Niño en Negro (Boy in Black), from the Paul Antebi collection of Mexican art, was painted by David Alfaro Siqueiros during his 1962 stay at the Lecumberri prison; this was the artist's the seventh and last incarceration for his political acts and ideas. It is a work that features exclusively a large figure in the foreground of the picture plane on a monumental scale--using only black and white color--as if to stress the clarity of the message, a denunciation of the social injustice and racial discrimination of the past and the present, as well as its terrible consequences. It is painted the color of journalism, evocative of Picasso's 1937 dramatic masterpiece, Guérnica, (also painted in a palette devoid of color) and its denouncement of fascism and war. It is interesting to note that the work, on cardboard and masonite, is not only painted in acrylic, but also includes oil, something uncommon in Siqueiros oeuvre.
Rich in symbolism and significant within Siqueiros's artistic production, the painting illustrates a secular theme based on a religious subject matter--that of the Holy Child Jesus. More importantly, the painting expresses humanity's hope, clearly symbolized by the child. Siqueiros was never able to conceive a son, but he loved the children of his two great loves--Blanca Luz Brum and Angélica Arenal. He formally adopted Angélica's daughter, Adriana. But, he was closest to his grandson, Adriana's son, Davidcito--who is the lonely and tender figure in this painting. There is a photograph of this painting in the archives of the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros labeled Davidicito.
A review of the artist's production yields images from a series of paintings that point to and underscore the importance of this work. Among Siqueiros's early work, the peasant child that appears as the sole figure in a retablo painted in 1930 during one of the first stays Lecumberri prison, is one such work. Shortly after but while still in prison, Siqueiros painted another small work--La visita del preso (Visit to the Prisoner), in which two peasant women and a child visit a prisoner in his cell (a self-portrait of Siqueiros). While all the characters stare with a desolate questioning, the small boy, instead raises his hand to make the "V" sign for victory, taking the message of endless optimism as he leaves the prison.
In Retrato Actual de México, one of the three murals done during his 1932 trip to Los Angeles, (currently part of the façade of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art), Siqueiros painted a semi-clothed girl between two female figures wrapped in rebozos who stare at us as they stand near temples that date from the pre-Cortés era. They possess the same look of desolate questioning. The artist again revisits this "stare" in his 1939 work, Etnología, a spectacular painting in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the composition depicts a figure, perhaps a boy/old peasant, his face covered by an Olmec mask, evoking the Mexican monumental art legacy.
The same "questioning" is expressed in Eco del Llanto, 1937 (Echo of a Scream), also part of permanent collection of the Museum of Modern and one of the artist's most recognized masterpieces; the work alludes eloquently to the greed of oil producers in Mexico and how it destroys or denies children a bright future as the land or soil is left barren for them to inherit. The painting shares visual and psychological affinities with the work of the Norwegian master Edvard Munch, The Scream.
At the start of the sixties, from his prison cell at Lecumberri, Siqueiros produced other paintings about the figure of Christ: Jesusito será un santo (Baby or Little Jesus will be a Saint), but also Cristo Negro (Black Christ). The latter is a young man who looks at us from an empty landscape, just like the little Jesus that walks with his back towards a distance without a future in this work. The figure in Niño en Negro, standing on a desert-like horizon, just like the little girl in the 1932 mural, look at us head on today just as they did in the past, their small bodies still full of tenderness.