Francisco de la Mora’s Diego Rivera and critic José Luis Pescador – loud anthem to a radical artist | Comics and graphic novels
In this frenetic and flashy new graphic biography of Diego Rivera by Francisco de la Mora and José Luis Pescador, the Mexican artist’s third wife (and fourth: they married twice) appears only fleetingly. We don’t know where or how they met; the powerful connection between them, never fully explained, must simply be taken for granted by the reader. But perhaps the authors think Frida Kahlo has been getting a little too much attention lately: who could forget the winding lines at the V&A show of her work in 2018? In their book, therefore, it is Rivera who takes center stage. Like a raging bull, rushing into the ring for a fight, he dominates every page, all bristling melodrama and animal energy.
“There have been two big crashes in my life,” Kahlo said. “Diego was by far the worst.” Surely there’s hyperbole in that statement, even if Rivera makes her unhappy at times (the two have been unfaithful on several occasions). But you get its meaning: the sense of collision that accompanied her husband wherever he went. Although his talent was prodigious – he went to art school at 11 – he often struggled to find his place in a life that was by all accounts overcrowded with incident. Born in 1886, Rivera was the son of a journalist involved in revolutionary politics, instincts he would share. Traveling in Europe, he meets Lenin in Paris and Stalin in Moscow; later he offered refuge to Trotsky during his Mexican exile. But revolutionaries come in many forms. If he was the talkative—even after the rise of stardom, he remained proudly un-clubbable—he was also easily distracted, usually (but not exclusively) by women.
De la Mora and Pescador pick and choose when it comes to biographical details. They ignore, for example, Rivera’s Jewishness on his mother’s side – his family was supposed to have reverse history (ancestors forced to convert to Catholicism) – something he says influenced both his art and his politics. But predictably, they’re captivated – and who can blame them? – through his years in Paris, where he met Braque, Picasso and Modigliani and embraced Cubism (a passion that did not last). There may be a little too much wild sex in their book – the windchests are still moaning; women are ecstatic at the slightest touch of him – but they benefit both from his return to Mexico and, later, from his time in the United States, where he accepted commissions from giants of capitalism such as John Dr. Rockefeller.
Pescador, who illustrates, has a sense of the epic scene; he knows how to do it, get away from the frame, open things up. Representing the artist at work on his fresco The history of Mexico in the stairwell of the National Palace in Mexico City – Rivera’s Sistine Chapel, it took six years to complete – he uses fold-out pages, the better to give us a 360 degree view of the show and the result is quite magnificent , a moment of calm in a sometimes very noisy story. Rivera and Kahlo, now in wheelchairs, are tiny on a landing. Like two small children, their chins are lifted, their eyes still looking up. Here is his vision, vast, teeming and fervent, and it seems that even they must struggle to understand it all.