The most politically radical of the trio of Mexican muralists known as “the three giants,” David Alfaro Siqueiros sought to create an art that communicated his Communist ideology to a large proletarian audience. Carl Zigrosser of the Weyhe Gallery in New York encouraged Siqueiros to make lithographs while he was exhibiting his work in the city during the 1930s. All in all, the artist made some twenty-five lithographs and a range of woodcuts during his career. Like those of Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, Siqueiros’s lithographs were intended for North American collectors, while his woodcuts had a much broader reach in Mexico, appearing as illustrations in political magazines.
After working for several years in Europe, Siqueiros returned to Mexico City in 1922 to join a group of young artists developing a national mural program. A high-profile Communist party leader and union organizer, Siqueiros edited El Machete, the artists’ union news sheet. It was there that he published his manifesto proclaiming easel painting irrelevant and elitist, and where his popular woodcut illustrations in the tradition of Mexico’s José Guadalupe Posada appeared.
This portrait lithograph was completed after Siqueiros’s six-month incarceration for Communist activities, while he was living in Taxco under “town arrest.” Like other lithographs published by the Weyhe Gallery, this one was made by transporting drawings, printing proofs, and possibly even lithographic stones back and forth between the United States and Mexico. The subject, Moisés Sáenz, was an innovative educator who had engineered a system of schools in rural Mexico and had become Siqueiros’s patron and supporter during a very difficult period in the artist’s life. Related to a similar painting, this likeness exaggerates Sáenz’s features, isolating and monumentalizing his head to present the man as a timeless presence.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Harper Montgomery, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 127.