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The paintings of Jose Clemente Orozco

09/19/02 12:00AM By Lois Eby
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(Host) Commentator Lois Eby says that a current show at the Hood Museum of Art unites art, politics, history and human suffering.

(Eby) The Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco lived and painted in the United States from 1927 to 1934. During those 7 years, he completed three important murals, a series of works about the Mexican revolution, numerous paintings of New York and the American scene, and a series of lithographic prints. A large show at The Hood Museum of Art, in Hanover, NH is featuring many of these works through December 15.

Orozco's work is engaged and powerful. His complex compositions convey the tragic nature of war and the destructive effects of greed. The moving drawings in graphite and ink in Orozco's series called The Mexican Revolution mourn the human consequences of violent conflict - the cruelties of revenge, the rapes, the grieving women and destroyed villages. These drawings, each one a protest against war, express ancient and ever-present human terror and grief.

Another fascinating aspect of Orozco's work is his response to New York and the United States. He admired industry, technology and democracy, yet also clearly saw their failings. One of the most remarkable paintings in this group is a large oil titled "The Dead." Its subject is skyscrapers falling at odd angles. This work was painted in 1931, possibly as a response to the Stock Market crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed. Viewed now from the perspective of September 11, "The Dead" seems to foretell the future.

The exhibition also includes preliminary studies for the three murals, which Orozco did in the United States. One of the murals, called "The Epic of American Civilization," is in the basement level Reserve Reading Room of the Baker Library at Dartmouth College. If you haven t seen the mural at Dartmouth, this fall would be an ideal time, since you can also see preparatory drawings at the Hood.

Feelings and ideas run deep in Orozco's work. He envisions a peaceful and productive society. He also confronts the viewer with the evil that can and sometimes does arise out of government, military, religious, and educational institutions to threaten enlightened, civil society. In Orozco's work these destructive forces are both outside us and within us.

One can appreciate the achievement of Orozco's work at a glance. Understanding the history and ideas behind it takes time. Whether raising questions about the artist's role in society, the relationship between good and evil, or the rights of common people and the achievements of civilization, Orozco's work is as relevant today and as challenging to the status quo as it has ever been.

This is Lois Eby.

Lois Eby is a painter who comments on the arts, women's issues and civil rights.
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