1960 was one of the most prolific years in the life of David Alfaro Siqueiros: at age sixty-four, the veteran muralist alternated the realization of one of his most historically ambitious murals, Del Porfiriato a la Revolución, in the Castillo de Chapultepec, with a series of proselyte conferences in Latin America begun the year before. On August 9 of that same year, both the mural and the tour were suspended when Siqueiros became apprehended by order of President Adolfo López Mateos regime as a result of his involvement in Communist demonstrations.
Quickly charged with the crime of 'Disolución Social'--in accordance to a law enacted during World War II, but considered by many in the 1960s as already obsolete--Siqueiros was detained in the Preventive Jail at Lecumbreri, where he remained until 1964, when he was finally released. Siqueiros wasted neither energy nor time during these four years in prison. While organizing his own legal defense and an international campaign demanding his freedom by bombarding the press with pamphlets and manifests, he also developed cultural activities for the other inmates. Most significantly, however, was his prolific production of smaller canvases--given the constraints of his cell-- that gained in vigor and gestural freedom. According to an art critic of the time, Siqueiros painted between three to four canvases a week, which would then sell in the American market for $2,000.
Though it cannot be categorically confirmed, Figura (also known as Campesino) dated 1960, appears to belong to the first group of works painted in the Preventive Jail (unless it had been completed immediately before) in one of the few moments of liberty afforded by his multiple activities. As in many works from this time, painted under the dim light of the bulb that illuminated his cell and strictly from memory, (Siquieros had no access to the ample archive of photographs on which he composed the murals of years prior), he centers the painting solely on the figure of the fatigued worker. Although he did not give full liberty to the furious gestural brushstroke that characterizes his later work.
Here, the artist returns to one of his favorite themes from the 1920s that of the portrait of the Mexican worker, prematurely aged by the hardships of his impoverished life--a metaphor for social oppression. Toned under a texturized sky, of an amorphous gray that reminds those of Turner, the figure of the Campesino seems to emerge as if sculpted out of piroxylin, when it was in fact executed as a low relief with the artist's own fingers. Both in the treatment of the poetic face of the mistreated man, and the intense red of the 'sarape' that protects him, Campesino is characteristic of Siqueiros' outstanding production during this important period of his life.
Dr. Olivier Debroise
This painting is part of the National Heritage of Mexico and cannot be removed from that country. Accordingly, it is offered for sale from the catalogue and will not be available in New York. Delivery of the painting will be made in Mexico in compliance with local requirements. Prospective buyers may contact Christie's representatives in Mexico for an appointment to view the work.