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José Clemente Orozco

José Clemente Orozco
Graphic Work

This fully illustrated volume documents José Clemente Orozco’s finest work as a printmaker in lithography and intaglio.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

January 2004
159 pages | 8.5 x 10 | 144 b&w illus. |

Mexican painter José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) was one of the twentieth century's major artists and Mexico's greatest muralist. In addition to his acclaimed work in painting, Orozco was also a skilled and versatile printmaker, architectural draftsman, caricaturist, portraitist, book illustrator, and stage designer for ballet.

This fully illustrated volume documents José Clemente Orozco's finest work as a printmaker in lithography and intaglio. It reproduces lithographs, etchings, preliminary studies, and unfinished pieces, accompanied by catalog entries that record the work's title, date, and (where applicable) printing history. Accompanying the images are an introduction and biography by Orozco's son Clemente Orozco, who offers an insider's perspective on the artist's philosophy and techniques. As a whole, these graphic works demonstrate Orozco's impeccable craftsmanship and creative style, characterized by an elegant compositional clarity and economy of elements. They powerfully confirm the truth of this statement by Orozco: "After all, isn't it possible to make the most marvelous picture with only a pencil on any piece of paper?"

  • List of Plates
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Illustrations
  • Documentation and Supplementary Information
  • Select Bibliography
  • List of Plates

Clemente Orozco is Curator and President of the Fundación José Clemente Orozco in Guadalajara, Mexico.

  1. Requiem
  2. Bandera
  3. Vaudeville, Haarlem N.Y.
  4. Hombres y mujeres caminando
  5. Hombres y tres mujeres
  6. Tres figuras con restos de casa
  7. Hombre con manos sobre la cara
  8. Franciscano (Preparatoria)
  9. Cabeza de mujer
  10. Mujer grávida
  11. La familia
  12. Esquina de casa y figuras
  13. Magueyes, nopal y figuras
  14. Dos magueyes y dos mujeres
  15. Dos manos
  16. Cerros y figuras
  17. Casas y mujeres
  18. Manos enlazadas
  19. Los sintrabajo
  20. Negros colgados
  21. Rocks
  22. Turistas y aztecas
  23. Dancing Indians
  24. Generals
  25. Women
  26. Machines
  27. Proletarians
  28. Wild Party
  29. Parade
  30. The Masses
  31. La Chata
  32. Prometeo
  33. Serpientes
  34. Cabeza y manos
  35. Two Idle Men
  36. Man with Crutches
  37. Woman's Profile
  38. Woman with Light Colored Eyes
  39. Woman with Earrings
  40. Two Women, One with Headdress
  41. Outlined Clown
  42. Clowns
  43. Clown with Hat
  44. Clown with World
  45. Acrobats
  46. Contortionists
  47. Woman with Tousled Hair
  48. Orozco always started a new work with great alacrity and professional passion, whether he dealt with formidable projects or with works in the simplest format.

    And after all, isn't it possible to make the most marvelous picture with only a pencil on any piece of paper?

    (Orozco on his exhibition in 1947, "Notas acerca de la técnica de la pintura mural")

    And in fact Orozco did this on stone. He chose lithography to begin his production in 1928 in New York, in a situation that led him to consider pragmatic aspects such as fast diffusion of his work, creating "serious art" of his own taste "without making any concession" (Cartas a Margarita, p. 104). He had brought with him from Mexico a series of drawings whose themes and plastic quality made them ideal material for lithographs.

    Orozco's graphic works share with his painting a line of continuity which endows them with a singular coherence. The artist's application of a systematic method—an algorithm—allowed him control of the artifice in all of his creations, as evidenced by the great number of designs prior to his final work. The significance of his work accentuated his emphasis on conceptual and formal aspects.

    The artist's unmistakable imprint is immediately recognizable in his impeccable craftsmanship and his creative style: great compositional elegance determined by the combination of clarity and simplicity of the idea and the implicit suggested complexity, solved with a prodigious economy of elements. With a few strokes he is capable of constructing subject, figure, and action.

