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Diego Rivera [Paperback]

Pete Hamill
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

1 Sep 2002
Diego Rivera is regarded as one of the greatest Mexican artists of the 20th century - an audacious muralist, voracious lover and ardent leftist who befriended Picasso, married Frida Kahlo and quarrelled with Leon Trotsky. In this part-biography, part-appreciation, writer Pete Hamill turns a novelist's eye to Rivera's tempestuous career. In this volume filled with reproductions and documentary photographs, Hamill shows how, despite the political passions, Rivera created a body of work that still astonishes.


Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; New edition edition (1 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810990822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810990821
  • Product Dimensions: 24.7 x 24.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,285,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In another life, before becoming one of the best known and most popular journalists in New York and the author of the best-selling memoir A Drinking Life, Pete Hamill studied art on the GI Bill in Mexico City. However, upon seeing the monumental work of Jose Clemente Orozco, he abruptly lost his nerve: "It seemed an act of self-delusion to try to be a painter." After 44 years, Hamill has found a way to integrate his early affair with art, his lifelong love of Mexico and his narrative gifts, in this riveting and lushly illustrated book on Diego Rivera, Mexico's best-known, widely loved muralist. Hamill's text, he says, was completed before the recent publication of Patrick Marnham's Dreaming With His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera. This one is less scholarly but respectably researched, and Hamill's fervent opinions on which of Rivera's works are worthy and which are the sad outpourings of a Communist Party hack are remarkably persuasive. Hamill's aesthetic judgment has led him to avoid reproducing anything second-rate. He has chosen the great murals, paintings and drawings that suit the godlike stature of this outsize artist, who lied, cheated, womanised and evaded responsibility his entire life, but who worked like a demon in the service of his art.

