DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
MY SPANISH FRIENDS
I ARRIVED IN SPAIN on the 6th of January, 1907. 1 was twenty years old, over six feet tall, and weighed three hundred pounds. But I was a dynamo of energy. As soon as I located Chicharro's studio, 1 set up my easel and started to paint. For days on end, I painted from early dawn till past midnight.
For diversion, I wandered through Madrid's wonderful Prado Museum and other galleries where the masterpieces hung.
My contact with Spanish art, however, affected me in a most unfortunate way. The inner qualities of my early works in Mexico were gradually strangled by the vulgar Spanish ability to paint. Certainly the flattest and most banal of my paintings are those I did in Spain in 1907 and 1908.
The Spanish masters to whom I was most drawn were Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco. I also found new delights in the Dutch, Flemish, and Italian masters and in the Castilian, Catalonian, and Aragonese primitives. And of such ever- living masters as Brueghel, Lucas Cranach, Hieronymus Bosch, and Patinir, I became a reverent disciple.
I performed some study exercises in the room of the Goya portraits at the Prado, copying not individual paintings, but making composites, in order to achieve a fuller comprehension of the style of this master. Three of these Goya exercises now hang in well-known Goya collections, two in the United States, and one in Paris. I shall not, however, disclose the identity of these forgeries; let the experts have fun.
I performed a similar exercise with El Greco. The result was so inferior to the Goyas that I never did another. Nevertheless, it too hangs in a collection of genuine "El Grecos" and still awaits detection.
These frauds were not my doing actually. While in Madrid, I met Luis de la Rocha, an amiable and obscure young painter, who acted as a sort of guide and secretary to me in his country. When he saw me about to destroy the composites, he asked me to give them to him. Rocha frankly told me what he meant to do. "Diego, I'm your friend. I'm glad to have been able to give you my time, and I've tried to help you all I could during your stay in Spain. We're both poor boys, but I'm much poorer than you. As you know, my father has learned how to turn new paintings into old ones and market them abroad. Since you're going to destroy these, let me and my family have them. We need the money."
So I gave him the paintings to recompense him for his services; also to give myself the enjoyment of seeing the experts hoaxed. But I never expected my youthful exercises to succeed on the scale they did.
In Spain, I also made friends with the great Spanish writer Marquis Ramon del Valle Inclan, and with Ramon Gomez de la Serna, who was winning recognition as an important writer of the new generation.
The younger Ramon was the most productive writer I have ever known. At the age of nineteen, Serna had already written a pile of books that reached a height of thirty inches. Some day a discerning critic should make his way through the forests of this strange literary genius. Serna's work carried on or anticipated every modern and ultramodern literary tendency of our time.
The elder Ramon had a mind as comprehensive as that of any of the giants of the Spanish Golden Age. His books show marvelous political sense, as well as a wide-ranging imagination, and an individual and flavorous style.
Valle Inclan lacked his left arm. In a cafe brawl, an inferior literateur had broken it with a cane, so injuring it that it had to be amputated. Valle Inclan romanticized the loss in dozens of fantastic stories. His imagination took off on any theme. From a visit to Mexico, he built an Odyssey of adventure replete with numerous sultry amours. He would draw me into his narratives as eyewitness or as a new object for his inventions. For all his fantasizing, he had the sensitivity to capture the essential quality of life in my unhappy, comic, and beautiful country, and his El Tirano Banderas remains one of the most moving books about Mexico.
Through Serna, I met the most curious man in all of Spain at that time, the homeless anarchist philosopher Don Silverio Lancza. This madman dreamed of a Utopia where total equality prevailed and all men were aristocrats and artists. I hope his writings, with their beautiful violence of language, will someday be "rediscovered."
Also through Serna, I met one of the most fascinating personalities and one of the finest painters of Spain in the early twentieth century. Dario de Regoyas' paintings of the Spanish countryside and Spanish life show a perception as profound as anything by Goya. He was a marvelous colorist and one of the most outstanding of the neo- impressionists.
The only good mural painter in Spain, Areta, was also a good comrade of mine. All of these friends and I moved in the same circles.