DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
GENETICALLY, THIS BOOK BEGAN as a newspaper interview which Rivera granted me in the spring of 1944. But it did not begin to assume the proportions of a book -- even in my mind -- until the following year when we first discussed my writing it. I spent six months with Rivera in 1945, working hard at what he would call "the preliminary sketch." In the years that followed, usually summers, I would go down to Mexico for a month or two to review and supplement my notes and to find out what "news" had occurred since my previous visit. Diego Rivera's was an active and many-sided personality: his mind was quick, his imagination staggering; so there was always much to be added. The interviews which began in 1944 ended in 1957 because my notes, now bulking over two thousand pages, suggested that I might now have all I needed.
From the outset, Rivera framed much of his dialogue in the form of short personal narratives, and these narratives compose the skeleton as well as much of the meat of this book. But a good deal of his talk, too, consisted of anecdotes, unguarded remarks, and opinions on art, people, and politics, which I later interpolated in their proper places in the story.
Fortunately for me, Rivera seemed to be flattered by the continual attentions of a young American woman. I literally walked in his shadow, and he let me go with him everywhere as he spun his tales. Most of our dictating sessions took place while Rivera was engaged in painting, at his studio. But conversations ran over into mealtimes, and I made notes in his car en route to lectures or parties, in his home, and on walks. I met his wives, his daughters, his friends -- many of the people who appear in this book.
In collating my notes, I found that much that Rivera had said orally could stand up as writing, or could not be changed without some loss, call it the flavor of his personality. Of course, nobody's dialogue is consistently good, but wherever I pared phrases, unwound sentences, or lopped off tautologies and digressions, I endeavored to remain faithful to Rivera's style. Essentially, this is Rivera's own story, told in his words. As such, it may not always coincide with what other people might call "the facts." Elie Faure was one of the first to recognize a dominant quality of the artist's mind: "Mythologer, I said to myself, perhaps even mythomaniac!"
Rivera, who was afterwards, in his work, to transform the history of Mexico into one of the great myths of our century, could not, in recalling his own life to me, suppress his colossal fancy. He had already converted certain events, particularly of his early years, into legends. Both Bertram D. Wolfe and Ernestine Evans, who wrote books about him, grappled with this problem. And the reader will react to it according to his purposes as he encounters it here. My task, however, was to be neither judge nor censor. An autobiography must encompass the whole man: what he has made of the facts, as well as the facts themselves.
In addition to recording and organizing Rivera's dictation, and making grammatical and literary changes in the text, I added -- always with his approval -- material from previously published books, articles, and interviews to fill in such gaps as inevitably appeared. For this reason, however, no claim can be laid to completeness or definitiveness. There were aspects of his life which Rivera did not care to recall, and as his amanuensis, I could only respect his reticence.
The artist's account of his relations with Leon Trotsky, for instance, all but conceals a genuine attraction he felt toward Trotsky's Fourth International. But when I met Rivera, in 1944, he was seeking readmittance into the Communist Party. For this reason, also, his description of his journey to Russia in 1927 omits much that he had earlier confided to his biographer, Bertram D. Wolfe, particularly of his skirmishes with Soviet bureaucrats, artists, and art theorists.
But a man's life is his own, and his summation of it is his own, too. As I go over this book for the last time in manuscript, I think that it is one of the frankest confessions I have ever read. If Rivera now spares the Soviets, he does not spare himself; he certainly does not spare his enemies. And the breadth of his sympathies, the vitality and love for life which runs through his prose as it does through his paintings -- who can allow these qualities to a mere fictional man? Essentially, then, this is Rivera's apologia: a self-portrait of a complex and controversial personality, and a key to the work of perhaps the greatest artist the Americas have yet produced.
As I was preparing the final pages of manuscript, I received the news that Diego Rivera had died on November 25, 1957, in his home in San Angel.
In contrast with so much of his life, marked by the furor of partisan controversy, his death came peacefully.
Up until several weeks before the end, Rivera had been at work, painting with the vigor which had characterized his work for more than half a century. An attack of phlebitis paralyzed his right arm and he was put to bed. A heart specialist, a friend of the family, observed a steady deterioration in his condition.
At 11:30 on the night of November 25th, he rang the bell beside his adjustable hospital-type bed.
His wife, Emma Hurtado, came into the room. "Shall I raise the bed?" she asked.
He replied, "On the contrary, please lower it."
These were his last words.
Dressed in a blue suit and tie and a red shirt, and sheathed in a casket of brown steel, the remains of Diego Rivera were lowered into the earth of the Rotunda of Mexico's Illustrious Sons, Dolores Cemetery. In the same hallowed ground lie the bones of Benito Juarez, Mexico's greatest hero.