Collective Suicide is an apocalyptic vision of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Siqueiros shows armored Spanish troops advancing on horseback, a bowed captive staggering before them in chains. The broken statue of a god demonstrates the ruin of the indigenous culture. Chichimec Indians, separated from their tormentors by a churning pit, slaughter their own children, hang themselves, stab themselves with spears, or hurl themselves from cliffs rather than submit to slavery.
Siqueiros, one of the Mexican mural painters of the 1920s and 1930s, advocated what he called “a monumental, heroic, and public art.” An activist and propagandist for social reform, he was politically minded even in his choices of materials and formats: rejecting what he called “bourgeois easel art,” he used commercial and industrial paints and methods. Collective Suicide is both a memorial to the doomed pre-Hispanic cultures of the Americas and a rallying cry against contemporary totalitarian regimes.
Gallery label from 2013.
Of Los tres grandes (The Big Three) Mexican muralists, Siqueiros was the youngest and the most politically radical. His artistic career was repeatedly interrupted by his fervent political activity and frequent imprisonment. He fought in the revolutionary army during the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), in the 1920s he organized a mineworkers union, in late 1936 he joined the republicans to fight against fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), and as an ardent Stalinist he helped orchestrate the unsuccessful assassination of Leon Trotsky in 1940.
Siqueiros was passionately committed to technical innovation. He believed that revolutionary art called for revolutionary techniques and materials and considered the paintbrush “an implement of hair and wood in an age of steel.” Collective Suicide offers a compendium of the radical techniques the artist explored as part of the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop he founded in New York in 1936. He airbrushed paint across the top third of the panel and used stencils to depict the vast army of invading seventeenth-century Spanish conquistadors on horseback (lower right) and Chichimec Indians leaping to their deaths to avoid subjugation (left). The swirling vortexes are pools of fast-drying commercial lacquer typically used on cars. A member of the workshop later recalled that they applied this paint “in thin glazes or built it up into thick gobs. We poured it, dripped it, splattered it, and hurled it at the picture surface.” Siqueiros’s radical experiments proved influential for Abstract Expressionist artist Jackson Pollock, in particular, who was a member of the Workshop.
Gallery label from 2009.