    For this particular technique, in accordance with his usual style, Orozco integrated the surface of the lithographic stone and the design itself, as a binary system of colors, obtaining dazzling whites and surprising effects of light and shade.

    Orozco tempered different intensities and rhythms, embodying them in the finished process. Thus one can find solemn and serene works with religious connotations next to violent works full of energy. When seen in their totality, they register a broad thematic spectrum: epic, lyric, satirical, compassionate, with a humanistic inspiration and a strong emotional impact.

    Orozco illustrated some of the books in the classical text collection published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) during the tenure of José Vasconcelos, secretary of public education, in 1923. When one sees the vigorous illustrations in books like the translation of Romain Rolland's Vidas ejemplares: Beethoven, Miguel Ángel, Tolstoy, one can perhaps see Orozco's hand, based on the engraving technique. He did similar prints like Clasped Hands, probably a woodcut, for the newspaper El Machete in the first two weeks of May 1924 (p. 2), as his own words tell us in his Autobiography.

    Orozco dedicated three well-defined periods to this art: 1928-1930, 1935, and 1944, which correspond to the series in New York, in Coyoacán, and on Ignacio Mariscal in Mexico City, respectively.

    From 1928 to 1930 Orozco produced eighteen lithographs. His correspondence, catalogues, newspapers, and publications of that time mention only three before the end of 1928: Bandera, Vaudeville, Haarlem N.Y., and Requiem. These plates already show a perfect mastery, the faithful correlation of brain and hand that is essential for this technique, which does not allow corrections. The fact that Requiem was chosen as one of the fifty best works of the year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts demonstrates this.

    Because of the coherence and significance of Orozco's art, combined with his condition of exile, his lithographs and other works offer a perspective on the territorial and cultural hardships of contemporary Mexico.

    This first group re-creates themes that Orozco had already developed, including four based on the series of drawings and watercolors Horrors of the Revolution or Mexico in Revolution (originated between 1926 and 1927) and eight more based on motifs from his murals in the National Preparatory School (1922 to 1927). Vaudeville, Haarlem N.Y. grew out of a United States vision. During Orozco's stay in Paris in the summer of 1932, he created Los sintrabajo and the unfinished lithograph The Lovers, a replica of a fragment from the mural at Pomona, depicting a couple embracing. After his work at Dartmouth, he returned to New York in 1934, where he produced Negros colgados.

    In the beginning of 1935, in Coyoacán, Orozco created an engraving in wood (lost), a zinc plate (perhaps the first one), and four more in copper. In summer of the same year he produced ten lithographs. He used only two stones, which had to be polished successively to print the rest.

    Finally, in his house on Ignacio Mariscal in Mexico City in 1944, Orozco etched twelve metal plates for his exposition in El Colegio Nacional. In order to enjoy the process and to attain quality that could completely satisfy him, he acquired a press that the family kept. It was used for a posthumous printing in 1950, because the plates were almost new; a portfolio with the seventeen etchings in metal from 1935 and 1944 plus a photograph of Pontificador was published.

    My intention in this book is to present the graphic collection recognized by the artist himself and the relevant works: sketches, projects, tracings, and some artist's proofs of the stages prior to the final editions.

    The definitive work illustrated here contains thirty lithographs, seventeen etchings, and the unfinished works The Lovers, Pontificador, and Cabeza de hombre bocetada.

    As he did in other media, Orozco took lithography to its extreme aesthetic possibilities. It is logical to assume that being a monumental painter compelled him to reach superior artistic achievements in any form, making him completely contemporary.

    This unsurpassed work inaugurates a wealth of new expressive dimensions. These images—Requiem, Bandera, Tres figuras con restos de casa, Wild Party, The Masses, and Clown with World—are enough to assure Orozco a place in the history of twentieth-century art.



“This book is a must for all libraries and certainly for any scholar of Mexican art or printmaking. . . . It will also be extremely valuable for collectors, whether institutional or individual, and certainly for museum libraries.”
Jacqueline Barnitz, Professor of Art and Art History, University of Texas at Austin