Jose Clemente Orozco (1883 – 1949) was a Mexican painter. He was one of the most important representatives of Mexican muralism, he created numerous open-air murals, primarily in Mexico but also in the United States.
His best-known work is probably the mural “The Epic of American Civilization” in the library of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, which he created between 1932 and 1934. Orozco was known for his intense and critical stance toward Mexican society and its ruling elite. His murals often reflect this attitude, as well as his socialist leanings.
Orozco was born in Zapotlán el Grande (now Jerez de García Salinas), Jalisco, the son of a shoemaker. He originally intended to become a doctor, but he abandoned his medical studies after a year and decided to become a painter instead. He began his artistic training at the age of 15 in Guadalajara and later studied art in Europe.
In 1907 he moved to Mexico City, where he came into contact with a group of intellectual artists known as “Los Contemporáneos”. This group was deeply influenced by French Post-Impressionism, as well as by the Mexican indigenous culture. They advocated an art that was accessible to the people and addressed social and political issues.
Orozco was deeply affected by the 1910 Mexican Revolution, which broke out shortly after he arrived in Mexico City. He became involved in the revolutionary movement, and his work began to reflect his socialist ideals. In 1912 he joined the Mexican Communist Party, but he left the party in 1918 because of disagreements with its policies.
During the 1920s Orozco developed a style that was uniquely his own, combining elements of Cubism, Futurism, and indigenous Mexican art. In 1922 he had his first solo exhibition at the Galería de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. His work from this period is characterized by its sharp angles, simplified forms, and bold use of color.
In the early 1930s Orozco lived and worked in the United States, where he was commissioned to create several murals. These include “The Epic of American Civilization” at Dartmouth College; “Prometheus” and “The Virtues of War” at the New School for Social Research in New York; and “Man, Controller of the Universe” at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.
Orozco returned to Mexico in 1934, and he continued to produce murals until his death in 1949. His later work is more subdued in color and form than his earlier work, and it often features dark, tragic subjects.