We are grateful to Prof. Irene Herner Reiss for her assistance cataloguing this work.
La Conesa is an important study by David Alfaro Siqueiros for the mural cycle project, Del Porfirismo a la Revolución (1957-66) in the Castillo de Chapultepec (now the National Museum of History) in Mexico City. The mural depicts a group of dancers performing for Don Porfirio Díaz. The present work allows us to view the composition as a painting rather than a mural which details the synthetic and cinematic qualities so characteristic of the artist’s methodology since 1931. This is certainly one of the artist’s classic works and may be considered a missing link among drawings or studies by the artist for this mural. In the mural, Siqueiros’s dramatic use of foreshortening, imbue the figures with movement. The artist appropriated this technique from his studies of Old Masters in Europe, as well his conversations with Rivera and their explorations of Cubism and Futurism, but also while in the United States in 1932 Siqueiros reasserted the relationship between painting and the new languages generated by such mass media tools as animation and film.
In this painting, Siqueiros skillfully details kinetic (or cinematic) geometry to achieve the dynamic and rhythmic effects of the dance. His color palette is similar to that of the mural. In this composition, Siqueiros creates an elliptical movement which characterizes his best known works, through the use of the ruffles of the women’s skirts, which in turn create whirlpools which twist upwards towards the hats like airplane propellers. In the mural, the dancers appear to move within the spectator’s space. This study thus demonstrates how Siqueiros achieved his ideas about movement through an almost empirical knowledge of the human body’s rhythm and harmony from which his brushwork and drips of paint. The dancing figures are constructed like body armor made from a light and flexible metal. Siqueiros appears to have taken the advice of Cézanne and Braque about the artist’s ability to construct realities and nature through color.
Siqueiros painted his historical version of the beginnings of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 within the confines of the Castillo de Chapultepec, many years after the actual events. The cycle known as Del Porfirismo a la Revolución (From Porfirism to The Revolution), was executed following the completion of the mural of the Hospital de la Raza. He began in 1957 but was forced to abandon the project when he was imprisoned in 1960 in the Lecumberri Prison for openly criticizing the Mexican president and for leading protests against the arrests of striking workers and teachers. Upon his release from prison in 1964 he resumed work on this project which continued until 1966.
Siqueiros considered this mural as documentary painting, and pictorial and cinematic journalism. There is a photograph of the artist in front of the images as well as documents of the period. As well, there is also considerable information about the entertainer María Conesa or “La Conesa.” The dancers that appeared before Porfirio Díaz are based on the performers of Mexico’s Teatro de Revista, of which “La Conesa” or the “Gatita Blanca” (White Kitten), as she was known, was one of the celebrated performers. Born in Spain in 1892, La Conesa arrived in Mexico as a child. During her career, she appeared in the Mexican musical revues, plays and in zarzuelas (musical operettas). During the chaos of the Revolution she managed to entertain people. She often gleefully spoke of her youth and how she had met and performed for all the leaders of the Revolution such as Don Porfirio, Francisco Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Álvaro Obregón as well as Pancho Villa. She danced and sang for Porfirio and his wife at the famous Teatro Principal. La Conesa came from a well-to-do family, was a respectable woman and earned much money.
“A painting is by nature static,” Siqueiros believed. To achieve “the unconscious illusion through which the artist can reproduce optical movement within the picture plane,” one needs a spirit of adventure in order to explore painting beyond the traditional means or methods of the medium. The obstacle has been the fact that animation has largely been ignored. “To visually capture an object’s form, our natural impulse is to multiply the vantage points of view.” While in the United States what fascinated the artist, was the possibility of transmitting the fourth dimension or time within the work of art. As Charles Harrison and Paul Wood have concluded in their extraordinary anthology on art theories (Art in Theory 1900 - 2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, p. 181): “The new painters understand the universe as their ideal, it is towards the fourth dimension that we owe this new measure of perfection that allows the artist to give his forms the appropriate proportions, and the plasticity that he wishes them to attain."
Siqueiros great artistic achievement was to endow his pictorial spaces or representations with cinematic movement, through a synthetic image that seems to envelope and enter, the viewer’s space without his gaze ever leaving the image. This sequential action or moving effects denoted in the murals share qualities that allude to or are the essence of motion pictures or film. The rhythm and harmony of the dancers’ movement as they sway around the dictator Porfirio Díaz, surge from the very concentric whirls of their very feet. Siqueiros used similar effects in other known works, most notably in a study of dancers for the murals in the Hospital de la Raza executed in 1952. In that study, three dancers convey movement through the different positioning of their arms in their respective poses as they glide as if on an abstract skateboard that propels their feet.
Irene Herner Reiss
1 See I. Herner, “La epopeya de la Revolución de 1910”, in Siqueiros, del Paraíso a la Utopía, (México: Secretaría de Cultura del Distrito Federal, Senado de la República, Cámara de Diputados, Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales-UNAM, editor Miguel Ángel Porrúa, 2010), pp.59-67. See also Chapter 2: “La Revolución de 1910,” Quién era David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1932), by I. Herner. (México: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, 2012).
2 María Conesa in an interview with jounalist G. Pérez Verduzco, 25 October 1975. Accessed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6jaR9u2zck.
3 D. Alfaro Siqueiros, Me llamaban el Coronelazo, (México: Grijalbo, 1977), p. 51. R. J. Dunitz & J. Prigoff, Painting the towns. Murals in California. RJD Enterprises, Los Angeles, California, 1997.
4 D. Alfaro Siqueiros, idem., p.52-53.