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After reviewing Orozco’s early work (drawings, prints, caricatures, and watercolors) and mentioning the influence of El Greco, Giotto, Goya, and Toulouse-Lautrec, Octavio Paz refers to a "hermetic or symbolic" trend to which the painter was exposed while he was in New York (even though Orozco had already painted his mural Omnisciencia [Omniscience] in 1925 at the Casa de los Azulejos [House of Tiles] in Mexico City, which already revealed a distinct symbolic and spiritual mood). Paz turns to the biographical work by the American journalist Alma Reed, in which she mentions Orozco’s contact with the Delphic movement, and the resulting philosophical, aesthetic, and political speculations that were best expressed in his frescos at Pomona College (1930) in California, and at the New School of Research (1930-–1931). This essay supports the contention that "mural painting is a complex, contradictory movement that refuses to be channeled in any single direction"; which is why the essay also contradicts the government’s assertion that "in the last thirty years, mural painting has been reduced to a lineal development of one single idea, one single aesthetic, and one single objective." Paz describes the presence of history in Orozco’s work as "a spin of the wheel of cosmic justice," where the soul is the counterpoint to the sterile movement of machines that are condemned to repeat themselves forever. His painting is a symbolic vision of the reality of the human race; his symbols are the legacy of tradition, though very liberally interpreted.


This is an expanded and corrected version of a 1983 symposium on the work of José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949). Octavio Paz (1914–1998), poet, essayist, and winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in literature, states: “while it is impossible to deny the artistic importance of Orozco’s work, meaning has been successfully hidden.” This essay, therefore, attempts to “identify the distinctive features of his work that make it unique,” including its theosophical quality, the transformation of men into heroes, the revelation, the civilizing hero Quetzalcoatl, the double-edged nature of the vanquished Indians’ destiny, the history of the conquest and the revolution as a “testing ground” (a place of perdition but also, through creative sacrifice, of transfiguration). His œuvre is a “symbolic series that reveals a sequence of leaps and falls: Quetzalcoatl? the betrayal ? the escape ? the conquest ? the two-headed horse: the sword and the cross ? the machine age ? dehumanization.” According to Paz, Orozco’s work is an immense, authentic vision “because his painting plumbs the depths of the two mysteries that nobody has solved: the beginning and the end.”

Alejandro García : CURARE A. C.
CURARE, Espacio crítico para las artes, Mexico City, Mexico
© 1987 by Marie José Paz. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Biblioteca Justino Fernández del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México