José Clemente Orozco was a Mexican social realist painter, who specialized in bold murals. Along with Diego Rivera, he was a leader of the artist movement known as Mexican Muralism. Known as one of the ''Big Three'' muralists, along with Rivera and Siqueiros, Orozco was critical of the Mexican Revolution and uncomfortable with the bloody toll the social movement was taking, while Rivera touted the glory of the revolution with bold optimism.
The most complex of the Mexican Muralists, Orozco was fond of the theme of human suffering, but less realistic and more fascinated by machines than Rivera. Influenced by Symbolism, he was also a genre painter and a lithographer, passing by the shop windows of José Guadalupe Posada every day on his way to school, Orozco confesses in his autobiography, ''I would stop [on my way to and from school] and spend a few enchanted minutes in watching [Posada]... This was the push that first set my imagination in motion and impelled me to cover paper with my earliest little figures; this was my awakening to the existence of the art of painting.''
In a life filled with drama, adversity and triumph, from a childhood of poverty and an explosion that cost him his left hand, to becoming one of the most famous Mexican artists of all time, Orozco persisted in his art. Through the Mexican Revolution, the hardship following the crash of the New York stock market in 1929 and the rising fascism in Europe during his only trip there in 1932, Orozco emerged with an aesthetic and moral vision unparalleled in twentieth century painting.
A taciturn individualist, highly sensitive and utterly inept at self-promotion, Orozco had a sharp tongue and mordant sense of humor. He was first and foremost a public artist whose greatest achievements were the murals he created not for individual patrons, but for the whole of society. He created four major murals in the United States, at Pomona College, the New School for Social Research, Dartmouth College and the Museum of Modern Art, along with hundreds of easel paintings and graphic works that challenged the stereotypes of Mexican art. In Mexico he created major frescoes, including the magnificent cycle with which he covered the interior walls of the Hospicio Cabanas in Guadalajara, featuring the Man of Fire, in the center of the nave, which had become known as the ''Sistine Chapel of the America's.''
Orozco's work helped inspire a new generation of Chicano and African American muralists to reinvent public art within their communities. His legacy continues today among contemporary artists on both sides of the border.