This is a comparison of two paintings, produced by different artists living in the early and late 1900’s. By comparing these pieces, I hope to highlight the value of art, not just through a political lens, but art as a connection bridging the gap between all identities, influencing all of humanity. I will be exploring Romare Bearden’s Sunset to Moonrise: Maudell Sleet and Jose Clemente Orozco’s Father Hidalgo, and both artist’s inclusion of prominent figures who tell parts of their own stories. Specifically looking at their both artists’ use of hands is telling because hands have the power to portray feelings. Because of this, they play an important role in each piece and in characterizing Maudell Sleet and Miguel Hidalgo.
Before exploring each piece, it is important to explore those who produced them. Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1911. Bearden’s art encompassed a wide variety of his interests and culture including music, performing arts, history, and world art (The Art Story). His art found influences throughout life as he moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Harlem, New York to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania all while visiting Paris, France and the Caribbean island of San Martin. While he was influenced by modernists like Henri Matisse, Bearden’s collages embody similarities to African-American slave patchwork (Gilmore, 58). Like Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, Bearden mastered the art of recalling life experiences as an African American from the South, North, and parts of Europe (Gilmore, 42). His work includes iconography made up of traveling trains, migrants, the “conjure” woman, jazz, musicians, and animals.
In his 1978 work, Sunset to Moonrise: Maudell Sleet, Bearden honored women’s work and African American domesticity. The fact that Maudell Sleet’s hands are greatly enlarged reflects more than just a juxtaposition with her body. He adds meaning and an indication of matriarchal power. He identifies the woman as the rock of the home, one that is capable of both ”men’s” and “women’s” work. The character of Maudell Sleet remained in Bearden’s mind for her overflowing garden ever since childhood (Gilmore, 58).
Bearden, Romare. Sunset to Moonrise: Maudell Sleet
The texture and color in this collage demonstrates Bearden’s unique style. Southern vernacular is depicted by the garden, the expansive sky and moon, and Maudell Sleet’s attire. It conveys the hard work of African American women in the South during the early 1900’s. By creating such a strong piece made up of a strong figure, he tells part of the African American woman’s story during Jim Crow shortly before the revolutionary Civil Rights Movement took place in America.
Jose Clemente Orozco was born in Mexico City, Mexico. Orozco became captivated by Mexico City’s first well-known printmaker, Jose Guadalupe Posada (Encyclopedia Brittanica). His strong images embodying politics and crime heavily influenced Orozco. After losing one hand in a laboratory accident, his passion for painting was renewed. One of his teachers at the Academy of San Carlos urged artists to embrace Mexican culture through their work and to reject the European cultural and artistic domination. However, once he visited England, France, Spain, and Italy, he became especially inspired by Michelangelo and Pablo Picasso. Orozco became one of Mexico’s most well-known muralists in fresco. However, his experience as a caricaturist for an opposition newspaper and his involvement in politics is evident in his later works (The Art Story).
In his 1949 work, Father Hidalgo, Orozco depicts Miguel Hidalgo, a heroin of Mexico’s War of Independence. It is representative of his rallying efforts towards natives of Mexico to fight for independence (The Art Story). The influence of both indigenous art and modernist abstract art play key roles in the artist’s use of vibrant colors and technique. The only figure in this piece is painted in stark, sobering shades of gray to contrast the fiery, orange background. Like Maudell Sleet, Hidalgo’s hands are emphasized providing proof of his hard work, weariness, and strength. The swirling of his paint strokes throughout the entire piece achieves a feeling of chaos and desperation most likely felt during the Mexican Revolution. In the mural, Hidalgo is stern-faced as he looks up to the viewer.
Orozco, Jose Clemente. Miguel Hidalgo
Through these works, Romare Bearden and Jose Clemente Orozco depict those affected by oppression, racial discrimination, and economic discrimination. They offer a single story by introducing a single prominent figure in each piece. By telling a single story, many unique histories and struggles are not told, but they both show the importance of art as a sharer of life before change (Maudell Sleet) and life during revolution (Miguel Hidalgo). These pieces are also telling of humanity. They are both the product of two very different artists influenced by two very different cultures. However, they share an identity as artists and play a role in our understanding of history today. By being unique, these pieces distinguish art as a universal language communicating across all cultures. One that works towards the single story of ‘humanity’ by depicting only human struggles that all civilizations have faced. This proposes the idea that perhaps struggle just comes with being human.
Bearden, Romare. Sunset to Moonrise: Maudell Sleet.
Orozco, Jose Clemente. Miguel Hidalgo.
“Romare Bearden Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. The Art Story, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2017. <http://www.theartstory.org/artist-bearden-romare.htm>.
Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth. “Romare Bearden’s Mecklenburg Memories.” Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections, Mint Museum, 2011.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Jose Clemente Orozco.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 29 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2017. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jose-Clemente-Orozco>.
“Jose Clemente Orozco Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. The Art Story, n.d. Web. 13, Dec. 2017. <http://www.theartstory.org/artist-orozco-jose-clemente-artworks.htm>.