While researching for my work in progress "Schindler-Scheyer-Eaton-Ain: A Case Study in Adobe" I learned that renowned Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco spent two formative years in San Francisco during World War I. Very little has been written about this part of his fascinating life. With this I hope to spark more research into this seminal period in the evolution of modernism in the Bay Area art scene.
Jose Clemente Orozco, 1925, attributed to Edward Weston. From Avant-Garde Art and Artists in Mexico: Anita Brenner's Journals of the Roaring Twenties, edited by Susannah Joel Glusker, University of Texas Press, 2010, p. 146.
Orozco, Jose Clemente, "Los Neo-Serviles," illustration from El Ahuizote, October 17, 1911. From Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1920-1950 edited by Matthew Affron et al, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2016, p. 24.
Like many other refugees from the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution, Orozco made his way north of the border to explore the wonders of California and perhaps find an atmosphere more amenable to creating art. He heard enticing stories from friends preceding him to the U.S. such as newspaperman Joaquin Pina, who right after the outbreak of the Revolution had gotten him work as a politcal cartoonist with the satirical journal El Ahuizote (see above).
Orozco, Jose Clemente, "Only at the Cost of Their Blood Do the People Take Their Freedom," illustration from La Vanguardia, May 14, 1915. (Ibid, p. 25).
In 1915 Orozco joined the House of the World Workers, a Revolutionary group which took over the Los Dolores Church in Orizaba. Under the editorship of his idol and early teacher Dr. Atl, Orozco provided the illustrations and political cartoons for the group's propagandist revolutionary organ La Vanguardia. (see above and below).
Orozco, Jose Clemente, "What should I serve father, whiskey or tequila?" illustration from La Vanguardia, May 19, 1915. (The Press and Revolution in Mexico, La Vanguardia, 1915 by Elissa Rashkin, 2008, p. 15).
Orozco, Jose Clemente, "House of Tears: The Pimp's Dance I," watercolor, 1913-16. (Ibid, p. 22.).
Pina was by 1916 working as a reporter for the Spanish language newspaper La Cronica in San Francisco. His encouraging letters convinced a curious Orozco to pack his paintings and leave his studio and head north in hopes of a Bay Area exhibition. Orozco was detained in Laredo, Texas where over 60 of the devastated artist's paintings were confiscated and destroyed due to their "illicit" subject matter after an earlier than expected solo exhibition curated by the border agents (see above and below for example). (Jose Clemente Orozco: An Autobiography translated by Robert C. Stephenson, University of Texas Press, 1962, pp. 59-66).
Orozco, Jose Clemente, "House of Tears: The Pimp's Hour," watercolor, 1913-16. From Jose Clemente Orozco in the United States, 1927-1934, edited by Renato Gonzales Mello and Diane Miliotes, Norton, 2002, p. 23.
Orozco wrote in his autobiography,
"The pictures were far from immoral, there was nothing shameless about them, there weren't even any nudes, but the officials were firm in the conviction that they were protecting the purity and innocence of North America from stain, or else that domestic concupiscence was in sufficient supply, without any need to be augmented from abroad." (Stephenson, p. 60).
Revista de Revistas, Cinco de Mayo, 1912. Cover art by J. A. Vargas. From SMU Digital Collections.
After making his way to San Francisco Orozco reunited with Pina who introduced him to his editor and publisher Fernando R. Galvan, another refugee from the Revolution. Galvan had come to San Francisco and became involved with La Cronica around the time of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. He became editor and publisher sometime in 1916. Before coming to the U.S. Galvan had edited Revista de Revistas (see above) in Mexico City from 1912 to 1914.
La Cronica, October 15, 1916 edited by Fernando R. Galvan. From Historical Newspapers Online.
In what may have been his first mention in an American newspaper, seemingly Pina reported in the above October 1916 issue of La Cronica on Orozco's first one-man exhibition in Mexico City at the Gamoneda Biblos Bookstore. This indicated that they may have been corresponding and/or that Pina or someone else at the paper may have seen the below review of Orozco's exhibition in Mexico City's La Republica by his close friend Raziel Cabildo. (Stephenson, p. 33).
Cabildo, Raziel, "Artes plásticas: la exposición de J.C. Orozco en la casa Biblos." La República: Semanario polítio (México D. F., Mexico), September 29, 1916, 9-10. From the Museum of Fune Arts Houston Digital Archives.
Cabildo's review described Orozco as the “most repudiated, the most contradicted, the least understood artist in Mexico because of the themes he explored, the brothels of the city, and the use of a technique based in caricature." The paintings were mainly from the same 1913-16 "House of Tears" series destroyed by the Laredo border agents. The exhibition took place at above-mentioned Gamoneda's Biblos Bookstore, located in the historic center of Mexico City, after the Academia de Bellas Artes had refused to show his works. In a November companion review in the same publication Francisco Monterde cited the lack of understanding of Orozco’s work as stemming from those who do not understand that there is a “powerful youth that destroyed a regime and is changing the milquetoast spirit of the country.” (Fradique [Monterde, Francisco], "Artes plásticas: los pintores jaliscienses: José Clemente Orozco,"La República: Semanario polítio (México D. F., Mexico), November 22, 1916, 9-10. From the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Digital Archives.
