- 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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Born November 23, 1883, Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco created impressive, realistic paintings. A product of the Mexican Revolution, he overcame poverty and eventually traveled to the U.S. and Europe to paint frescos for major institutions. A man of unparalleled vision, as well as striking contradiction, he died of heart failure at age 65.
"Painting assails the mind. It persuades the heart."
The life of José Clemente Orozco is a tale of tragedy, adversity and outstanding achievement. Born in Mexico in 1883, he was raised in Zapotlán el Grande, a small city in Mexico’s southwestern region of Jalisco. When he was still a young boy, Orozco’s parents moved to Mexico City in hopes of making a better life for their three children. His father, Ireneo, was a businessman, and his mother, Maria Rosa, worked as a homemaker and sometimes sang for extra income. Despite his parents’ efforts, they often lived on the edge of poverty. The Mexican Revolution was heating up, and being a highly sensitive child, Orozco began noticing the many hardships people around him faced. While walking to school, he witnessed the Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada working in an open shop window. Posada’s politically engaged paintings not only intrigued Orozco, but they also awakened his first understanding of art as a powerful expression of political revolt.
At age 15, Orozco left the city and traveled to the countryside. His parents sent him away in order to study agricultural engineering, a profession he had very little interest in pursuing. While at school, he contracted rheumatic fever. His father died of typhus soon after he returned home. Perhaps Orozco finally felt free to pursue his true passion, because almost immediately he began taking art classes at San Carlos Academy. To support his mother, he also worked small jobs, first as a draftsman for an architectural firm, and then later as a post-mortem painter, hand-coloring portraits of the dead.
Just around the time Orozco became certain about pursuing a career in art, tragedy struck. While mixing chemicals to make fireworks to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day in 1904, he created an accidental explosion that injured his left arm and wrist. Due to the national festivities, a doctor did not see him for several days. By the time he was seen, gangrene had taken over and it was necessary to amputate his entire left hand. As he healed, the Mexican Revolution was eminent in everyone’s minds, and the personal suffering Orozco experienced was mirrored in the growing political strife happening all around him.
For the next several years, Orozco scraped by, working for a time as a caricaturist for an independent, oppositional newspaper. Even after he finally landed his first solo exhibition, titled “The House of Tears,” a glimpse at the lives of the women working in the city’s red-light district, Orozco found himself painting Kewpie dolls to pay the rent. Given his own struggles, it's not surprising that his paintings teemed with social complexities. In 1922, Orozco began creating murals.
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