The San Jose Museum of Art is exhibiting the seldom seen drawings of José Clemente Orozoco, one of the famous triad of Mexican muralists who helped redefine Mexican identity. Widely admired for his artistic virtuosity and his stance against social injustice, Orozco was a keen observer of humankind. His moral vision was shaped by the horrors of civil war and the Great Depression, as well as by the two world wars that marked his lifetime. “Painting assails the mind,” he said, “it persuades the heart.”
Despite poverty, childhood rheumatic fever that damaged his heart and an explosion in his youth that cost him his left hand, Orozco persisted in his wish to become an artist. Drawing was fundamental to his art. He enrolled in night classes in drawing at the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City and later studied architectural rendering until he lost his left hand in an accident at the age of twenty-one.
Undeterred, Orozco returned to art school in 1905 and trained in both rigorous academic figure drawing and what he called “instantaneous sketches”of the model in motion. Orozco then worked as a caricaturist for opposition newspapers during the civil war, learning to convey emotion with a cartoonist’s precise line.
Orozco deeply valued his rigorous training at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (National School of Fine Arts) in Mexico City, where Antonio Fabrés had students draw the same model in the same pose for weeks or months at a time. Quieter, much more intimate, they show the artist’s thought process as he worked through the poses that would later become wall sized works. The thrust of an arm, a clenched fist, even the structure around the eye all resonated with him.
“José Clemente Orozco: Figure Studies” is drawn from the private collection of Michael Wornick. Wornick initially collected a wide range of artworks by Mexican modernists and later honed his collection exclusively to Orozco’s figure drawings, with a focus on clusters of hard-to-come-by drawings related to Orozco’s most renowned murals. This private collection, shared with the public for the first time, offers audiences the opportunity to see the little-known preliminary studies of one of the most revered Mexican muralists and to appreciate the importance figure drawing played in Orozco’s creative process.
The museum’s website also had a very insightful interview with Michael Wornick who is generously sharing his collection with the public. “If you contrast Orozco’s work with that of the other muralists, like Rivera, his women are not allegories or caricatures. Look at Orozco’s portraits of his mother and his grandmother: they are powerful. You feel the personality. He wasn’t glorifying them. He showed them as stern figures, or with dignity. He revealed their nature. The figures in his murals are, I think, as good as anything done during the Italian Renaissance.”
Through August 23, 2015
San Jose Museum of Art. http://sjmusart.org/.