David Alfaro Siqueiros's subject is Moisés Sáenz, a celebrated educator in post-revolutionary Mexico who founded an extensive system of schools in rural Mexico. He was also an important patron of Siqueiros. Here, in Siqueiros's lithograph, the head of Sáenz is rendered with bold exaggerations of his facial features and dramatic contrasts of black and white. Suggestive of a sculptural fragment, the style of the head and its isolation from its subject's body evoke the colossal human heads cut from basalt boulders by sculptors of the Olmec culture. The reference to a pre-colonial style of sculpture expresses the wish of Siqueiros to link his portrait of a contemporary Mexican to the first authentic Meso-American civilization, which had its origins around 1500 BCE.
A muralist and painter, Siqueiros also made prints. He produced a range of inexpensive woodcuts, primarily for a Mexican audience, and twenty-five lithographs. The lithographs were printed and published in New York, under the auspices of the Weyhe Gallery. The Weyhe Gallery was an early promoter of contemporary Mexican art, also publishing all of Diego Rivera's and José Clemente Orozco's lithographs. The lithographic work done by the three great Mexican muralists—Clemente Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros—was directed toward a North American audience.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Retrato de Moisés Sáenz, 1931, Lithograph, 24 x 20 1/6 inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of Rudolph and Louise Langer. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City.
David Alfaro Siqueiros (El Coronelazo), 1960. Photograph by Héctor García. © Galería Fundación Héctor García / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0.