There are four murals painted by famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera in the Bay area. Seeing a mural by Rivera has been on my bucket list of life experiences to accomplish since I studied his work in college. I love the storytelling nature and accessibility of his art so I’ve set out to see them all.
I started with this article, How to Visit Diego Rivera’s Murals in San Francisco, by the USA Today. It only mentions three murals, and it’s incomplete at best. We can do better. I’ll provide more comprehensive information and photos about each of the three major murals. I hear that the fourth is in a private home in Berkeley. So we’ll have to see about that one!
Rivera in San Francisco
Painted in 1931, ‘The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City’ is the first mural I’ve seen, but it was the second that he painted in San Francisco. (More about the first later.) ‘The Making of a Fresco’ fills the entire wall at the end of a gallery in the San Francisco Art Institute. As the Art Institute’s online account of the piece describes, it’s “visually divided into six sections by a trompe l’oeil wood scaffold.” The foreground shows the artist and crew making the “fresco within fresco,” which show the construction of an industrial city in the background. It can be challenging at times to distinguish between the two.
Can you spot the artist?
Hint: Rivera painted himself from behind, with his back to you and with a little of himself hanging over the scaffolding he’s sitting on. Look at the top center portion of the painting.
Rivera in His Own Words on ‘The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City’
“The wall offered me at the School of Fine Arts was a small one of only 120 square feet, not at all suitable to my purpose, which was to present a dynamic concerto of construction — technicians, planners, and artists working together to create a modern building. Taking advantage of the vague stipulation as to the length of time I might remain in San Francisco, I chose another wall, ten times as big. It was here that I showed how a mural is actually painted: the tiered scaffold, the assistants plastering, sketching, and painting; myself resting at midpoint; and the actual mural subject, a worker whose hand is turning a valve so placed as to seem part of a mechanism of the building.”
– Diego Rivera from My Art, My Life: An Autobiography
Read more on Rivera’s commission at the Art Institute. It provides a good guide for who’s who within the fresco and who might be a part of the ‘Making of the Fresco’ (the trompe l’oeil foreground) and who’s a part of the ‘Making of a City’ (the background). There’s plenty of room for interpretation.
As I mentioned, this was the second of four murals that Rivera painted while in San Francisco. He came to SF shortly after marrying Frida Kahlo as a (paid) honeymoon of sorts. Apparently, Frida had always wanted to visit San Francisco. Who can blame her?
The San Francisco Art Institute is located at 800 Chestnut Street (between Jones and Leavenworth), San Francisco, CA 94133. It’s free and open to the public during normal business hours. I walked in on an ordinary Saturday afternoon to see students setting up a photography exhibit.
Below are pictures of Chestnut Street, the San Francisco Art Institute building, the courtyard, and the red door and entrance to the mural that you’ll see to your left upon entering the courtyard.
The Rest of Rivera’s Murals in San Francisco
If you enjoyed this post, below are the other three murals by Rivera in San Francisco: