When you think art, do you think Mexico? If not, you really should. This vast country has been the birth or workplace of hundreds of great artists; from sculptors and tattooists to the many, many muralists that have decorated government buildings and public spaces up and down the country and abroad, narrowing down this list wasn’t easy. Nevertheless, here are Mexico’s 10 most iconic artists.
Perhaps the most iconic Mexican artist, the incomparable Frida Kahlo has to be our first mention. With a back catalogue of almost 150 surviving pieces of art, the majority of which are self-portraits that predominantly hone in on her complex and often tragic life, as well as a cult pop culture reputation, Frida Kahlo is a formidable figure of the Mexican art scene. The house which bore witness to her birth, life and death is now the wildly popular and much frequented museum better known as La Casa Azul.
Her two-time husband, Diego Rivera, can’t go without a mention either. This prominent Mexican muralist is so iconic that he even features (as does Frida) on the MXN$500 banknote. His prolific body of work is still to this day on display in both the US and Mexico (amongst other countries) and many of his murals can be seen for free in Mexico City at the Palacio Nacional and the Secretaría de Educación Publica.
Known as Britain’s lost surrealist, Women’s Lib champion Leonora Carrington was a rebellious Lancashire-born artist who despite being little known in her native UK was an impressive figure on the Mexican art scene. One of the last surviving (and one of the most prolific) contributors to Mexican surrealism before her death in 2011, her artwork was often revolutionary in its exploration of female sexuality. One of her murals can be seen at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.
Allegedly the most complex of the Mexican Muralists, José Clemente Orozco was one of the founding fathers of the movement and heavily influenced by political issues, a theme which is notable throughout his repertoire of murals. Whilst his pieces are spread right across both Mexico, from Jalisco to Michoacán, and the world, from California to NYC, his most famed pieces can be found in the Palacio del Gobierno in Guadalajara and the Hospicio Cabañas.
If you’ve visited the impressive, enormous Ciudad Universitaria at one point or another you’ll have more than likely been witness to some of David Alfaro Siqueiros’ work. Along with the aforementioned Rivera and Orozco, he was the third of ‘the big three figures’ in the Mexican Muralism movement and known for his social realist, fresco pieces, including the massive Del porfirismo a la Revolución mural in Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City. Influenced first by cubism, and intensely interested in revolutionary subject matter, Siqueiros’ work is also best summed up as political.
Like Madonna, Prince and Banksy before him, Mexican sculptor Sebastián goes by just one name. If that doesn’t say iconic, we don’t know what does. Despite his reputation you’ve probably never heard of him, although you will almost certainly have been witness to one of his many sculptures. Situated in various urban locations all over the world, including his native Mexico, Japan, Buenos Aires and Havana, these massive, predominantly steel or concrete and often geometric sculptures are considered unique to both Mexico and Latin America. Easily his most famous piece is Mexico City’s Caballito.
Gabriel Orozco may not be a relation of the aforementioned José Clemente Orozco but he’s an equally iconic, albeit more recent, Mexican artist. Having dabbled in photography, painting, drawing and sculpture in equal measure, you might be forgiven for thinking he’s merely a Jack of all trades, yet you couldn’t be further from the truth. Often referred to as one of this decade’s most influential artists, you can catch his work at the excellent kurimanzutto gallery in Mexico City.
Iconic Mexican artists don’t get much more influential than the late Carlos Almaraz; his street art in particular propelled him to the position of one of the Chicano Art Movement’s leading figures. Having moved to the US at a young age, Almaraz had become increasingly aware of and interested in this multicultural atmosphere and ultimately died as one of the most prominent artists on the scene which aimed to create a separate artistic identity for Chicano’s in the US. His work is explosively colourful and was often political.
Polish-born Fanny Rabel was a trailblazing figure in Mexican art, and even found her way onto the booming muralism scene in the mid-twentieth century. In fact, many consider her to be the first modern female muralist, and certainly one of the youngest. Either way, she was definitely the only female under the artistic tutelage of her close friend (maybe you’ve heard of her?) Frida Kahlo, and worked with both of the muralist big-hitters, Rivera and Siqueiros during her career. Her mural Ronda en el tiempo can be seen at Mexico’s National Anthropology Museum.
Our final iconic Mexican artist is almost certainly a name you’ll recognise. With a museum and who knows how many streets named after him across Mexico, Rufino Tamayo was a Oaxacan painter who despite also being influenced by the dominant surrealism themes of the day, rejected the political tendencies of his contemporaries. Instead, his works focussed on depicting traditional Mexico through limited but bold colour palettes. He is equally as memorable for his contributions to graphic arts though; he experimented with woodcuts, etchings and Mixografia amongst other techniques.