A handful of months ago we started planning our expedition to San Francisco, California. For Anita, it was mostly business as we would arrive a week early for her official stay and attendance to Graduate school at San Francisco State University for the next two years, but for me it was a weeks filled art vacation to the Bay Area. A couple months prior to our road trip I did some research on art related latino events and places of interest to visit in the Bay Area. We spent a total of 6 days in the San Francisco area, enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of S.F., and in a few different segments I will bring you the arte we visited.
(TOP: Entrance to the Diego Rivera theater at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) where “Pan American Unity” Fresco mural is located)
(Bottom: Panoramic image I captured of Maestro Diego Rivera’s “Pan American Unity” mural)
First on the list and most awe-inspiring of our art filled days would be visiting three Diego Rivera murals in the San Francisco area in one afternoon. The three frescos we visited were, 1) "Pan American Unity" at City College of San Francisco (CCSF), 2) "The Allegory of California at the San Francisco City Club (formerly the Stock Exchange building) and, 3) " The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City" at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). Mr. Rivera's works fall into the Mexican Modern art category, but I wanted to share these Mexican masterpieces that are located in the United States. I have not yet had the opportunity to view Diego's other murals across the world. These three frescos would be my introduction to his mural works. Prior to this outing I had only been able to survey Mr. Rivera's smaller works, like his paintings and sketches within a museum setting. Up until my research I had only known of one Diego Rivera mural located in San Francisco, California. Which was “Pan American Unity” at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). After learning that there were four in the Bay Area our plan was to view all or most of the fresco murals. The mural we did not visit was at UC Berkley, which will be first on our list to view upon our return to the Bay Area.
The first mural we chose to visit was "Pan American Unity", which is located at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) in the Diego Rivera Theater and created in 1940. This was my personal favorite of all three we visited, it was also the mural I was most knowledgeable of all visited. Walking into the Diego Rivera Theater I was astonished and instantly halted in my tracks from the shear size and beauty of the Fresco in person. At that moment Mr. Rivera’s largest single standing mural, almost 1800 square feet, overcame my visual sense and I meticulously appreciated every detail in this ten steel-framed panel fresco mural. It was a moving experience to finally set my eyes on a mural(s) of my favored Mexican Master painter, Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez. Out of the five individual titled panels, the sections I contemplated the most on in the "Pan American Unity" fresco were, Panel #1 The Creative Genius of the South Growing from Religious Fervor and the Native Talent for Plastic Expression, for the interpretation of Aztec and Mexican culture in the mural. Panel #3 The Plastification of the Creative Power of the Northern Mechanism by Union with the Plastic Tradition of the South, it is always interesting to observe Diego's depictions of Frida Kahlo, I was also drawn to the Ceiba tree: Mayan Tree of Life depicted in the panel which looked as if the paint was luminescent. And Panel #4 Trends of Creative Effort in the United States. The Rise of Woman in Various Fields of Creative Endeavor Through her Use of Power of Manmade Machinery, I pondered on the depiction in the panel where Mr. Rivera attacks the World War II Axis’ tyranny by depicting scenes from Hollywood movies.
Diego Rivera - “The Allegory of California” Fresco at the San Francisco City Club (formerly Pacific Stock Exchange building), San Francisco, California
After basking in the “Pan American Unity” mural and all its glory, we were ready to move on and visit his next fresco entitled, "The Allegory of California" at the San Francisco City Club (formerly the Stock Exchange building) downtown. Which was a 15-20 minute drive into the city from the CCSF campus. Making it to downtown S.F., we found a public parking garage and prepared for a 20 minute slog to the second mural. Arriving at the San Francisco City Club, we walked into a amazing Art Deco designed lobby where as if I felt I had traveled back in time. That is where we were greeted by the friendly attendant who directed us to the tenth floor where Mr. Rivera’s mural is located. A quick trip up on the elevator,exiting and turning the corner my eyes first caught a glimpse of the Art Deco stairway which was also very couth. As I slowly looked up, there it was, "The Allegory of California" a glorious floor to ceiling fresco painted by Diego Rivera in 1930. What I learned about the mural was the central figure, which is a woman represents the bountiful state of California. The depiction is also a portrait of tennis player, Helen Wills Moody who has been described as "the first American born woman to achieve international celebrity as an athlete." I was most captivated with the section of the fresco on the ceiling, and was trying to imagine where and how Diego erected the ladder and scaffolding in such a tight and odd space. However that happened it worked with astounding results. "The Allegory of California" was the smallest of the three murals we viewed, but still was impressive and monumental. After appreciating the fresco and the Art Deco design building it was housed in, we moved on to our next and last mural of the afternoon, "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City" at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI).
(Diego Rivera - ” The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City” at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) 1931)
Another walk, 10-15 minutes this time from San Francisco City Club to the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), we arrived to visit " The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City", created in 1931. Walking up to the SFAI campus I noticed the architectural hodgepodge of buildings and styles, from modern looking conical skylights, to elements of both Italian and Spanish colonial. Entering through the SFAI campus we proceeded through the courtyard made a left to enter the Diego Rivera Gallery where "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City" is housed. Walking into the student-directed gallery I first took notice of the high ceilings and large skylights. With no artificial lighting the natural rays of the sun come through for optimum optical viewing of the fresco. My attention then turned to the "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City" mural. Anita and I first took notice in the trompe o’lei scaffolding depicted in the fresco, which was an approach we had never observed Diego Rivera take in his works. I then Recalled I had viewed one of his cubist paintings, in turn then recollected reading about Mr. Rivera’s travels through Europe in the early 1900’s. That is where I imagine Diego could have viewed and studied artworks with the Baroque practice of the optical illusion. The rest of the mural was created in what I thought was Diego’s signature style which this mural could never be mistaken for any other artist.
After viewing "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of A City" we took a self tour of the SFAI campus which had great views of Coit Tower, the bay, and Alcatraz Island.
It was a great day spending the day absorbing the Arts and Culture of San Francisco, California on foot.
I will be making occasional trips to the Bay Area for the next two years visiting Anita, so stay tuned for CAM in S.F. coverage.
More images at CHICANO ART MOVEMENT/Facebook