Hamill weaves all the elements of Rivera's life into a fantastic read: Rivera's shabby genteel childhood; his flight to France during the l0-year Mexican Revolution, during which nearly a tenth of his countrymen died; his callous abandonment of his first wife; his ugly political gambits and high-flown society contacts; and his ultimately sad relationships with both men and women. This is not as balanced as Dreaming With His Eyes Open, but nonetheless a passionate first look at an artist whose complicated life will probably still be examined decades from now. --Peggy Moorman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Diego Rivera, the man, is not nearly as well known as Diego Rivera, the magnificant muralist. Pete Hamill's biography will change all that. I have been a fan of Hamill's journalistic writing since 1970, so I was surprised at first when I saw that he had authored this book. Then I learned in the introduction that Hamill had studied painting in Mexico City as a young man, before giving it up for writing. So he has a unique perspective to share with us.
Diego Rivera's art soars above his own life. He was very self-centered and almost always did what was best for him and his art career. To cover up for his lapses, he loved to tell stories to make himself seem very grand. For example, although he was out of Mexico for almost the entire 10 years of the Revolution (where 10 percent of the population died), he claimed to have fought in it.
Perhaps his least desirable quality was the way he treated women. It seems like he was attracted to hurting those he loved, and was always looking for the newest conquest. Although he was a physically unattractive man for most of his life (usually weighing over 300 pounds), he had a series of beautiful women as his wives and lovers, including famous motion picture actresses.
He was an important man in the Mexican Communist party, and later brought Trotsky to Mexico. Later, the shifts in doctrine involving Stalin led Rivera to be ousted from the party. No idealogue, he paid attention to the party about as well as he did to his wives. Yet near the end of his life, he begged his way back into the party.
Throughout his Communistic associations, he was delighted to work for wealthy capitalists . . . another indication that his career came first.
Near his death, he resumed his original Catholic faith, amazing almost everyone who knew him.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Political/Social/Artistic Biography of Diego Rivera 22 Aug 2000
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Diego Rivera, the man, is not nearly as well known as Diego Rivera, the magnificant muralist. Pete Hamill's biography will change all that. I have been a fan of Hamill's journalistic writing since 1970, so I was surprised at first when I saw that he had authored this book. Then I learned in the introduction that Hamill had studied painting in Mexico City as a young man, before giving it up for writing. So he has a unique perspective to share with us.
Diego Rivera's art soars above his own life. He was very self-centered and almost always did what was best for him and his art career. To cover up for his lapses, he loved to tell stories to make himself seem very grand. For example, although he was out of Mexico for almost the entire 10 years of the Revolution (where 10 percent of the population died), he claimed to have fought in it.
Perhaps his least desirable quality was the way he treated women. It seems like he was attracted to hurting those he loved, and was always looking for the newest conquest. Although he was a physically unattractive man for most of his life (usually weighing over 300 pounds), he had a series of beautiful women as his wives and lovers, including famous motion picture actresses.
He was an important man in the Mexican Communist party, and later brought Trotsky to Mexico. Later, the shifts in doctrine involving Stalin led Rivera to be ousted from the party. No idealogue, he paid attention to the party about as well as he did to his wives. Yet near the end of his life, he begged his way back into the party.
Throughout his Communistic associations, he was delighted to work for wealthy capitalists . . . another indication that his career came first.
Near his death, he resumed his original Catholic faith, amazing almost everyone who knew him.
Although we think of him as the ultimate Mexican artist, he was classically trained in the Spanish style in Mexico and spent almost all of his early career in Europe. It was only the ending of the Revolution and the prospect of large mural commissions that lured him and other leading Mexican artists back to Mexico. Like the other artists, he had to learn how to paint murals.
Throughout the book, you will find your main reward -- gorgeous color reproductions of Rivera's most vivid work, along with beautiful black and white sketches, and photographs of Rivera at work and play.
The book's main weakness is that Hamill is no art historian. His discussions of the art are short and unimaginative. But he has strong opinions and does tell you what he likes (that which is reproduced -- new themes, new symbols and relatively less finished details) and that which he does not (that which is not reproduced here and Rivera's developments of earlier themes). So you will have to look at the work and figure out what you think about it without too much help from Hamill beyond describing the imagery. I especially encourage you to consider Rivera's cubist works. The book makes an interesting case for Picasso having lifted key ideas for some of his best work from Rivera.
Hamill does a fine job of giving a sense of the relentless pressure for revolution, the early optimism about the Revolution, and the descent into business as usual. I enjoyed learning more about the Mexican Revolution, as a result.
I was also glad to learn where Rivera's murals are so that I can see them in person. That's a great reason to visit Mexico!
Overcome your stalled thinking that great work makes a great person. Creating a good person may be more difficult than making great art. What do you think?
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The life and the art. First rate! 24 Feb 2004
By Bohdan Hodiak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Prior to reading Hamill's bio of Rivera I had read some of another, published the same year. I'm not sure why I was so cool to the book or why it left me irritated. But that would have been the end of my investigation of Rivera's life if I hadn't come across Hamill's book by accident.
I read a couple of pages and was hooked. Hamill is known to me as a fine journalist, editor and novelist but an art biographer? Yes! Yes! This book is a pleasure to read. The prose is clear, clean and engaging, yet it packs a lot of information. And what's the point of writing about a major painter and not printing any of his work? This book is filled with glorious, excellent color reproductions covering Rivera's entire life work. Hamill is not afraid to offer judgments but I thought they were fair and relevant. This is a solid piece of work. As a young man Hamill wanted to be a painter and went to Mexico City to study. He later lived in the city as a journalist. So there are many years of the love of Mexico and art behind this book.
If you want to know more about the Mexican revolution, the art scene in Paris around the years of WWI (Rivera accused Picasso of stealing ideas from him) how Mexico nurtured and esteemed its artists, and much more, read this book.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Anti-left diatribe 26 Sep 2004
By History's Angel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The artwork in Hamill's volume almost makes the book worth its price, but his commentary is so unrelentingly anti-left that he does an injustice to Rivera's memory. Consider a representative passage: "The violent triumph of the Bolsheviks in October 1917 and the swift and bloody [sic] creation of the Soviet Union provided an instant model [for Mexican revolutionaries]. Many young intellectuals were persuaded that a Marxist-Leninist ideology could be imported to Mexico... They believed the lies about communist successes that were being sent to the world from Moscow. They truly believed that the new and glorious Soviet Union was a state where artists and writers flourished, and where millions of happy Russians, Slavs, and other ethnics were working selflessly toward common goals....It was an oddly innocent time. Nobody had yet heard the word gulag." Now any reader with even a limited knowledge of Soviet history can't help but find the sarcasm of this passage arresting. One need not be an apologist for Stalin and the crimes of the later Soviet Empire to acknowledge that in the early years of the revolution there was, in fact, a flowering of art and culture, a truly revolutionary environment that produced luminaries like Bakhtin and Eisenstein. Furthermore, Rivera, himself, was not an apologist for Stalinism and his own work fits well within the critical Western Marxist tradition that includes Lukacs (who, by the way, also admired Lenin), Benjamin, and even Adorno.

Hamill never loses an opportunity to attack Rivera's politics. Why such a strident anti-leftist would write a book on Rivera I'll will never understand. But the fact that this is the most readily available and one of the most handsome books on Rivera speaks volumes about the politics of the art publishing industry.
22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A GENIUS'S STORY, WARTS AND ALL 24 Dec 1999
By KEVIN FARRELL - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Diego Rivera was a Communist, a lout, self-indulgent, slovenly, obese, greedy, an apostate, at times lazy, at other times driven and possessed, a bounder, a satyr, ingratiating, and, above all, a genius. There is no writer more equipped than the eminent Pete Hamill, student of art, diviner of human folly, to take us on this magnificent journey, separating glorious art from the invincible frailties of humans. It is a book that will live on, long into the 21st century.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great artist, great writer 24 Nov 2004
By Proust fiend - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Buy this for the beautiful reproductions and intriguing photos that will have you dreaming of the non-beach areas of Mexico.

Buy this for the warm and beautiful writing even if you don't know who Diego Rivera is.

Re the reviewer who thought Hamill was hard on Rivera's politics: he was equally hard on Rivera's religious affiliation. Hamill is not interested in convincing the reader of any political or religious belief; he is interested in describing the difference between Rivera's greatest and weakest works. His opinion, of course, but the overall impression is one of great admiration for Rivera as a person as well as a painter, and the overall influence on the reader is one of opening the mind and not closing it.

Highly recommended.
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