Diego Rivera was a Mexican artist, whose signature style included cubism and muralism. He was born on December 8, 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico. He had a twin brother named Carlos who died at the age of 2. His father worked as a teacher, a school inspector and a newspaper editor, whereas his mother was a doctor. Rivera’s interest in art stemmed from a very early age and he began to draw pictures as early as three years of age. His father built a make shift art studio for him, provided him with art supplies and covered the walls with canvas to prevent him from drawing on the walls and furniture. He also showed an interest in engineering, and loved to play with trains and mechanical equipment, earning him the nickname “The Engineer”. His childhood influences include the artist José Posada, who owned a print shop near Rivera’s school. The family moved to Mexico City, Mexico in 1892.
Diego enrolled at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City to study art at the age of 10 in 1897. It was here that his interest in Mexican art developed. He studied under the famous artists of the time, including Andrés Ríos Félix Para, Santiago Rebull and José María Velasco. His teachers taught him how Mexican art was distinct from European art, as well as how to produce three dimensional effects in his paintings. He was expelled from the academy for leading a student protest against the newly re-elected president of Mexico, Porfirio Díaz, who was known to be a tyrant. Rivera felt strongly about the cause of the ordinary people, who lived in abject poverty. After leaving school, he travelled throughout Mexico, painting and drawing as he went along.
After receiving funding from the governor of Veracruz, Teodora A. Dehesa, Rivera went to Europe to pursue art. He travelled through France and Spain, and experimented with new techniques and styles of painting. He learnt the technique of cubism as well as painting murals, known as fresco. This became his lifelong passion, and he began painting large murals on the walls of public buildings, such as the Ministry of Education Building in Mexico City and the Auditorium of the National School of Agriculture in Chapingo. In 1929, he married fellow artist Frida Kahlo and travelled with her to the United States, where he held several exhibitions. He painted many murals during this time, including the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the California School of Fine Arts. One of his murals commissioned by the Rockefellers created a lot of controversy for including an image of the communist leader Vladimir Lenin. The Rockefellers were not pleased, and asked Rivera to remove him, but he refused. Work on the painting was halted, and the Rockefellers had it destroyed.
Rivera and Kahlo were both involved in communist and Marxist politics, and often attended rallies and protests. They also harbored the Russian Communist exile Leon Trotsky at their home. Kahlo and Rivera had a very tempestuous relationship, with both partners being unfaithful to each other. They divorced in 1939, but got remarried the following year. After Kahlo’s death in 1954, Rivera married his art dealer Emma Hurtado. He was diagnosed with cancer around this time and travelled around for treatment. Diego Rivera died on November 24, 1957 in Mexico City, Mexico. His home has been converted into a museum and he has been portrayed on film in the movies “Cradle Will Rock” and “Freida”. He is remembered as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.