Market Street military parade, 1918. From San Francisco Public Library Digital Photo Collection.
Orozco wrote about the patriotic war fervor permeating the streets of San Francisco after his arrival (see above for example).
"We heard the song "Over There" at all hours. The air was thick with it. ... The Devil, for the moment, was the Kaiser, the Number One Enemy of Democracy, and everywhere his effigy was to be encountered, with his aggressive mustachios and his helmet." (Stephenson, p. 63).
Galvan and Orozco became fast friends and decided to go into business together. They at first discussed opening a gallery with Orozco painting and Galvan selling. Around the end of 1917 Galvan apparently sold La Cronica to Pina who continued publishing the weekly under the new Hispano-America masthead. (Hispanic Periodicals in the United States, Origins to 1960: A Brief History by Nicolás Kanellos, Arte Publico Press, Houston, 2000, p. 200 and "Breve Historia de "La Cronica" Hoy "Hispano-America," Hispano-America, May 10, 1919, p. 2).
Galvan and Orozco leased a large space in an industrial building at 1322 Howard Street (see below). Here they built an artist studio, frame shop and living quarters and put up a huge sign advertising Fernando R. Galvan and Company. (Orozco and Galvan, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, September 12, 1918. From Ancestry.com).
Site of the Fernando R. Galvan and Company, 1322 Howard St., San Francisco. From Google Maps.
As were the border agents in Laredo and most of the Mexico City art critics, Galvan was not enthusiastic about the commercial value of the surviving paintings in Orozco's portfolio thus they agreed to branch out into commercial graphic advertising work. As they moved forward Galvan acted as salesman-dealer-framer and Orozco provided the art work. Most of their product consisted of "hand-painted" announcements and posters for local movie houses. After they quickly learned the trick of manipulating the colored lithographs the theaters gave them as models with a few strategic brush strokes of oil paint they could produce and frame a week's worth of posters in less than an hour (see below for example). This easily allowed plenty of time for extensive Bay Area sight-seeing and carousing by Orozco. (Stephenson, p. 65).
Typical period theater lobby posters, Acme Theater, Stockton near Broadway, 1918.
Montgomery and Washington Streets arts district just after the 1906 earthquake. The buildings were quickly restored and occupied by local artists. From San Francisco Public Library Digital Photo Collection.
"I would visit the University of California, or the Bohemian quarters of San Francisco, with their cabarets, their dance halls, their Italian restaurants, and their saloons in the style of the Forty-niners, decorated with photographs of the most celebrated Mexican bandits of the time, that is, the dispossessed, who had been driven from their lands. Through this district, (see above) and through the studios of sculptors and painters there, passed the joyous, noisy, money-laden crowd which filled this world. There was a restaurant called "Coppa," decorated by the many painters in San Francisco. Uprooted artists could dine there a few times in exchange for pictures drawn on the walls. Happily I was not reduced to painting anything for the Coppa. The time for murals had not yet arrived." (Ibid, pp. 65-66).
Interior of Coppa's "Red Paint" Restaurant, 534 Washington St., San Francisco ca. 1918.
The artistic circle at Coppa's Orozco would undoubtedly have become an intimate part of included Mexican ex-patriot Xavier Martinez and the faculty of the newly formed California School of Fine Arts which included Maynard Dixon, Ralph Stackpole, Gottardo Piazzoni, Spencer Macky and others. The walls of Coppa's "Red Paint" were irreverantly covered with the colorful murals of this rowdy group. Attracted by their Bohemian artistic sensibilities an intrigued Orozco enrolled in classes at the new school and likely received some early muralistic inspiration during this period.
Interior of Coppa's "Red Paint" Restaurant, 534 Washington St., San Francisco ca. 1918. From The Life of Maynard Dixon by Donald J. Hagerty, Gibbs-Smith, 2010, p. 121.
Northwest corner of Washington and Sansome Streets. The site of Coppa's was the third building from the right at 534 Washington St. From San Francisco Public Library Digital Photo Collection.
California School of Fine Arts faculty, ca. 1919-20. From period catalogue.
In his oral history Spencer Macky remembered Orozco's time at the California School of Fine Arts,
"Stackpole, one of our faculty, had been to Mexico and had worked with Diego Rivera. Ralph Stackpole was quite a significant character here, you know sculptor and somewhat of a painter. And he was the one who told us about Rivera. Long before this time I used to teach Orozco. He was in my classes for drawing for two years as a young man. It was just around 1917 or '18 that Orozco came up as a refugee. He'd been in a revolution down there and had lost one of his arms; his right arm, I think, and he could work with his left. An amazingly clever person. And I taught him drawing there. ... He was a student when the school was at the site of the Mark Hopkins Hotel (see below).
