José Clemente Orozco

By: William Nericcio
November 23, 2014


One of the four horsemen (along with Diego Rivera, Davíd Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo) of Mexican muralism, JOSÉ CLEMENTE OROZCO (1883–1949) lost a hand at age 21, while making fireworks. With his other hand, he’d lace walls with evocative, outsized portraitures and scenes filled with sex and violence, which have come to symbolize the chaos of post-revolutionary Mexico — bad and good — in the 20th century. His murals, which marry architecture with painting, are massive because they document and evoke massive social and cultural forces at work; they transform, and transform you, as you stroll past them. From 1927–34, Orozco left traces of Mexican muralism at American universities — like tags on Uncle Sam’s garage. I’m particularly fond of The Epic of American Civilization (1932–34), in Dartmouth College’s Baker-Berry Library, in which gods (Quetzalcoatl) and men (revolutionaries, generals, robed scholars) jostle for elbow room. Professors, too, Orozco’s mural informs us, are reactionary collaborators; even as wars rage outside the Ivory Tower, and bankers gobble up money, academe is often the midwife to sterile (stillborn) knowledge. Does Dartmouth appreciate this pointed irony? Perhaps they just don’t get it.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Harpo Marx, Miley Cyrus, El Lissitzky.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Psychonaut (1874–1883) and Modernist (1884–93) Generations.


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