A recent conversation with a Gallery Director in NYC asked the question of what group or category does Ceniceros belong to? This is an art classification question, it is a good question. However, only if one sees it for its contextual value as Ceniceros in my opinion does not squarely fit into a category. Art History studies Painting by dividing the volumes of artists and work by period, style or critical thinking among other categories. Being an artist of the Flemish school, or an Impressionist, or a Pop Artist, means something, creates a frame of reference.
Ceniceros graduated from Art School in 1958 in the city of Monterrey. From there he hungrily looked at the worlds’ art scene. He looked specifically at Mexico City as the place where important things were happening. In the north of Mexico, Monterrey was a mid size conservative town with a strong yet small cultural scene. To nurture his ambition Ceniceros would move south. Ceniceros arrived in Mexico City in the mid 60s and took the opportunity to work with his mentor David Alfaro Siqueiros as part of his assistant team. Siqueiros’ team was composed of artists from all around the world who wanted to learn from the “bigger than life” muralist. Muralism is perhaps the main, some would say the only art movement that is universally thought of as Mexican. Mexico’s Muralists seized on a historical window to use art as a powerful communication and political tool. As post war social adjustments where happening around the world, the muralists would use their art to decry inequality, injustice and socio-economical abuse. By the early 70s Muralism was a mature movement. Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco had long passed. Ceniceros worked with Siqueiros on some of his most ambitious projects until his last days. By the mid 70’s with Siqueiros death, muralism’s golden era had peaked.
Nonetheless Muralism continued as the desire to communicate thru large-scale art stayed alive. Institutions had new buildings with open space where they wanted to communicate. Yet most artists in Mexico didn’t want to paint murals. Painters would not subjugate style or philosophy to a communication goal. For many this was a barrier they would never surmount. Ceniceros didn’t see it as such. He relished taking on the architectural challenges to make a space fluid, to make a space work for his style and importantly to communicate complex historical and humanistic messages. His murals in the Subway System were painted to create location context. In Tacubaya Ceniceros painted a mural that tells the story of the Mexica Indians as they settled there, then moved onto Chapultepec and settled in the city that would become the capital of Mexico. This mural is painted on the walls of a connector hub for several metro lines. When one walks clock wise along the hub, the story unveils. His mural at Copilco, the Metro station for the UNAM university, celebrates the diversity of cultures and the story of the world coming together thru the Americas. One of his most recent murals at the Legislative Palace of San Lazaro conveys the constitutional story of Mexico, a study of the Mexican laws as an independent country.
Thru his murals Ceniceros has mastered the complexity of communication, his style flourishes in these large spaces. None of Ceniceros’ murals have a political charge, in his words that belonged to a different era. His murals use composition, form and space in a fashion that is unique to his work, all of it, not just murals. Storytelling is present but it isn’t the only thing to see. This is a key point as the challenge with muralism has always been to communicate beyond the individual’s idea of painting. A mural needs to take on a challenge, of context, of history, of complexity, otherwise why not just make a big painting! Ceniceros has evolved the school of Mexican muralism which today is again evolving thru street art. He is one of Mexico’s last great muralists. However, Ceniceros’ canvas work is his constant. Ceniceros is a muralist, yet his most personal expression lies in his canvas paintings.
Continued in part #2