Jose Clemente Orozco is considered one of “Los Tres Grandes,” which doesn’t mean much in the US unless you’re a fine arts major that decided to take special interest in Mexican muralists. The term “Los Tres Grandes” refers to Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros who started their promotion of Mexican muralism in the 1920’s as a way to unify a post-Mexican Revolution society. Together they created a style that defined Mexican identity. They used their works to teach a largely illiterate population about Mexican history depicting everyday people as heroes fighting the revolution and liberating the masses. They truly believed in the power of the new mixed race generation that would forge the next great era of Mexican history. However, a shifting political climate paired with diminishing commissions caused Orozco to move to New York in 1927 and in 1930 he became the first Mexican muralist to paint in the United States. Orozco’s Pomona College fresco also happened to be his first commission since his move to the US.
Orozco’s Prometheus recounts the Greek mythology – Prometheus is said to be mankind’s creator and greatest benefactor by giving humans fire that he stole from Mount Olympus. Zeus sentenced Prometheus to have his liver eaten by an eagle every day and every night it would grow back just to be eaten again for all of time. I know, way harsh! Thematically it is said to represent the struggle between generations and the struggle of the small against mighty seemingly omnipotent forces. In giving humans fire Prometheus also gave them enlightenment, thus knowledge is a theme also explored by the mural. Fast forward to today, the Prometheus 2017 exhibit is four female Mexican artists’ re-examination of Orozco’s mural as an agent for myth-making, social change, as well as the unresolved tensions wrapped up in the dreams of a Mexican Utopia. It’s heavy stuff, all dealing with art as politicized expression and the messy business of US/Mexican relations from the female voice and perspective in what, to me, was quite different than anything I’d seen before.
Rita Ponce de Leon
Ponce de Leon’s exhibit struck me because it was painted directly onto the walls of the gallery and makes interesting use of negative and positive space. Her work is by far the most abstract in terms of her process – she creates imagery through dialogue. From November 2015 through June 2017, Ponce de León facilitated meetings and conversations with students from The Claremont Colleges. At each meeting, students reflected on questions, including “What does Prometheus mean to you today?” and “What does art mean to you?” After each meeting, the students would created a packet of their most best ideas, that would then be passed on to other members of the group who would then add their own ideas. This became the the material that she used to conceptualize the imagery. Pretty cool, right?