I am moved each time I encounter a Siqueiros with labels on the reverse from Galerias Iturbide on Madero 22 in the heart of Mexico City. My confidence in the provenance of this work springs from this, as my parents Oscar and Trude Herner were owners of this gallery, collectors of his works, and the artist’s dealers and friends. They sold this work to a collector and his daughter, shortly after it was painted, who kept it safely up to now.
Due to this connection with my parents, I met Siqueiros shortly after he was released from jail in 1964. Before this, the master’s powerful works would “stare” at me from the walls where they hung both at the gallery, as well as at home; perhaps I even lived with this beautiful pictorial explosion in 1965. At that time, I often accompanied my parents to visit David and Angélica in their recently renovated studio/home in Cuernava. On several occasions, I saw him paint the “river of the dead” from the Revolution mural at the Castillo de Chapultepec and heard him speak about his theory of poliangularity.
In 1965, the artist had been out of jail for a year and had dedicated himself, body and soul, to completing two murals he left unfinished in 1960 when he was arrested: Del Porfirismo a la Revolución (From Porfirism to the Revolution) at the Castillo de Chapultepec and Historia del Teatro a la Cinematografía en México (History of the Theater and Cinematography in Mexico) in the Teatro Jorge Negrete of the Asociación Nacional de Actores. Furthermore, he planned a mural with Manuel Suárez, La Marcha de la Humanidad (Humanity’s March) which is integrated into the architecture of the Polyforum. He executed several easel paintings and drawings including Nahual, a spectacular study for the figures at the Polyforum, that’s coloring is very similar to this work.
Crepúsculo is part of a lithographic series that Siqueiros executed in 1969 titled Mountain Suite. Although, in a newspaper article dated 18 August 1965 Siqueiros advocated in favor of realistic muralism, he still painted landscapes as abstract as this one. It represents an explosive space emphasizing the contrast between the volcanic smoke and the spewed black rock that is left behind. Siqueiros identified the telluric with the apocalyptic side of human history. He exploited these motifs in his dynamic landscapes, such as in the present example and in other spectacular works such as Admonición.
The color palette in this painting is characteristic of Siqueros’s style during the 1960s, incorporating varied and intense tones realized through the use of acrylic and pyroxylin. Over the earth a void opens from which red and gold lava and explosive flaming fire flow. The center of the cauldron spits out ash and volcanic gases, a humid cloud forms around it, as clouds often do, creating the appearance of an eagle.
Realism was central to Communist public art at this time when commercial publicity was exceeding propaganda’s effectiveness. In landscapes such as this one, the artist renews his political commitment while his composition reveals a cinematic vision through a figurative and structured order that are equally essential. This was what the “action painters” or American abstract expressionists, especially Pollock, practiced when they hurled car paint, sand and other elements onto canvases and other materials—a lesson learned at the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop in Manhattan during 1936-37. In reality, it was not just “by chance,” but a new unconscious technique in which by moving his whole body, the artist unburdened his soul and allowed its mysteries to pour forth constructing landscapes, explosions and powerful emotions.
Siqueiros, the compelling colorist, is evident in this painting where he organized reds in relation to the oranges and mauves, and pushes them beyond the explosive whites, greys, blues, and greens. The work was executed in a style characteristic of Siqueiros in which he applies layers of brushwork, stains, and dripping paint suggesting dancing forms that appear as “eyespots”— eyes that look, but cannot see.
Although at first glance the composition looks as fluid and unpredictable as burning lava, the structure is solid and grounded to the earth. The pictorial force pulls the viewer’s eyes towards the upper section. As the forms disperse in undulating and angular calligraphic forms, the diagonals create light forces that surge from the fiery epicenter.
In looking at the composition in great detail, bearing in mind the artist’s many works and their incorporation of the human body and symbolic animals, we begin to recognize what is implied at the painting’s explosive center—a burning devil-like figure with arms lifted evoking the infernal villains that announce the apocalypse of war found in his Birth of Fascism (1936) and The Devil in the Church (1947).
Siqueiros’s landscape lends insights into the anxiety that produced it: nature’s uncontainable forces and the apocalyptical power of our rapacious and hostile society.
Irene Herner Reiss, with the collaboration of Mónica Ruiz and Grecia Pérez Calderón.