Mexican muralism is a 20th century Mexican art movement that primarily took place from the 1920s through the 1930s. The muralists worked in a predominantly a social realist style, however the artists also did not refrain from including influences from the contemporary European Avant-garde movements (Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Post Impressionism, Surrealism and Neoclassicism), as well as Italian Renaissance mural technique. Encouraged and initiated by the Minister of Education, Jose Vasconcelos, the subject matter or formal elements of the style, were not government dictated. The big three muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco and David Siqueros explored nationalistic subject matter, drawing on Mexico’s pre-Columbian culture, the Mexican people and their heroes. In coordination with the goals of European Social Realism, especially Socialist Realism, the Mexican muralists created a style designed to effectively communicate the ideals of the new Alvaro Obregon government .
Even though Mexican muralism was primarily an artistic movement, it was also a social and political one as well. The artists created great masterpieces in public spaces where all people could have access to them regardless of race and social class encouraging an all-encompassing national pride and togetherness. Muralists worked over a concrete surface or on the façade of a building. Beginning in the 1920s and continuing to mid-century, artists were commissioned by local governments to cover the walls of official institutions such as schools, ministerial buildings, churches and museums. Murals from this period can be found on the majority of the public buildings in Mexico City and throughout other cities in Mexico, such as Guadalajara, that played important roles in Mexican history.
The 1920’s witnessed the height of the muralist effort in Mexico, a movement which marked the zenith of Mexican political and cultural influence throughout Latin America and the United States. An example of the movement’s influence in the U.S.; mural ism was the primary inspiration for the Works Progress Administration’s art movement of the 1940s. Similar to Mexican government sponsorship, The WPA sought to employ artists through government patronage. In addition one of the big three muralists, Diego Rivera in fact was commissioned by private investors such as Ford Motor Company in Detroit and Rockefeller in New York City. During his stay in the United States, several WPA muralists assisted and studied under him, learning the techniques needed for modern fresco painting.It is also true that both Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco worked in the United States at some point in their artistic careers as well.
Rivera and Orozco utilized the classical tradition of fresco painting, while Siqueiros preferred using innovative materials such as pyroxylin. All three saw mural painting as a means of social protest with an obvious appeal to the left wing, a dominant force in North American cultural life throughout the Depression decade. As their nickname would suggest – los tres grandes (“the three great ones”) – these three are usually grouped together, when in fact their individual styles and temperaments were very different from each other and they worked throughout overlapping but varied periods. Siqueiros for example worked well into the 1970s.