My research, through an extended literature review, focuses on what attracted Diego Rivera to Cubism. I also explore how and why Rivera modified the cubist style. By analyzing Rivera’s artistic training in Mexico and his Cubist period, I have discovered that the artistic training prepared him for Cubism. The rigid, traditional training that Rivera received in Mexico primed him for Cubism. This logical approach to art that was instilled in him in San Carlos by both Velasco and Rebull engendered a focus on the rational processes behind creating art. However, the Eurocentric focus of the academy was detrimental to Rivera’s psychological state, and he developed an inferiority complex that was later exacerbated while working in Europe.
Rivera traveled to Spain after being awarded a scholarship to master new styles and broaden his horizons. While studying in Spain, Rivera was introduced to the avant-garde through his friendships with fellow artists, writers, and critics. Familiarizing himself with the avant-garde style created a more abstract and diverse style throughout Rivera’s work. Although realism remained prominent in Rivera’s work, he opened himself to the styles of newer, more abstracted movements such as Cubism. Rivera later traveled and moved to Paris understanding that this relocation was necessary to gain respect and establish himself as a prominent artist in Europe.
An artistic movement led by Braque and Picasso, Cubism became established shortly after Rivera relocated. This style of art focused on multi-point perspective, giving the viewer various viewpoints simultaneously and breaking down subject matter into simpler geometric forms and plans. Rivera worked closely with Picasso who taught him the logic and process behind Cubism. Rivera’s Cubist work demonstrated a profound understanding of the style, but his deviations in subject matter, color, and tone established a connection between Rivera and Mexico, Scholarone which helped him to construct a Mexican artistic identity in xenophobic Paris. Xenophobia was rampant in Paris during this time due to factors such as the Moroccan Crisis and the international success of Cubism. Foreign artists were seen as competition by the galleries, salons, and European artists.
Rivera combated this xenophobia through an embrace of Mexican themes and iconography juxtaposed with a Cubist style. While Rivera used multi-point perspective and geometric shapes in his work, he abandoned the monochromatic palette that many Cubists used; his works used bold, bright colors. Unlike other Cubists, he also did not focus on neutral themes. Rivera depicted the Mexican Revolution in his works Zapatista Landscape and Portrait of Martin Luis Guzman. Through these paintings, Rivera connected himself to Mexico, the individuals in these works, and the Mexican Revolution. Rivera reserved color for subject matter and objects that relate to his national identity and heritage, which is seen in his work Joven con sueter gris, a largely monochromatic portrait with hints of color in a fragmented serape, a Mexican blanket. Rivera’s modification of Cubism allowed him to combat xenophobia, establish himself as a prominent artist in Europe, and visually celebrate his Mexican identity.