San Francisco Institute of Art, California and Mason Streets, Nob Hill, Loring Rixford, architect, 1907. (From "Work Begun on Temporary Building for Art Association," San Francisco Call, February 4, 1907, p. 5).
A few years later he came back to pay us a visit in this new school which I designed, the School of Fine Arts on Chestnut Street in San Francisco (see below), and he said, "Oh, I'll paint you a mural to go on that tower in memory of our old days when I was a student of this school."
California School of Fine Arts, Chestnut and Jackson Streets, San Francisco, Bakewell and Brown, architects, 1927. From San Francisco Public Library Digital Photo Collection.
I remember distinctly [his work] was rather crude, you know. He was instinctively rather crude and rough. I didn't think much of him myself, to tell you the truth. He probably didn't work carefully enough, but nevertheless he was evidently away ahead of me in his ideas of vigor and strength and all that sort of thing.
He didn't stay here, except to my knowledge, as a student. And later  I met him with his lady friend [Alma Reed] who was the one who pushed him and was his mouthpiece, a very dynamic person, who exploited him, pushed him forward, introduced him, and interpreted him to the American public, just like Madam ... Scheyer ... the lady who brought the Blue Four out here from Germany." (E. Spencer Macky and Constance Macky Reminiscences, oral interview by Corinne L. Gilb, Bancroft Library, U.C.-Berkeley, 1954, pp. 82, 87)
By like token Orozco was not impressed with the level of modernism being taught in San Francisco's art schools. He recollected in his autobiography,
"Art in San Francisco was one hundred percent academic. Even New York was as yet untouched by the Modern Art of the Paris School, with which as yet only a select minority was acquainted." (Stephenson, p. 66).
As Macky related above, Orozco and his New York dealer Alma Reed arrived in San Francisco from Los Angeles in June of 1930. Having just completed "Prometheus" at Pomona College to much fanfare he was in search of walls for another mural. Orozco and Reed, formerly from San Francisco, spent a delightful summer in the Bay Area reconnecting with old friends, exhibiting his recent work and preparing for an important upcoming exhibition of Mexican art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Orozco must have been somewhat dismayed to learn of Stackpole's and Macky's involvement in planning Rivera's imminent murals for the Pacific Stock Exchange Building and the California School of Fine Arts. (For much more on Orozco's 1930 time in Los Angeles, Carmel and San Francisco see my "Brett Weston's Smokestacks and Pylons, 1927").
Orozco thoroughly enjoyed reliving his earlier time in San Francisco. Alma Reed wrote of this period,
"After long hours at the easel, evening found Orozco ready and eager to enjoy the diversions for which San Francisco is world renowned. There was always a choice of numerous theaters, French, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese restaurants, studio parties on Telegraph and Russian Hills, motor drives with one of my sisters or brothers at the wheel and a car full of pleasant friends. Orozco used to delight in driving at sunset through Golden Gate Park and along the several-mile stretch of white beach between the Cliff House with its famed seal rocks and the eucalyptus-lined road that turned inland to wind around Twin Peaks. Usually he would propose a brisk walk for a few blocks along the [Great] [H]ighway that he liked to call 'the last street of the Western Hemisphere.'" (Orozco by Alma Reed, Oxford University Press, 1956, p. 195. Author's note: Orozco's 1917-19 friend and partner Fernando Galvan was listed in the 1919 City Directory as living at 1686 Great Highway a few blocks south of Golden Gate Park).
Woodrow Wilson in San Francisco, September 27, 1919.
Orozco ended his San Francisco stay in September of 1919 when he decided to leave for New York. In his autobiography he remembered the exact day he left.
"Tired of San Francisco, I determined to move on to New York. At the very moment when I was on my way to take the train across the continent, Woodrow Wilson was arriving on his tour of the country in support of the league of Nations. He stood in his automobile (see above), smiling, his hat in his hand. The crowd was portentously silent, in sign of disagreement and protest. It was clear that the League was an intolerable farce." (Stephenson, p. 66).
Orozco at work at the National Preparatory School, Mexico City, 1926. Photo by Tina Modotti. From Glusker, p. 21.
In closing, it is intriguing to imagine Orozco and his 1926 mural chronicler Tina Modotti (see above) crossing paths during his 1917-19 stay in San Francisco. Modotti was just achieving a modicum of fame within the Italian theatrical troupe La Moderna at the Washington Square Theater depicted in the below announcement. This was just a few blocks west of Orozco's art circle hangouts. How ironic would it have been if Galvan had lined La Moderna up as theater poster clients. (For much more on this see my "The Schindlers and the Hollywood Art Association." For much more on Orozco's time in Los Angeles and New York see my "Richard Neutra and the California Art Club." For much on Modotti's early stage and movie career see my "Tina Modotti, Lloyd Wright and Otto Bollman Connections,1920").
La Moderna Theater Poster, 1918. From Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti by Patricia Albers, University of California Press, 2002, p. 112.