VIP Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera (December 8, 1886 - November 24, 1957)

Considered the greatest Mexican painter of the twentieth century, Diego Rivera is credited with the reintroduction of fresco painting into modern art and architecture. He painted major murals in at the San Francisco Stock Exchange, California School of Fine Arts, and Detroit Institute of Art, providing the first inspiration for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's WPA program.

"The mural paintings were only a part of his enormous production," wrote his biographer Pete Hamill. "He was a superb portrait painter, using design and detail to reveal human character. His own self-portraits are themselves an extended examination of his orn mortality, among the most ruthless in the history of art. He was a very good Cubist painter of the second generation. He was a great painter of machinery, finding beauty in the immense twentieth-century objects that caused revulsion among so many others. As a painter, he reacted to his own times, and also created a vision of the future."

A final "Jeopardy! question (9/17/20) was: "Los Tres Grandes" were Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros & him (Rivera). Orozco etched an insulting depiction of La Cucaracha; according to D. Anthony White's Siqueros: Biography of a Revolutionary Artist (2008):

One day Diego [Rivera] entertained the other artists with a lengthy discourse on the merits of marijuana, in which he proclaimed that the great art of the past was done under the influence of drugs. When some of the artists endorsed the idea of using marijuana to enhance their creative talents, they requested an expert to instruct them in the use of the magical drug prescribed by Rivera. Two days later Diego introduced “Chema,” who proceeded to tell them that “Doña Juanita” was Mexico’s most important contribution to the world and that the decadence of the colonial period was the result of the Spaniards’ prohibition of the drug.

Although Orozco scoffed at the notion, others responded enthusiastically and agreed to launch a movement to change Mexico’s laws against the use of marijuana and to adopt the practice of smoking marijuana before painting. When Siqueiros and an assistant took a few puffs before painting one day, however, the lights failed and, when they reached for a cord, they received a shock and fell off the scaffold. Fortunately, they landed on a pile of sand, but it took them several weeks to recover. After that, both Siqueiros and Rivera agreed that, since they were already “marijuanos,” they had consumed more than enough to stimulate their creativity.

Errol Flynn's autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, describes a visit the actor paid Rivera in Mexico in 1935:

He asked, "Have you ever heard a painting?"

"Heard what?"

"I said, suppose you looked at a painting and heard it play a symphony, would you be surprised?"

I didn't follow.

"Suppose you returned to my studio and you stood in front of one of my paintings and you heard it, you heard music coming from the canvas...."

As we talked he moved from one potted plant to the other, fingering them, pressing them fondly, almost caressing them.

He took from a pocket a few sheets of zigzag French paper, the kind of little tissues you use in rolling cigarettes.

"This plant,' he explained, "will allow you to do both. After smoking this you will see a painting and hear it as well."

It dawned on me that he was rolling in that zigzag paper the "loco weed" referred to in The Conquest of Mexico, ganja in Jamaica, anis abiba in other parts of the world, hashish in the Far East.

Actually, Mexican locoweed isn't Cannabis; the term usually refers to Oxytropis and Astragalus, or Datura stramonium.

After smoking marijuana with Rivera, Flynn writes:

Over me came the sensation of being suspended in time. All sense of its passage was gone. Everything about me seemed frozen, taut, permanent.

I wasn't certain where we were going, whether among his paintings, or in his garden. Yet we were moving slowly, timelessly. His voice came to me hypnotically...."Listen to Mexico. Look at my pictures and listen to Mexico..."

Whether it was autosuggestion or not, whether it was the suggestive power of a tremendous personality profoundly affecting a young man given so much of his time, or whether it was the marijuana—as some will say it was—I heard these pictures singing: the simple Mexican themes, a woman on a mule moving through a field of cacti, the peasants at their labor, in rhythm: illimination and color and sound in a symphony I could see, feel and hear—but can never translate in words.

Also see: How Paulette Goddard Turned on Fred Astaire?


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