The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
This is a typewritten copy of the lecture given by David Alfaro Siqueiros at the John Reed Club in Hollywood on September 2, 1932. Siqueiros talks about the creation of what he called the Los Angeles “Mural Painters’ Block” [BPM: Bloque de Pintores Murales], a team of professional painters from Southern California with whom he painted a mural for the Chouinard School of Art, another for the Plaza Art Center, and a third for a private home in Santa Monica. The murals painted by the BPM under Siqueiros’s direction covered vertical surfaces measuring between 40 and 160 square meters; their figurative subject matter addressed the social issues of the period. The theme of the first one was Mitin de fábrica [Factory Rally]. The second was called América Tropical oprimida y destrozada por los imperialismos [Tropical America Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism]. The third mural represented La burguesía mexicana, surgida de la Revolución, entregada al imperialismo [The Mexican Bourgeoisie, Spawned by the Revolution, Devoted to Imperialism]. Throughout his talk Siqueiros referred to one of the pillars of his dissertation, which was the need for a technical revolution in painting that catered to the needs of a social revolution. The Mexican muralist extolled the benefits of applying paint to walls by mechanical means, not just because it was a solution to the challenge of covering large surfaces, but because it solved the problems associated with painting murals in secret, especially when they had to be painted as quickly as possible. For this reason he insisted that a technical revolution was a necessary forerunner to an aesthetic revolution.
Whenever he lectured, David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974) compared “individualistic” and “single-copy” easel painting to the group painting (and sometimes multi-copy exercise, as in the case of political posters) proposed by the Bloque de Pintores Murales de Los Ángeles [Los Angeles Mural Painters’ Block] in California.
Rather than the handheld brush, watercolors, pastels, or the traditional fresco, Siqueiros suggested using the “compressed air chisel” (to prepare the surface of walls and create texture), the “cement gun” for the mechanical application of (white or ordinary) cement, and an “air gun” to spray paint. The artist was encouraged to develop his own style as he used the latter tool. The Mexican painter even used this system with a cement mixer to which the color had already been added, as in the traditional fresco technique. He would finish off the final layer of wax with a “gasoline or oxygen blowtorch,” just one in a range of industrial tools and instruments.
Siqueiros also used electric projectors to project images directly onto the wall as an aid to sketching the shapes and figures involved. He also used still and movie cameras to help document the work as it progressed and interpret the forms as they took shape, and to provide a prior record of the reality of the social struggles taking place in the world. It is interesting to note that Siqueiros’s emphatic endorsement of “modernity” in his use of photography is, in fact, a throwback to a technique used by painters in the nineteenth century. He also considered the “scientific” study of the psychological effect of colors and their combinations to be part of the technical revolution, as in the study of forms and textures that might help to decide how painting can best create a mood that is conducive to revolutionary feelings.
Siqueiros thought an artist should work in illegal conditions to refine the use of these techniques and make them more politically effective, something he usually defined as a “dialectical-subversive style.”
[As complimentary reading, see in the ICAA digital archive the letter that Siqueiros wrote to the Uruguayan Communist Party Central Committee: “Al Comité Central del Partido Comunista del Uruguay” (doc. no. 1238917)].