THE LONDON STUDIO

Volume 6
July 1933

THE STORMY PETREL OF AMERICAN ART
DIEGO RIVERA ON HIS ART

Mr. Rivera is the Central figure around whom fierce controvery rages in America. His Detroit murals have aroused bitter criticism; his panels for the Rockefeller Center in New York have been rejected and the work upon which he was engaged in connection with the Century of Progress Echibition at Chicago has been suspended. While "The London Studio" has no concern with politics, and has no desire to take sides in the controversy, it believes that the aims and ideas of this "stormy petrel" in art to be matters of public interest, and here Mr. Rivera expresses himself in his own words. "The London Studio" does not necessarily agree with the views expressed.

THE Editor of THE LONDON STUDIO has asked me to explain what I had in mind when I conceived the Rockefeller Center panels.

Just a year again the proprietors approached me. I had come to the U.S.A. to execute a series of frescoes for the Detroit Museum, a commission offered me through the efforts and good offices of the museum's Director, Dr. Valentiner, and as a result of the help of the President of the Art Commission of Detroit, Mr. Edsel Ford. I had lived in Detroit for a year exectured the twenty-seven panels of these frescoes, and as I was nearing the end of that work I received a definite and concrete proposition to execute a painting in the R.C.A. Building of Rockefeller Center. Matisse and Picasso were being invited also, I was informed, and my consent was asked to their being approached. Like any other contemporary artist, I felt myself honoured by the possible company of such maters.

I did not seek the job. It was thrust upon me. Before any definite steps had been taken or official announcement made, there was a natural and easily understandable opposition by artists, whose need of commissions becomes more acute in times of economic crisis, but the most important American painters manitfested a completely sympathetic and generous attitude towards the idea.

Mr. Raymond Hood, the architect, and Mr. Todd, the engineer, of the Radio City project, went to Europe to solicit the collaboration of Picasso and Matisse. Both artists refused the commission. Messers. Todd and Hood then contacted the services of Jose Maria Sert and of Frank Brangwyn. To my disappointment, it had been decided to have the decorations done, not in fresco but on canvas to be mounted on the wall, a method of working in great favour with architects and painters who prefer uncomplicated techniques and who know nothing of what mural painting actually is.

Despite the fact that the conditions had thus changed, I nevertheless decided to carry out the work, in view of the special adaptability for a mural of the wall itself and the importance of the building in the city of New York. I then persuaded them to allow me to paint in fresco and to use colour to emphasis this vital centre of the building, diminishing the colour in the two lateral panels until it lost itself in the simple chiaroscuro of the two series of canvases to be mounted on the side walls.

The question of the medium being at last settled, I went to work with great enthusiasm on the sketches. As I wanted, on the one hand, to ensure my own freedom of expression, and on the other to inform the persons who entrusted me with the work exactly what was going to be the aesthetic and ethical content of my fresco, I wrote a fully detailed description of my plan and an explanation of each of its parts. I sent a copy of this description to each and all of the owners and architects of Rockefeller Center and it was approved by them, although they asked me to make certain modifications to bring it into consonance with the general decorative scheme. As I have always adhered to the policy of co-operating as far as possible with the architects of the buildings in which I have painted, I agreed to this request and made a series of successive sketches until, finally, in a visit to my Detroit studio, Raymond Hood and I decided on the definite arrangement of the composition.

The subject given me to interpret was "Man, at the cross-roads of life--man looking out on the world as it is and at what the future has in store, sees that the individualistic scheme of things existing has brought the world to chaos--war and unemployment--and that the hope of the future lies in the organisation of producers into harmony and friendship and the control of the natural forces through high scientific knowledge and the development of the skilled worker." Socialism, if you like.

That was my conception, and this is how it was executed:
The composition has as its central figure Contemporary Man, represented by the skilled worker controlling manual labour and natural forces by means of high scientific knowledge, and looking towards the future from the centre of the crossed roads. These are represented by two ellipses, one of them the field of vision of a telescope, the other the field of vision of a microscope. They are crossed like a pair of scissors, the pivot of which is the atom, represented as being controlled by the hand of mechanical and scientific power. To the left of the central figure, television machines show the vision of one of the two contemporary crossed roads; Socialism, with its organisation of the producers into harmony and friendship; and the individualistic world with its natural concomitants, the differentiation of classes into rich and poor and its inevitable result--war and unemployment. In the foreground, in realistic relief, there are two groups of students and workers of all races looking through two enormous magnifying glasses at the Man and at the components of the social phenomenon which to-day surrounds them. They are studying this development and awaiting its solution. In accordance with the assigned subject, the two new frontiers are expressed in the two small lateral panels. In the left-hand panel, the union of the producers plans the liquidation of all tyrannies; on the right, the liquidation of superstition through scientific knowledge. These panels were designed to be the connecting links between my work and that of the two artists whose paintings occupy the side walls, one of whom was to express the technical evolution and the other the ethical evolution of humanity.

In all its elements, my fresco was composed to fulfil, above all, its plastic and architectural role in the place it occupies, and the subject was utilised with that end in mind. The problem was the following: the building is the highest and most important in the group that forms Rockefeller Center, and the wall under consideration is located at the precise axis of the group. Consequently, the principal function of the painting was to express this axis and at the same time the height of a sixty-seven story building, the top of which is frequently hidden in the clouds. For this reason I made use of the telescope in my composition to suggest the feeling of infinite height, and of the microscope to connect it with the feeling of the teeming city with its innumerable masses of people and things. The intersection of the macrocosm and the microcosm in the atom, the cell, and the Man, establishes the exact plastic centre of the building, while the different scenes around them express the building's relative position in space and time. The background is taken up by the great circle formed by the dynamo, the projecting lines of whose sectors enclose divisions of space and time: between its energy-generating parts, other projected sectors of the circle, whose centre is the atom, expresses intelligence and vegetable life, disease and death, war and peace, Capitalism and Socialism, all the manifestations of negative and positive energy necessary to the functioning of the machinery of life.

And that is all. The powers that be, having approved my conception, having praised my execution, have decided not to allow it to be seen. So be it. Posterity will decide the issue: some day the truth of my conception will be patent to the world.

Diego Rivera