This is an uncommon painting by Siqueiros, which is nonetheless perfectly placed within his artistic production due to its subject matter. Realized in 1963 during Siqueiros's difficult period of imprisonment in the Lecumberri Penitentiary under accusations of "social dissolution" (1960-64). The subject matter combines a basic Catholic reflection with a more personal expression of tender feelings for the other David, David Constantino, his grandson.(1)
Siqueiros executed this painting based on the large production of images of Christ as Man of Sorrows, mothers fleeing with children in their arms, and Trees of Life in twisted shapes looming behind crosses which he produced while he was in prison. Siqueiros painted some fifteen portraits of Christ in which Christ's image is updated, so to speak.
To think of Siqueiros, the communist, in Catholic terms, is as contradictory as it may seem if we consider Catholicism as an important reference in his upbringing. In several occasions, Siqueiros himself made this clear. For instance, on August 2, 1963, he inscribed the following quote from the most devout of Italian painters, Fra Angelico, in the back of his painting Cristo del Pueblo: "May only he who believes in Christ paint Christ." And in another occasion, during his imprisonment, he declared: "Was Jesus Christ not, like me, a victim of social dissolution, a persecuted man?" On August 9, 1963, from his cell at a crime prevention facility, Siqueiros inscribed the following words regarding the Via Crucis on the back of his painting, Mutilated Christ: "First, his enemies crucified him 2000 years ago. Then, they mutilated him from the Middle Ages on, and today, their new and true friends restore him under the political pressure of communism post-Ecumenical Council. This small work is dedicated to the latter."
Furthermore, in 1967 he produced the model and the Christ of Peace for the exterior mural of the Poliforum. He personally sat for this image. Siqueiros donated the model to the Vatican, and Pope Paul VI sent him a message congratulating him.
The painting also exhibits a thematic continuity with other works by the artist. One of the first works Siqueiros painted was a copy of Raphael's Madonna of the Chair. Throughout his career he painted hundreds of Mexican mothers carrying their children in their arms, not only fleeing poverty and persecution, but also as images of tenderness and joy, as in, for instance, the beautiful group of dancers in the mural at the Hospital de la Raza, one of which is lulling a child to sleep. This is a modern recuperation of the tender, motherly Madonnas in the history of art.
As opposed to the dynamic representations of revolutionaries and victims in his paintings, Siqueiros found an interesting, serene monumentality in certain portraits, especially in some of the paintings based on the popular Catholic imaginary surrounding the Nativity scene. In this painting from 1963, Siqueiros subverts a key composition from the history of art, something he had done for the first time in 1923-24 in his murals at San Ildefonso. The painter paints his self-portrait as father of the child, occupying the traditional place of the mother. This subversion, however, is not excluded from Siqueiros's Catholic upbringing-on the contrary, it constitutes an innovative appropriation of the image of Saint Christopher he probably saw in churches during his childhood. Today, this image of fatherly love seems utterly current as "our daily bread."
Both Rivera and Siqueiros focused on the topic of the mestizo origin of Mexico in the mural cycle at San Ildefonso. Siqueiros portrayed the contact between two worlds using the figure of Saint Christopher, the giant saint who travels from one part of land to another by crossing the sea. The figure of the father (note the etymological affinity of "padre"--father--and "patria"--fatherland, in Spanish), a tall, dark, burly man, appears standing alone against the background of the sky, carrying his small mestizo son, a metaphor for the American continent. An homage to Christopher Columbus! Facing this figure there is a feminine torso, a recovery of the Sacred Family. The son--the mestizo Mexican legitimized by the Revolution--is tenderly conveyed in the arms of his father, a peasant bearing a rifle. A mother, reminiscent of the female revolutionary figure of "Adelita," accompanies them.
Los dos Davides touches on a very personal aspect of Siqueiros's life. On the left side and back side of the painting, Siqueiros wrote a longhand dedication of the work. It was a present for "Adrianita, on her birthday, with all my love. Crime Prevention Facility, October 16, 1963." The image and its title, as mentioned, refer to the painter and his grandson with the same name. He was his favorite grandson, one of Adriana's three children. Siqueiros's had adopted Adriana, Angélica Arenal's daughter, when she was 6 years old.
Painted in brown and rust colors, with light and dark shades, this is a synthetic painting composed with a few structural, dynamic strokes. The faces don't have any features, and both heads, one with dark hair and the other with yellow hair, are conjoined, as well as the intertwined arms of both in a loving bodily posture, reminiscent of the Madonnas of in the history of art. Little David represented the experience of paternity for Siqueiros, who was unable to have any biological children. Siqueiros's dream was to sire a child. That recurring desire reappears with the same constancy of clocks in his work. It is present in the large Matriz Armónica (Harmonious Womb), which he painted in the Poliforum, and, since 1993, in his erotic mural, Ejercicio Plástico (Plastic Exercise), which he painted in a private residence in Buenos Aires. An entire universe emerges and rotates around a monumental vulva. Siqueiros declared that all his paintings were "photogenic wombs," capable of reproducing the utopian and delirious reality of his soul.
Irene Herner, 2007
1) In my book, Siqueiros: Del Paraíso a la Utopía, (Mexico: CONACULTA, 2005), I included a picture of this painting and a brief mention in the text at the end of the third part. I have found no other mention or published reference, among in the documents of the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros.