Dreaming With His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera Hardcover – 1 Nov 1998
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In his splendid study of this important 20th-century painter, Patrick Marnham has doggedly hacked his way through the many myths and abundant misinformation about Diego Rivera. (Much of it, admittedly, put about by Rivera himself.) Set mostly in the nightmarish world of post-Russian Revolution communism, Rivera's tortuous artistic, political, and personal lives are stylishly laid bare. The deadly machinations of Stalinists, Trotskyists, and dozens of other variations are patiently explained. Complex cultural strands, particularly in his native Mexico, are subtly drawn out and the personalities vividly brought to life. Trotsky plays his part as does D.H. Lawrence alongside a constantly changing cast of wives and lovers.
Marnham solidly charts the development of the artist as a revolutionary painter and identifies, controversially, his first wife, Lupe, as his chief muse (as opposed to Frida Kahlo whom he married twice). The book also contains some delicious colour plates of his stunning frescos that display better than any words can just what a visionary and powerful painter he was. The facts of Rivera's life have been for too long obscured by the events of the extraordinary times in which he operated and the remarkable circles in which he moved. Dreaming With his Eyes Open tells it how it was. It will surely become the definitive life. --Nick Wroe --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
"At last, a full-length biography of the Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera. . . "--"London Review of Books --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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The biography contributes fascinating details about Rivera's European years from his studies in Spain to his days/nights as a sometimes participant of the cafe society of the Free Republic of Montparnasse. Likewise, Marnham's discussion of the Rivera/ Kahlo visits to the United States is fascinating. Though this fills in large gaps in Rivera scholarship, my major criticism is that Marnham failed to dedicate comparable effort to Rivera's role in the intellectual currents of post-revolutionary Mexico. For instance, scarce mention is devoted to the contrasts and rivalries between Rivera, and the other notable mutalists of his day, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Marnham also ignores Rivera's artistic legacy in Mexico or the United States. While Rivera did not invent nor perhaps truly even master mural art, Rivera is certainly the premier inspiration for "public" artists on both sides of the border.
For an interesting and literate discussion of Rivera and Mexican muralism, I recommend Octavio Paz, Essays on Mexican Art.
Rivera lived in Mexico City until 1907, when he left for Spain and for the next 15 years lived there and in France. He picked up a common-law wife and then a lover- a portent of things to come. He met and was friends (or sometimes enemies) with some of the greatest artists of the period, including Picasso, Mondrian, Modigliani and Matisse. He worked in classic style until he accepted Cubism, only to move toward Cezanne-style art, and eventually to develop his own style. He eventually became one of the greatest of modern fresco painters. However, his character was far from flawless. He lied about his past often and in different ways, depending on the situation, was not very careful about personal hygiene, and also often ran away from relationships to avoid unpleasant realities.
Rivera joined the Mexican Communist Party (MCP) in 1922. After three failures at having a permanent relationship with a woman, he married the rather obsessional young Communist Frida Kahlo (who was twenty years his junior) in 1929. In that same year he was expelled from the MCP because of various internal party intrigues. He then became friends with the exiled Leon Trotsky, who repaid him by having a short affair with Frida. Frida, to make matters more complicated, was repaying Rivera for his affair with her sister. Because of his association with Trotsky, Rivera was not readmitted to the party again until 1954, after the death of Stalin. This summery only touches on and can hardly do justice to the complicated world of Diego Rivera, one of the most complex of men.
Patrick Marnham presents in this book the convoluted ins and outs of Rivera's life, his many affairs and his association with the art world and the Communist Party in vivid detail.
This is a fascinating study of this very complex and often selfish man who was also a great artist. It is also a window into a very confusing and turbulent time in the history of the World. It is a work that should be read by all interested in understanding this period and the modern world that rose from it.