The Mexican painter José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) was one of the artists responsible for the renaissance of mural painting in Mexico in the 1920s.
José Clemente Orozco was born on Nov. 23, 1883, in Zapotlán el Grande (now Ciudad Guzmán) in the state of Jalisco. In Mexico City he studied at the School of Agriculture (1897-1899), the National Preparatory School (1899-1908), and the National School of Fine Arts (1908-1914). He exhibited some of his drawings in the Centennial Exposition in 1910 and had his first one-man show in 1916. He visited the United States in 1917-1918.
In 1922 Orozco initiated his mural work. His first murals at the National Preparatory School (1923-1924) are derivative and stiff, but with the work he executed there on the patio walls and staircase vaulting (1926-1927) he began to develop his own style. During this period he also executed the mural Omniscience (1925) in the House of Tiles (now Sanborn's Restaurant) and Social Revolution (1926) in the Industrial School in Orizaba. His first period as a muralist culminated in the magnificent Prometheus (1930) at Pomona College, Claremont, Calif.
In 1931 Orozco did the murals for the New School for Social Research in New York City, and, following a brief trip to Europe in 1932, he painted the frescoes for the Baker Library at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. (1932-1934). There he initiated a new manner of expression, employing brilliant coloring and original forms and ideas. The theme is America, with its Indian and Spanish past, its present filled with wars and atrocities, in which Christ appears destroying everything, even his own cross.
On his return to Mexico City, Orozco painted the mural Catharsis in the Palace of Fine Arts (1934). He then executed a series of masterpieces at Guadalajara in the auditorium of the university (1936), the Government Palace (1937), and the Hospicio Cabañas (1938-1939). In 1940 he created new forms in the murals of the Gabino Ortiz Library in Jiquilpan, Michoacán, using themes from the Revolution, and in the six movable panels entitled Dive Bomber in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Orozco's mural (1941) in the Supreme Court Building in Mexico City depicts the moral power of justice. His unfinished works in the Hospital de Jesús Nazareno (1942-1944) in Mexico City are unrivaled in their emotional intensity. He also did the mural National Allegory for the open-air theater of the National School for Teachers (1948) and Juárez Resuscitated for the Museum of History at Chapultepec. His last complete work was the frescoes in the dome of the Legislative Chamber of the Government Palace in Guadalajara (1949).
Orozco was one of the founders of the National College in 1943, and there he presented six exhibitions between 1943 and 1948. In 1946 he was awarded the National Prize in the Arts and Sciences, and that same year a great retrospective exhibition of his works was presented in the Palace of Fine Arts. He died in Mexico City on Sept. 7, 1949.
Orozco's own account is his An Autobiography, translated by Robert C. Stephenson (1962). A study of Orozco is MacKinley Helm, Man of Fire, J. C. Orozco: An Interpretive Memoir (1953). See also Alma Reed, The Mexican Muralists (1960), and Jon H. Hopkins, Orozco: A Catalogue of His Graphic Work (1967).
Hurlburt, Laurance P. The Mexican muralists in the United States, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989.
Rochfort, Desmond. Mexican muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, London: Laurence King, 1993.