and culture. Dr. Atl was deeply interested in Mexican indigenous art and hoped to develop a modern indigenous artistic style of expression. His most well-known works depict the Mexican landscape, particularly the Valley of Mexico and the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Ixtacihuatl.
7. Gabriel Orozco
Gabriel Orozco was born into an artistic family; his mother, Cristina Felix Romandia, is a pianist, and his father, Mario Orozco Rivera, is a mural painter and art professor. Gabriel worked on several murals with his father in his teens to save up for a car. Following his education as an artist, Orozco preferred a nomadic way of life, which greatly influenced his art.
He refused to work in a secluded studio and instead embraced his surroundings, constructing sculptures out of found materials and capturing the interaction between people and objects. Orozco’s art compels viewers to pay attention to unseen and overlooked details in both the urban and natural environments. He is also well-known for his use of games in his artwork.
8. José Guadalupe Posada
Statue of the Jose Guadalupe Inn Museum in Aguascalientes. Photo by Luisalvaz. Wikimedia Commons
Posada worked as a farm labourer and in a pottery factory as a child. He learned lithography and engraving as a teenager. His first political cartoons were soon published in the newspaper El Jicote. He went on to become a well-known pictorial journalist, publishing thousands of illustrations. José Guadalupe Posada is regarded as a powerful political printmaker and engraver.
His work’s satirical acuity and social engagement influenced a generation of Latin American artists and cartoonists. Posada is best known for his Calaveras, or human skull representations. The most well-known of these is La Calavera Catrina, a satirical portrait of upper-class Mexicans that has become a Mexican icon.
9. Rufino Tamayo
Rufino Tamayo. Photo by Steve Eifert. Wikimedia Commons
Rufino Tamayo used a variety of media in his work, including woodcuts, lithographs, and etchings. Tamayo, along with Mexican painter and engineer Luis Remba, invented a new medium called Mixografia. This is a one-of-a-kind fine art printing technique that allows for the creation of prints with three-dimensional texture.
Tamayo was very pleased with the Mixografia process and created approximately 80 Mixographs. Rufino Tamayo’s art is known for fusing modern European painting styles such as Cubism and Surrealism with Mexican folk themes. Another significant aspect of his art is that he preferred to use only a few colours, believing that this gave his work more force and meaning.
10. Remedios Varo
Remedios Varo, who was born in Angles, Spain, had to flee to Mexico to escape war-torn Europe. In 1941, she became a naturalized Mexican citizen. Remedios Varo was a member of the Surrealist movement. Surrealists rejected rationalism and literary realism in favour of channelling the unconscious mind in order to reveal the power of the imagination.
Remedios Varo distinguished herself from other Surrealists by incorporating religion into her work on a regular basis. Varo demonstrated exceptional technical skill in creating deep, intuitive paintings that provide extraordinary insights into human nature. Her enigmatic paintings of androgynous beings engaged in magic arts or the occult are her most well-known works. Remedios Varo died of a heart attack at the age of 54, when she was at the pinnacle of her career.
Mexican sculptor Sebastián, like Madonna, Prince, and Banksy before him, goes by just one name. His massive, predominantly steel or concrete, and often geometric sculptures are considered unique to both Mexico and Latin America, and can be found in cities all over the world, including his native Mexico, Japan, Buenos Aires, and Havana. Caballito in Mexico City is undoubtedly his most famous work.
12. Carlos Almaraz
Carlos Almaraz. Photo by Dan Guerrero. Wikimedia Commons
Iconic Mexican artists don’t come much more influential than the late Carlos Almaraz, whose street art propelled him to the forefront of the Chicano Art Movement. Almaraz, who moved to the United States at a young age, became increasingly aware of and interested in the multicultural environment.
He died as one of the most prominent artists on the scene, attempting to create a distinct artistic identity for Chicanos in the United States. His work is vibrantly coloured and frequently political.
13. Fanny Rabel
Fanny Rabel, who was born in Poland. She was a trailblazing figure in Mexican art, even breaking into the thriving muralist scene in the mid-twentieth century. Many consider her to be the first modern female muralist, if not the youngest.
In any case, she was the only female under the artistic tutelage of her close friend Frida Kahlo, and she collaborated with both of the muralist heavyweights, Rivera and Siqueiros, during her career. Ronda en el tiempo, her mural, can be seen at Mexico’s National Anthropology Museum.
14. María Izquierdo
Mara Izquierdo was a painter from Mexico. She is well-known for being the first Mexican woman whose artwork was shown in the United States. She dedicated her life and career to painting art that reflected her Mexican heritage.
Despite not being as well-known as Kahlo or Carrington, Izquierdo’s work conveyed important feminist messages. She had a solo exhibition at the Art Centre in New York in 1930. Her paintings served as a form of activism for her. They expressed the difficulties that modern Mexican women face while living under traditional patriarchy.
15. Joaquin Clausell
In Mexican culture, Joaquin Clausell is known as an advocate for impressionism. He was a Mexican landscape artist who had little contact with other artists during his lifetime.
Even though he studied engineering briefly and worked as a journalist, he had always enjoyed drawing. His stories about the Tarahumara people led to his arrest and imprisonment. He eventually got out of jail and became a French citizen.
Until the 1920s, he did not create any artwork during those years. After that, Joaquin returned home with an adopted son and new European influences.
Joaquin’s work was noticed by Diego Rivera, who helped establish him as one of Mexico’s best landscape painters and gave him more recognition at home.
After being overlooked by many renowned museums around the world, he was recognized as a painter by the Mexico National Art Museum in 1995. Since then, his art has grown in popularity around the world.
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