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Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People Hardcover – February 5, 2013
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From School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Rivera's life is presented through the lens of his art, making his love of Mexico and traditional Mexican art palpable and his search for his own artistic style an intriguing journey. The stunning illustrations include images of Rivera's murals, his "cartoon" drawings, reproductions of art that he found influential, and photographs. The design, with scrollwork along the top and bottom and an unusual placement of page numbers, exudes style. The text is clearly written, straightforward, and attention-grabbing, with a good number of quotes interspersed throughout. Rivera's weaknesses and failures, such as his womanizing and the Rockefeller controversy, are presented honestly and without judgment-just the facts as they are known. Thoughtful sections about Mexican history as represented in Rivera's artwork and his artistic influences conclude the volume. Overall this is a classy, visually pleasing and interesting read.-Heather Acerro, Rochester Public Library, MNα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* With engaging prose that is beautifully illustrated with Rivera’s paintings and murals, this spacious volume introduces the great Mexican artist to young people. Accompanied by crisply reproduced color images of both his bright, minutely detailed murals and archival photos of the artist at work, the accessible account discusses how Diego constructed his art and used pre-Columbian images to celebrate Mexico’s history and Indian heritage: “The murals would be for the people in his country and not just a few rich collectors.” Later spreads cover the artist’s commission—funded by Nelson Rockefeller—to paint frescoes showing workers and machinery in motion for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Always the rebel, Rivera was expelled from the Communist Party, and Rubin discusses his politics and his personal life without sensationalizing. Married to artist Frida Kahlo, he was a womanizer, and they divorced, though the two stayed closely connected. For those who want to know more, the extensive back matter includes meticulous source notes; a glossary; a long historical note about how Mexico is referenced in Rivera’s art, as well as Rivera’s ongoing artistic influence; and a list of where to view the artist’s original work. Suggest this to adults, too. Grades 6-10, --Hazel Rochman
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From the very moment Diego could clutch a pencil his chubby little hands he was drawing. A boy with a natural talent, he was able to convince his parents to let him attend prep school during the day and the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts at night. As he grew more skill he learned, as everyone did at that time, from the European school of draftsmanship. It was only after he began to notice the works of street artists like Jose Guadalupe Posada that Diego recognized that European styles were not enough. He needed a style and a medium for the people. His people! As a muralist he was able to fulfill those very passions. Rubin tracks not just Diego’s life and commissions but also his thought process and where he heart lay as an artist. Full-color photographs complement the text. Backmatter includes a note about Mexico’s history, a note on Rivera’s influences, a listing of where to find his art, a Glossary of terms and names, Source Notes, Bibliography, and an Index.
My knowledge of South America in general has been coming in fits and starts over the years thanks to a smattering of films, television programs, and children’s books. It makes for an eclectic education, to say the least. And I have learned a thing or two about Mexican history, but if I’m completely honest most of it came from “Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491” by Charles C. Mann. This isn’t as crazy a comparison as you might think since one of the nice things about “Diego Rivera” is Ms. Rubin’s willingness to delve a bit into that same pre-Columbus history. In the back of the book you will find “A Note About the History of Mexico, As Referenced in Rivera’s Artwork.” If the premise of the book is that Diego could not be who he was without a thorough knowledge of his own country’s history then it stands to reason that kids should have access to an abbreviated form of that same knowledge.
There’s a term my husband likes to pull out when we see a nice trim film that’s no longer than it needs to be: “handsome”. As in, “That was a nice handsome film.” I’d go so far as to apply that term to books as well. Take “Diego Rivera” here. Now this is a nice handsome biography. Plenty of chapters and backmatter and all that jazz, but at the same time it’s a svelte 56 pages. Less than 100. I love that. I admit that it’s not always ideal, since there are lazy teachers in this world who will tell kids to read something over 100 pages for a class assignment (if one were feeling particularly snarky they’d point out that the most recent “Captain Underpants” title is 192 pages). Those that take the time to look at the books their kids read, however, will find in this book a bit of a godsend. It’s long enough that it can offer a kid a pretty vast swath of its subject's life, but not so huge that they’ll be intimidated by it. The size is akin to that of a picture book or a coffee table book. It’s a comfortable size for a handsome volume.
A small page count does mean that the author has to decide how much to say about a person. In that, Ms. Rubin has taken care to hit on the highlights, always making sure to show that Diego worked with an eye to the people. She gives more than adequate attention to the murals and what they meant to the poor as well as Diego’s ties to causes he believed in. She’s just as willing to show when he lied about those alliances too, as when he claimed to play a part in the revolt against Porfirio Diaz. By the same token, you see him hobnobbing with rich nobs and if you’re discussing this book with kids you could ask them such pertinent questions as whether or not they feel that Diego’s ties to the rich and influential hurt his credibility or if it cemented him as famous and is why he’s remembered today.
This all begs the obvious question: What the heck do you do with Mr. Rivera’s . . . ah . . . wandering eye, shall we say? The problem with writing about an artist who delved in drugs is how much to say. The problem with a lothario is pretty much an identical quandary. Rubin engages in the breezy, “He had always liked the ladies, and the ladies had always liked him,” following it up with a sly, “despite his bulk and his habit of rarely taking a bath.” In this way she limits herself to just reporting on those affairs Diego conducted that affected his various marriages and engagements. Those that didn't are simply left unsaid. No one will miss them.
Considering the sheer number of ladies the man slept with, it’s funny to me that books about him for kids really have mostly stayed in the 4-8 year-old range until now. There was “Diego Rivera: His World and Ours” by Duncan Tonatiuh, “Diego: Bigger Than Life” by Carmen Bernier-Grand, and “Diego” by Jeanette Winter. “My Papa Diego and Me” written by Diego’s daughter Guadalupe Rivera Marin was a rare exception of a chapter book on the man, and even that skewed a bit young. With her book Rubin at last gives us a chapter book biography that does credit to the artist himself. Respecting her audience to show Diego’s flaws as well as his triumphs, consider this nuanced portrait of a man every schoolchild should know. Worthy of its subject matter.
On shelves now.