José Clemente Orozco

José Clemente Orozco’s exquisite preparatory drawings for Prometheus, his powerful mural (measuring 20 x 28’) located in Frary Hall at Pomona College, illustrate his inherent mastery of line and composition. Commissioned in 1930 with the encouragement of Sumner Spalding, the architect of Frary Hall, and Jose Pijoan, a professor of Hispanic civilization and art history at Pomona College, the mural was Orozco’s first work of art in this country and the first Mexican mural in North America. Because of its strong expressionist attributes, the mural caused controversy among the professors, but the students supported the artist by helping raise money to pay his fee. Later, of course, Orozco gained fame as one of “los tres grandes,” the three celebrated Mexican muralists that included Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Advance (Avance), 1940

The preparatory drawings for Prometheus have been in the possession of Orozco’s family for years, and only recently were they acquired by the Pomona College Museum of Art. The seventeen drawings include five compositional sketches for the mural’s four panels and twelve figure studies. The figure studies recall the Mannerist style of Michelanglo’s late work or Pontormo’s elongated bodies, for Orozco uses attenuation and distortion to express a startling range of emotion.

Beautifully composed by Orozco to perfectly fit the architectural space, the mural depicts Prometheus, the mythological titan who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity, and who was then horribly punished by a raging Zeus. His magnificent but anguished figure fills up the apex of the arch, and beams of orange fire radiate out from his powerful hands. Rows of distorted figures reaching for the fire are clustered symmetrically behind him. The incredibly dynamic upward movement induced by the symmetry and action of the figures adds a great sense of psychological tension to the narrative.

Dioses del mundo moderno (1932

The preparatory drawings serve to visually elucidate this masterpiece. Most beautiful is a detailed drawing of the figure of Prometheus that outlines the triangular composition and shows the strong musculature of his body. Humanity is dwarfed beside his magnificent scale, and he seems confined within a space too small for his power. In its skill and beauty of line and modeling, the study measures up to the Renaissance and Mannerist masters that it echoes.

Also highlighting the drawings is a study of a torso for one of the larger human figures, a dynamic image that reveals the inherent movement in the body with strong lines and shadows. Another amazing study entitled Torso With Raised Arm reveals the strength and facility of Orozco’s hand.

Other drawings give fascinating glimpses of Orozco’s leanings towards a very modern expressionism in the mural. Hands are raised in fists or appeal, bodies are stretched upward in determination and all figures are focused on Prometheus and his magnificent gift.

To compress and simplify his message in the main panel, Orozco created a subtle, shifting composition of abstract planes and symbolic flames for the ceiling of the mural. A lovely drawing, Abstract Composition delineates these geometric shapes.


Author: James Presley

I am an artist and I love it. What do I have to do to live from what I love? I'm not dying or cutting me bloody ear off, that's for sure.

3 thoughts on “José Clemente Orozco”


    The wonders of all civilization stand
    Poised on the brink of ruin. In disarray
    Everything seems to crumble; by the way
    The signs prognosticate, men know
    Some ultimate disaster is at hand–
    While in the half light, making little show,
    The artist works meticulous and slow:
    Christo destruye su honrada cruz,
    Jose Clemente works en media luz.

    The wisdome of the ages, writ in books,
    Begins to burn; incendiary flames
    Envelop himankind´s idyllic aims,
    As does amorphous oxygen
    Feed in the smallest crannies, tightest nooks,
    Leaving so little unconsumed; now men
    Begin to panic, trapped as in a pen:
    Christo destruye su honrada cruz,
    Jose Clemente works en media luz.

    Silent the artist carries on his work
    Despite the hubbub and the cries without.
    America is dying; every shout
    Betokens some great harm to come,
    Foretells monstrosity born of a quirk,
    Inherent flaw, as–victims–men succumb
    Unto the depths that they will have to plumb.
    Christo destruye su honrada cruz,
    Jose Clemente works en media luz.

    Emblems of high society, most precious
    That sanctity of honest and unfettered
    Liberal speech, gives way to grunts unlettered,
    To inarticulate slanders, mocks,
    Ridicules and distortions, always vicious,
    Cramping the frightened spirit in a box
    Airtight hermetic sealed, the corpse in stocks.
    Christo destruye su honrada cruz,
    Jose Clemente works en media luz.

    The vanquishment of Christ, because that tribe
    Of Judas–now eleven unto one
    Within America–the Lord does shun
    In shunning the enlightenment,
    Trampling on Darwin´s words, moved by a bribe
    Into betrayal for less than fifty cent,
    Meanwhile the temple´s veil is wholly rent.
    Christo destruye su honrada cruz,
    Jose Clemente works en media luz.

    The Son of Man recedes. As the Red Sea
    That had been parted, swarms above the heads
    OF Pharaoh´s minions in pursuit, he sheds
    All vestige of protective care
    To let be drowned in its ignominy
    This people that had heard, but yet did dare
    To heed not, seeming as though unaware.
    Christo destruye su honrada cruz,
    Jose Clemente works en media luz.


  2. I do not visit this wonderfully informative site as often as I would like, but each time I do I am rewarded with a beautifully rendered effort at presenting art and artists to all who might take the time to be so well entertained. Thank you.


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