Monday, October 03, 2011

Art and Nature: Murals and Jose Clemente Orozco

One of Orozco's panels at Dartmouth College
An artwork painted on a wall is considered to be a mural.  Examples of murals range from prehistoric cave paintings to religious paintings of the Buddha on cave walls in India to paintings on outside buildings celebrating the neighborhood.  A mural usually incorporates the architectural elements of the wall it is painted on.  For example, the murals by Jose Clemente Orozco (Mexico, 1888-1949) at Dartmouth College integrate the air vents in the walls.  Like many muralists, Orozco painted frescos since this medium hold the colors on the walls better.

In modern times, murals became one of the methods to bring art into the public sphere.  Today, murals can be found in hospitals, libraries, and other places.  The halls of the U.S. Department of Interior (Main Building) in Washington D.C. feature the murals of the American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889- 1975).
Murals on the outside walls of buildings serve as advertisements, civic reminders, propaganda or social commentary.  Washington D.C. has many beautiful murals throughout the city.  City Arts of D.C. has the local teenagers paint murals to celebrate their communities.  (The motto of City Arts is “enriching neighborhoods through community art.”)

A famous muralist, Jose Clemente Orozco (Mexico, 1888-1949) painted “The Epic of American Civilization” (1932-1934) at the Baker Memorial Library at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire (U.S.).  He painted this mural on two walls – the west one represented Pre-Columbian life in America, the east one Post-Columbian life.  As an artist, Orozco sought to challenge people to examine the social and political ideas in their lives.  This particular mural prompts people to consider the profound changes in American civilization, and its future.

The mural panel on the west wall is entitled “The Coming of Quetzalcoatl”.  In the various panels, Orozco presents vignettes of life before, during, and after Quetzalcoatl, a God of the Aztecs and Mayas.  The majority of the panels are in brown color schemes with red and blues interjected as emphasis.  The panels are called “Migration”, “Ancient Human Sacrifice”, “Aztec Warriors”, “Coming of Quetzalcoatl”, “Pre-Columbian Golden Age”, “The Departure of Quetzalcoatl”, and “The Prophecy”.

The mural panel on the east wall is entitled “The Return of Quetzalcoatl”.  Since the Europeans introduced a new complexity to the American continent, Orozco changed his colors to the more pulsating reds, yellows, and blacks. The panels comment on the changes that the Europeans brought, and whether Quetzalcoatl is returning.  The panels are titled “Cortez and the Cross”, “The Machine”, “Anglo-America”, “Hispano-America”, “Gods of the Modern World”, “Modern Human Sacrifice”, and “Modern Migration of the Spirit”.

From the Baker Memorial Library’s Commentary of Orozco’s mural, “The work is an epic interpretation of the constructive and destructive forces which have moulded the patterns of life on this continent. Choosing not to confine himself to the literal representation of historical incident, Orozco has concentrated vastly larger meaning into pictorial symbols. The two main sections, physically separated by the division of the room, are bound together like the different movements of a symphony by the closely related development of major and minor themes--themes of idea, of color, of form.”

Coyle, Laurie and Rick Tejada-Flores, “OROZCO: Man of Fire”, Paradigm Productions, 2007, 

---, “Orozco – An Epic of American Civilization”, Dartmouth College,,

---, “Orozco Frescoes at Dartmouth”, Dartmouth College,,

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