The Brilliance Before the Brush

The sketches of Diego Rivera hint at the masterpieces to come

By Abelardo de la Pe??a Jr.
Published on LatinoLA: March 24, 2002

The Brilliance Before the Brush

Diego Rivera is considered the greatest of all Mexican artists.

He lived an outsized life, with a robust reputation still spoken of so many years after his death. His exploits as an artist and a man seem imagined, spanning many eras of social and creative history, not only in his native Mexico but throughout the world.

A big man, he had large appetites and the energy to produce. In his murals -- those huge expressions of feverish ideas and technical challenges -- and paintings, which continue to reflect the soul of his Mexico, Rivera cemented his reputation as a true genius.

As a painter, his creative output is hard to match. Bold strokes of color bring to life scenes of history as well as intimacy in the many works that continue to be reproduced and displayed: "Dia de la Flor", "Vendedor de Flores" and "Cara Tehuana" are just a few.

But before he became the great interpreter of Mexican culture, he needed to learn about the land in which he was born. Early in his life as an artist, he received a government scholarship to study art in Spain. He spent many years in Europe, studying and painting in a variety of styles, including post-impressionism, cubism and futurism.

Upon his return to Mexico, he was ready to take part of in the country's artistic renaissance. But because his first mural displayed too many influences of his stay in Europe, he was sent to Tehuantepec to become more intimately acquainted with the indigenous culture.

It was there, sketchbook in hand and at the ready, that Rivera found the subject matter of his future paintings and murals. All the the training and techniques from his past came together to form his signature style, one where he makes indigenous culture and history the focal point of his work.

Sketching daily life, the world in front of him, he was inspired. In his sketchbook he drew portraits of women, men, children, animals, landscapes and market scenes. With quick, sure strokes, he was able to convey the essential characteristics of each subject, and capture the essence of its emotion.

The exhibition "Diego Rivera: The Brilliance Before the Brush", currently on display at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) until April 14, features 42 sketches by the Mexican artist created during one of his trips to Tehuantepec in the 1920s.

At first, seeing the simply framed work, the small and detailed sketches seem so distant from the murals and paintings that Rivera is best known for. But upon closer inspection, the sketches take on a life of their own. With just a few sure strokes, Rivera is able to portray the bustle of a busy market, the beauty and majesty of the indigenous women, and the charm of the Mexican countryside.

With these sketches, Rivera shares his intimate observations of the world around him, hinting at the great works of art that lie ahead in his career. He places us in that particular place and time, in a tropical Mexico far away from the usual tourist magnets, where we can hear the noise of the gathering, imagining the colorful scenes, being seduced by the exotic beauty of the women.

The sketches in this exhibit, which is sponsored by Crown Royal, were the germ and origin of many masterworks of Diego Rivera. Simple and seemingly effortless, they nonetheless carry an artistic and emotional impact and surely stand on their own as treasures of Mexican art.

Museum of Latin American Art
28 Alamitos Ave.
Long Beach, Ca 90802
562 437-1689

About Abelardo de la Pe??a Jr.:
Abelardo de la Pe?a Jr. is el editor de LatinoLA.

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