Artists & Designers

David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974)

David Alfaro Siqueiros is deemed one of the three masters of the Mexican muralism movement, along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Born on December 29, 1896 in Chihuahua, Mexico, his family moved to Irapuato, Gunajuato, Mexico in 1902. In 1911, he enrolled at the Academia de San Carlos (San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts) in Mexico City and studied painting, drawing, and architecture. While attending, he became politically active and engaged in various protests, as he was throughout his career.

One of the most influential members of the Mexican mural movement, the artist merged the styles of cubism, realism, and surrealism with that of ancient American art, often addressing socially and politically-charged themes. Among 20th century Mexican artists, David Alfaro Siqueiros was the most actively involved in social and political movements. This participation, enhanced by his knowledge of vanguard movements, is evident in his artwork. Siqueiros was primarily interested in the creation of public art, and he gave priority to murals over easel painting, which he considered a private matter. Through his murals, the workers’ struggle was given a prominent place. In this way, the workers’ struggle was not separate from art. According to Siqueiros’s view, the pairing of art and politics encouraged questioning and critical analysis of the political status quo. Fascinated by the advances in technology and machines, Siqueiros often applied these themes to his art with the objective of invigorating and modernizing artistic expression.

He served as a sergeant in the Mexican Revolution and later as a colonel in the Spanish Civil War. In 1919, Siqueiros moved to Paris on an artistic scholarship provided by the government as a member of the Congreso de Soldados-Artistas in Guadalajara. While there, he interacted with Diego Rivera and traveled with him to Italy, where he was influenced by Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne. In 1922, he worked as a muralist upon returning to Mexico City, and in 1923 he unionized the new mural movement by founding the Síndicato de Obreros Técnicos, Pintores y Escultores (Syndicate of Revolutionary Mexican Painters, Sculptors and Engravers) and became editor of its publication, El Machete, in support of the recent revolution. In 1923, Rivera and Siqueiros were both elected to the executive committee of the Mexican Communist Party, and El Machete served as the official voice of Communism in Mexico.

From 1922 to 1924 Siqueiros executed a number of murals in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (National Preparatory High School) and in the former chapel of the University of Guadalajara in Jalisco. From 1925 to 1930, he devoted himself to the Communist Party and abandoned painting entirely. In 1930 and 1931, his political activities led to his imprisonment and later confinement to the city of Taxco, Guerrero, where he took up painting again.

In 1932 Siqueiros was exiled and traveled to Los Angeles to continue his career as a muralist, where he created perhaps one of his most notorious works "Tropical America" at the Plaza Art Center. In 1933, he traveled to South America under threat of deportation and was later imprisoned again in Uruguay for his social activism, then expelled from Argentina, and from there moved to New York. In 1934, he had his first solo exhibition, and then returned to Mexico. From 1933 to 1935, Siqueiros, a passionate Stalinist, and Diego Rivera, who supported Leon Trotsky, were involved in a heated public debate over their political and artistic views.

In 1936, Siqueiros returned to New York and participated in the first American Artists’ Congress. That same year, he organized the Experimental Workshop and Laboratory of Modern Techniques in Art. Notably Jackson Pollock served as his apprentice, learning drip and pour techniques that later became influential in the artist's work. Siqueiros was the first artist to utilize acrylics as a painting media and was influential in his use of various new techniques and materials.

The artist is often known for his involvement in an assassination plot against Leon Trotsky while he was in Mexico City in 1940. Though acquitted, Siqueiros took refuge in Chile from 1941 to 1942. In 1943, he painted several murals in Havana, Cuba, and eventually returned to Mexico in 1945. In 1950, Siqueiros participated in the first Mexican contingent at the XXV Venice Biennale exhibition with Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and Rufino Tamayo, and received the second prize among all participants. From 1960 to 1964, he was imprisoned again over political controversy. Once pardoned, he finished outstanding projects and painted a number of public murals commissioned by the Mexican state until the end of his life. Siqueiros died on January 6, 1974 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

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Fun Facts

  • Antonio Banderas portrays David Alfaro Siqueiros in the biopic Frida (2002).

Web Resources

  • Biography
    Learn more about the life of David Alfaro Siqueiros.
  • Huffington Post
    Read about the artist's "America Tropical" mural and its re-unveiling in Los Angeles after decades of censorship.
  • PBS, Art In America
    Watch a 2017 video clip from PBS's NEIGHBORS series about "America Tropical" mural, the only mural by Siqueiros in the United states still in its original location.
  • PBS, LAART
    Watch a 2016 video clip from PBS' LAART series and learn more about David Alfaro Siqueiros and the "America Tropical" mural.
  • Chapter Entertainment
    Watch a 2011 video about the restoration of the "America Tropical" mural.
  • UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center
    Watch a 2011 video with photojournalist and independent curator Luis C. Garza discussing Siqueiros, his connections to Plaza de la Raza, and his influence on the emergent Chicano mural movement.
  • Barefoot Productions
    Watch a 2011 video produced by the The Voces Vivas project, and learn more about the artist's work.
  • Arte Mundo Latino
    Watch a 2012 video in Spanish about the life of Siqueiros.

  • TeleSUR
    Watch a 2014 video in English and Spanish produced by TeleSUR for the 40th anniversary of the artist's death, and learn more about the artist and his work.

  • Canal 22
    Watch a 2015 video in Spanish produced by Canal 22 Mexico City, and learn more about the revolutionary art of Siqueiros.
  • Khan Academy
    Learn more about Mexican muralism and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco.