Diego Rivera: My Art, My Life
Diego Rivera was a man who blossomed very early, like a single plum upon a tree of green fruit that bursts with flavour, deep colour and ripeness ahead of the rest. This image would be as surprising to an orchard owner as the tale of this great artist will be to any reader.
‘My art, my life’ is an autobiography penned by the dedicated journalist, Gladys March, who admits to following Rivera for months in order to understand the whole of this man’s story. She has succeeded in exposing the depth of his authenticity in a book that will hook you from the very beginning. March reassures us that the words are his words, and that you will ingest every word with the thirst of a loyal puppy. Even his most obnoxious expositions have you taking his side. The final pages of the autobiography were prepared as death fell upon Rivera on November 25, 1957.
So what is it about Rivera that is so fascinating, even beyond death? Many would agree that his phenomenal level of passion is the attraction. Every moment evolved from a deep need to be true to himself and his emotions, whether anyone agreed with him or not. And when he got lost in his own vanity, he admitted it with a blatant honesty that makes him a protagonist worthy of our audience. The autobiography bleeds an earthen magnetism that is as textured as Rivera’s canvasses and as rich as his beloved Mexican culture. His relentless desire to find himself in his art work may have helped Rivera become who he was, but there is an underlying feeling that while experiencing this inner struggle, the rich palette of his life was the defining mould surrounding the development of his art.
A man brought up in poverty, Rivera’s life was steeped in politics, sex, military radicalism and an unrepentant belief in a level of humanity that, at times, superseded all norms. A lover at the age of nine, he befriended prostitutes, left art academia at the unusual age of sixteen, and enjoyed the delicacy of human breast flesh at eighteen. The natural grotesque reaction to cannibalism only highlighted Rivera’s idea that the unfortunate human myths of righteousness blocked the way to an undiscovered food source. Hard to believe this is the same man who painted the sensual and delicate ‘Nude with Calla Lillies’. Perhaps it is Rivera’s ability to breakthrough the trained revulsion for human flesh that allowed him to know its intimacy without pretension. Without doubt, ‘My art, my life’ challenges our perceptions and provokes justice for the atrocities that Rivera’s Mexico endured.
We follow Rivera through Europe where he briefly studied under Chicarro and dedicated himself to learning from masters. In fact, he painted composites based on Goya’s work that he controversially proclaimed became part of a famed Goya collection, seemingly through the actions of another. Rivera smirked at the experts who spent time studying these very paintings, in the same manner that he laughed at the alien nuances present in the characteristics of nationalities he keenly observed through his travels.
‘My art, my life’ reveals Diego Rivera as a lover of history, of people, of art and of women. He stood outside a Paris art collector’s window for hours in the rain just to admire pieces by Cezanne with only rags to shield his body. As a result, he ended up sick in bed for days, not feeling sorry for himself but with a pleasurable Cezanne fever to keep him company. This book carries similar tales that bring enlightenment to the life behind one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists; and from these pages the following question arises: how many art students today show such hunger and dedication? In fact, the novel begs its readers, as students of life, to embrace and taste existence with a similar passion and self-belief.
It is this intense passion that drove Rivera towards revolutionising mural painting and, despite the lack of appreciation that American critics dumped on his 1931 exhibition in San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, he persevered in showing audiences the possibilities of this medium.
Until the death of his lover and friend, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera’s loves may have been deemed to be solely those outlined above. However, her death revealed that she was indeed his greatest love. The simplicity of the most important truth of all finally found Rivera: to love and be loved. This perhaps, is the most touching aspect of the book.
Gladys March has done the most important thing possible. For such a man whose life was spent broadcasting the beauty of the rural world of Mexico through art, and the political injustices through his actions, March has achieved fairness. Diego Rivera will most likely be remembered for the person whose art became him, but for those who read ‘My art, my life’, his life becomes more a part of his art.
This article was written by Betty Botis
Betty Botis is an avid art collector and fan
of all Diego Rivera's art. She is also a freelance writer
for Diego Rivera