Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mexican Diary #12: Diego Rivera

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #12: Diego Rivera

I saw my first ACTUAL work by Diego Rivera ‘in the flesh’ yesterday. It was ‘The History of Cuernavaca’ at the Palacio de Cortés here in Cuernavaca (natch). It was good. I choose the word carefully – not excellent – not spiritually moving – good. Like a poster or a piece of graphic art that works – it reminded me more of an illustration than a great work of Art and that’s also what I think about Rivera himself – more of a graphic artist than a painter. Sure it purported to greatness – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The horses were pure Piero Della Francesca – but having been to Aresso two years ago and seen the real thing I’m beginning to spot the difference. It’s taken time but it’s happening. I’m not saying that Rivera is a faker – it’s just that he didn’t move me spiritually in the way that say, Botticelli or Raphael always do. It’s beyond reasoning, beyond academia – like when the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end when you hear a great piece of music

The paint was applied very thinly- no impasto anywhere – which added to the overall effect of being a renaissance fresco, though it wasn’t tempura – it looked like thin acrylic paint.

He made it look EASY though and that’s always a good sign. I looked at it and thought “So what’s all the fuss about – I could have done that.” – Which paradoxically is always telling. It’s so easy to say or to think like that - once the problem has been resolved. But the fact is that you or I didn’t do it – HE did. The ultimate example must be found in the acting style of Cary Grant – no one in my opinion, has ever made acting seem easier – he seems to be stealing money from the film producers but that’s the very point – substitute someone else and it simply isn’t the same. I’ve banged on at length about how “simple is difficult” but I truly believe that to be the case.

Those big white Lilies feature heavily in Rivera’s work – the best ones in my opinion That and the fact that you see them everywhere in the markets: on plates, salt shakers, boxes et all – which drew me to the conclusion that the lily must be Mexico’s national flower. It isn’t – the rose is, but surely then it must be their FAVORITE flower?

By coincidence the first major retrospective of Freda Carlo’s work is currently showing at Tate Modern. A Broadstairs artist – who shall remain nameless – but of Russian ascent – enough said – no name – no pack drill - went along on the opening day dressed as Freda – attached joined up eyebrows et all. “Are you the artist?” an American asked. “Yes, of course!” She replied. All very funny but in the end, you can’t graft on talent by association – I myself had to learn that the hard way.

This reminds me of a personal anecdote: I was at the Christmas party of my publishers: New Holland. It was fancy dress. One of the editors was dressed, in what I thought was the spitting image of Maria Callas – she looked VERY operatic - complete with full length black dress. Although she was only a stocky 5 ft tall, every inch of her oozed of the great diva. So naturally I went up to her and announced proudly: “Don’t tell me – you’re Maria Callas!.”
“No – I’m Freda Carlo” She replied icily – and sad to say, those were the last words she ever spoke to me.

After writing this piece I went to the Modern Art Gallery in Cuernavaca. Where I saw the most wonderful works by Rivera. Seeing them in the flesh made me change my opinion of him and indeed Freda Carlo. There was the most wonderful painting of the film magnate’s wife ? who’s collection this jointly had belonged to. It showed her in a long flowing whit dress surrounded by the Mexican white lilies so popular in Mexico and which also feature heavily and regularly in Rivera’s work. Her dress is split to just below the knee to reveal her shapely legs. This viewpoint completely echoes the surrounding lilies and as such makes for a brilliantly witty and elegant composition.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

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