- NAME: José Clemente Orozco
- OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Painter
- BIRTH DATE: November 23, 1883
- DEATH DATE: September 07, 1949
- EDUCATION: Academy of San Carlos, National Preparatory School, School of Agriculture
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Ciudad Guzman, Mexico
- PLACE OF DEATH: Mexico City, Mexico
- Full Name: José Clemente Orozco
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José Clemente Orozco was a painter who helped lead the revival of Mexican mural painting in the 1920s. His works are complex and often tragic.
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The original impetus for this work was an innovative literacy campaign put in place by Mexico’s new revolutionary government. The idea was to paint murals on public buildings as a method for broadcasting their campaign messages. He did this for only a short time, but the medium of mural painting stuck. Orozco eventually became known as one of the three “Mexican Muralists.” The other two were his contemporaries,
Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Over time, Orozco’s work was uniquely recognized and set apart from Rivera’s and Siqueiros’ for its intensity and focus on human suffering. His vast scenes illustrated the lives and struggles of peasants and working-class folk.
Orozco married Margarita Valladares in 1923, and they had three children. In 1927, after years of working as an underappreciated artist in Mexico, Orozco left his family and moved to the United States. He spent a total of 10 years in America, during which time he witnessed the financial crash of 1929. His first mural in the United States was created for Pomona College in Claremont, California. He also devised massive works for the New School for Social Research, Dartmouth College and the Museum of Modern Art. One of his most famous murals is The Epic of American Civilization, housed in Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. It took two years to complete, is composed of 24 panels and is nearly 3,200 square feet.
In 1934, Orozco returned to his wife and country. Now established and highly respected, he was invited to paint in the Government Palace in Guadalajara. The main fresco found in its vaulted ceilings is titled The People and Its Leaders. Orozco, now in his mid-fifties, then painted what would become considered a masterpiece, the frescos found inside Guadalajara’s Hospicio Cabañas, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the oldest hospital complexes in Latin America. The work, which became known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Americas,” is a panorama of Mexico’s history, from pre-Hispanic times, including scenes of early Indian civilizations, through the Mexican Revolution, which he depicts as a society engulfed in flames. In 1940, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City commissioned him to create the centerpiece for its exhibition “Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art.” His contributions included Dive Bomber and Tank, both commentaries on the impending Second World War.
Around this time, Orozco met Gloria Campobello, the prima ballerina for the Mexico City Ballet. Within three years, he left his wife Margarita to live with Gloria in New York City. The affair, however, ended almost as quickly as it started. In 1946, Campobello left him, and Orozco returned to Mexico to live alone. In 1947, the American author John Steinbeck asked Orozco to illustrate his book The Pearl. A year later, Orozco was asked to paint his only outdoor mural, Allegory of the Nation, at Mexico’s National Teachers College. The work was photographed and featured in Life magazine.
In the fall of 1949, Orozco completed his last fresco. On September 7, he died in his sleep of heart failure at the age of 65. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he was hailed as a master of the human condition, an artist bold enough to cut through the lies a nation tells its people. As Orozco insisted, “Painting…it persuades the heart.”
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