Ephemeral. Here one day, gone the next.
What was once an underground practice of under the radar, in-the-night adventures, street art is now sanctioned in Mexico City – even encouraged. In 2014, Mexico City’s anti-graffiti police unit became the graffiti unit which now directs the city’s street art instead of incriminating it. It all started somewhere. Here’s the word on the street, from Mexico‘s current day street art, to Diego Rivera’s murals dating back to the 1920s, to the self-portraits of his muse, artist and revolutionary Frida Kahlo, to Rivera’s inspiration, illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada.
Street Art in Mexico City
In Mexico City, aka the DF (Distrito Federal), head to the neighbourhoods of Condesa, Doctores, and Roma Norte for some of the best and freshest pieces on the street.
If you’re not sure where to start, hit up Street Art Chilango either on their website or through their social media. Street Art Chilango was founded in 2013 by Jenaro de Rosenzweig and Alejandro Revilla; it’s a collective of former and current taggers, graffiti artists, and graphic designers based in Mexico City who document urban art in and around the city, aka the DF (Distrito Federal), and the world. Street Art Chilango post images of artwork online and promote it through social media by geo-tagging the images, and then using hashtag #streetartchilango to find the work easily and quickly – in case it gets taken down just as fast. Street Art Chilango also offers local walking tours to get a tour through neighbourhoods with the best graffiti, murals, stencils, and wheatpastes.
Andrik Noble is a local muralist and “crew” member of Street Art Chilango whose work can be seen from great heights, literally – Noble’s 60-foot-long Star Wars-themed mural towers over Condesa and Noble’s mural of Frida Kahlo outside of restaurant Lucerna Comedor adds colour and life to Juarez.
If you’re up for a road trip adventure, head to Oaxaca. It’s about 450 km south of Mexico City. The street art is worth the trip alone. Lapiztola, a play on the Spanish words lapiz (pencil) and pistola (pistol), are a street art collective made up of two graphic designers from Oaxaca, Rosario Martinez and Roberto Vega. In 2006, a governor’s violent response to a teacher’s strike stoked a political revolution and street art movement that inspired the creative minds behind Lapiztola to take part in an action against this injustice with what they knew how to do best. Since then, the almighty stencil has been Lapiztola’s weapon of choice, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Modern Art in Mexico City
Diego Rivera is one of the forefathers of modern street art in Mexico. His murals and frescos left indelible impressions and squared us with his insights as a controversial and vocal Mexican nationalist, atheist, and communist. While his artwork was commissioned by various parties, Rivera never, or hardly ever, compromised his message. This was sometimes a problem, as Rivera fearlessly lent his voice to the hard work, blue collar labourers of Mexico.
Many of the murals and frescos Rivera created are still standing in Mexico City, in the historic centre – Centro. Make your way here post-haste and see one of Rivera’s incredible creations up close.
Creation (1922), Rivera’s first government-commissioned mural, is an allegorical composition that depicts wisdom and science as the creator and originator of life and its relationship with the Holy Trinity, pictured at the top. Adam and Eve are present below along with the nine muses, and Christian virtues: love, hope, faith, prudence, justice, and strength. The painting technique is encaustic, a method that uses an applied pigment suspended in molten wax. Rivera was armed with a pistol while he created his mural. It was so controversial for the time that the right-wing students of the school were a threat to Rivera’s safety. Find Creation at Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, Colegio de San Ildefonso.
Nelson Rockefeller, former US vice president, and descendant of one of the wealthiest families in the history of the United States, commissioned Rivera to paint a mural in the Rockefeller Center in New York City. The vision for the mural: a man at a crossroads looking toward a better future. The Rockefellers called it, ‘New Frontiers.’ Rivera unveiled Man at the Crossroads (1932), a mural that would be covered up and then destroyed two years later. Under the pressure of staying true to his beliefs, Rivera was provoked by his peers and community who told him he sold out, so he made some changes. The finished mural depicted Rockefeller on the left as a rich playboy and noted communists on the right, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Rivera recreated the mural in Mexico City and named it, Man, Controller of the Universe (1934) which you can find at Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park (1946), was originally painted for the Hotel del Prado in Mexico City. This mural depicts some of Mexico’s most influential figures, including the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes who colonialized Mexico, artist Jose Guadalupe Posada standing next to La Catrina, Frida Kahlo, and a student at the Academy of Letran named Ignacio Ramirez who is holding a sign stating his (and Rivera’s) view, ‘God does not exist.’ Rivera was asked to remove the sign to appease Catholic officials, but he refused. The hotel covered the mural with a screen to censor Rivera’s message. After nine years, Rivera finally agreed to remove the sign, but not without acknowledging the compromise. “To affirm that Goes does not exist, I do not have to hide behind Don Ignacio Ramirez,” Rivera’s quoted as saying in a biography of his life written by his American assistant of 10 years, Philip Stein. “I am an atheist and I consider religions to be a form of collective neurosis.” Find Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park at Museo Mural Diego Rivera.
Her name and famous self-portraits are synonymous with the city she loved and grew up in. Frida was a revolutionary, visionary, muse, and artist, loved and revered worldwide today. See the home she grew up in, lived in with Diego Rivera, and is now a museum, a loving tribute to Frida’s artwork at the Casa Azul, in the historic centre of Mexico City.
Jose Guadalupe Posada
On the other side of Mexico City, about 500 km north, is the town of Aguascalientes, the hometown of Jose Guadalupe Posada. The man behind the Dia de los Muertos laughing calaveras, illustrator and political printmaker Posada crafted a style and aesthetic in the late 19th century that was distinctly his – poignant, whimsical, and macabre.
Appearing in newspapers in Mexico in the late 19th century, Posada documented the world around him with his satire, covering a signature range of his personal favourite interests like death, murder, love, and political scandal; topics that largely appealed to the hard working people of Mexico at the time.
While Posada used traditional printing practices, including wood cuts and zinc plates, he innovated the printmaking process for illustrators with new lithography techniques. It was his development of acid-resistant metal plates that he drew on directly to create plates that could be placed on the printing press at the same time as the type that saved an incredible amount of time and dramatically increased his output around the time of the Mexican revolution in 1910.
Posada achieved international fame posthumously with the help of Diego Rivera who were one of a few that prevented Posada’s legacy from fading in to historical obscurity. Discover Posada’s wonderful world through his prints and artwork at the Museo Jose Guadalupe Posada. More than 3,000 of Posada’s original prints can be found on exhibition here from himself, as well as from his predecessor and mentor Manuel Manilla, including La Catrina (c. 1912) and Don Quijote (c. 1919).