David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974)
David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974)

Ascenso (El hombre en el paisaje) also known as Hacia la cima

David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974)
Ascenso (El hombre en el paisaje) also known as Hacia la cima
signed and dated 'Siqueiros 12.61' (lower right), also signed twice, titled and inscribed 'Ascenso, (EL HOMBRE EN EL PAISAJE) Siqueiros Carcel Preventiva 12-61 Siqueiros' (on the reverse)
pyroxilin on masonite
33 ½ x 24 in. (85 x 61 cm.)
Painted in December 1961.
Paul Antebi collection, Mexico City.
Paula P. de Antebi collection, Mexico City (by descent).
Private collection, Miami.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 24 May 2006, lot 5.
Acquired from the above sale.
E. Gual, Siqueiros, Mexico, Galería de Arte Misrachi, 1965, p. 61 (illustrated in color), titled (Hacía la cima).
Mexico City, Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Artes, Universidad Nacional Autónoma, Siqueiros, Exposición retrospectiva, 1911-1967, 1967.
Mexico City, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Exposición en Homenaje, Siqueiros, April-July 1975, no. 400.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Dr. Irene Herner Reiss for her assistance cataloguing this work.

Siqueiros painted landscapes, such as the present work from 1961, under dire creative circumstances; at year’s end, he found himself in jail unable to perceive or ascertain, ‘the transparency of air,’ far from nature’s verdant greens during rain. He worked from his memories of a vast international pictorial culture, along with recollections of his own previous work; influenced by Dr. Atl’s landscapes with curvilinear perspectives, and above all, remembering with nostalgia the topographical landscapes he witnessed from the air during numerous flights abroad. He became fascinated by these aerial views that offered new ways of seeing and for expanding the technical possibilities of landscape painting, while also simultaneously proposing a sculptural and textural approach to painting.

Siqueiros’s circumstances forced him to rethink his approach to painting, from monumental murals to smaller formats. He was compelled to experiment in solitude an approach capable of assimilating the scale imposed by his confinement, while not sacrificing the symbolic and political efficacy of public art and its ability to convey the energetic prowess of nature and the plight of man.

Titled Ascenso, this work was also exhibited at Galería Misrachi in 1965 with the title Hacía la Cima, perhaps as an expression of the very action of scaling a mountain with the purpose of reaching its summit. In landscapes such as this, Siqueiros sought to explore the representation of Earth from various view points by constructing circular perspectives achieved through aerial views. This painting specifically represents a cinematographic ‘close-up,’ from bottom to top as well as frontally.

And, while aerial views greatly impacted the mural painter’s approach to “realism,” it was clearly nothing more than a point of departure. Siqueiros is part of the tradition established by Paul Cézanne, that developed from cubism around the concept that the artist does not replicate what he sees, but rather constructs with colors. Much like an architect, the artist transforms and creates with painting a virtual space.

In this painting, as in other landscapes, Siqueiros resorts on the one hand to constructing a geometric structure through the layering of colors; and on the other hand, achieving an expressionistic synthetic image from pouring paint onto the support, with large fluid and energetic brushstrokes, nervous touches, splotches of paint and thick impasto. Siqueiros is an extraordinary colorist, which is particularly notable in his landscapes. In Ascenso a combination of whites, blacks and grays, browns and touches of green, turquoise, navy blue, yellow and orange, are blended over an unsettled background of vibrant reds and bluish grays.

Here too the artist employs a familiar motif in his landscapes—mountains that often morph into very distinguishable anthropomorphic forms. In Ascenso the silhouetted forms and mountainous volumes suggest at once, the shape of a head and the features of a monster or Gulliver with a large nose, intense eyes, and a strange hat with earmuffs.

This relationship between forms derived from nature and those that reference the human body appear in Siqueiros work frequently, especially from 1936 onward, in his ‘controlled accidents’ realized at Siqueiros’s Experimental Workshop in New York. The process began through the abstract concept of splashing industrial paints from their cans, using sticks; working with airbrush guns. This method was the starting point of a suggested figuration. From this unconscious process, that is from ‘free associations,’ or accidents, akin to the automatism of the surrealists, a ‘realist’ theme, revealed itself and was then controlled technically—a clever maneuver that impressed his student Jackson Pollock, at the time a very young member of Siqueiros’s workshop.

From that point onwards, and particularly throughout his confinement in prison, Siqueiros produced his so-called ‘controlled accidents’—from an action on the canvas’s support prompted by the use of pure color resulting in a chanced phenomenon, and thus allowing for a phantasmagoric universe to appear form his imagination, to then construct an ideological theme or one inspired by nature, controlled by realism.

Another significant recurring motif in this work and in other landscapes by the artist is the presence of hills, tree trunks, and pyramids in which crowds of people march in unison upwards towards a summit, as a symbol of reaching a desired utopia or “the impossible dream.” The multitudes of proportionally miniscule figures that march around the voluminous mountain in Ascenso, are semi-abstract diagonal lines that move in a zigzag rhythm. The top of the summit appears to be a flatland, where the numerous marchers, who flow like a river towards a circular platform, arrive; perhaps beckoned by a centuries-old ceremonial site.

Prof. Irene Herner Reiss with the assistance of Mónica Ruiz and Grecia Pérez

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