Theme/Style – Figurative art, portraits, genre scenes, landscapes
Media – Oils, drawings, murals, lithographs, illustration
Artistic Focus – Roberto Berdecio was an energetic and creative muralist, painter, and printmaker who not only holds an important place in Mexico’s long history of art in the service of social change, but who, like David Alfaro Siqueiros, also embraced and left his mark on the creation of art and murals in the United States during the late 1930s. Berdecio himself noted that his extensive travels throughout South America brought him closer to its indigenous peoples, and this affinity is reflected in the simple integrity of his smaller-scale figural works.
Career Highlights –
• Roberto Guardia Berdecio was born in Sucre, Bolivia in 1910. His father was a diplomat, lawyer and author, and Berdecio’s early schooling was in Argentina. Though he was largely self-taught as a painter, Berdecio studied for a few years in the late 1920s at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires and the Academy of Fine Arts in La Paz, Bolivia, and it was in La Paz that his first solo exhibition was held in 1929.
• In 1934 Berdecio came to Mexico City, where he began working with David Alfaro Siqueiros and joined the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (LEAR, Revolutionary Writers’ and Artists’ League); other members were Pablo O’Higgins and Luis Arenal. In 1936 he traveled to New York City as one of Mexico’s delegates to the First Congress of American Artists against War and Fascism, along with Siqueiros, Arenal, José Clemente Orozco, and Rufino Tamayo.
• Berdecio remained in New York where he assisted in running the newly-formed Siqueiros Experimental Workshop, a Laboratory of Modern Techniques in Art. Berdecio, Siqueiros, Orozco, Tamayo and other Mexican artists were featured in a show at New York’s Gallery of American Contemporary Art (ACA) in 1936.
• Berdecio painted two murals for New York’s Worker’s Bookshop, which were unveiled at his solo exhibition at the Delphic Studios there in 1939. Entitled “Two Portraits of New York,” their highly political theme juxtaposed views of Wall Street and American capitalism with Nazi symbols, and portraits of the Scottsboro Boys and Sacco and Vanzetti. Moreover, they employed the artist’s innovative techniques of “kinetic perspective” and the use of a pioneering technology using nitro-cellulose paint, a compressor and a mechanical brush. That same year Berdecio was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for his uses of these new materials and methods.
• Two solo shows for Berdecio took place in California in 1940: in Los Angeles at Raymond Galleries, and at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Also in 1940, Berdecio created a mural for the Spanish Center in Fresno.
• Berdecio returned to Mexico in 1941, where he continued to create mural paintings. In 1944 he traveled to Peru and Bolivia and was a delegate to the convention of the Latin-American Confederation of Labor in Cali, Colombia.
• Back in the U.S. in 1945, Berdecio taught a painting course at Sarah Lawrence College, New York before again returning to Mexico in 1946.
• In 1947 Berdecio began his collaboration with Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP, Popular Graphic Arts Workshop), Mexico’s foremost political print shop, and was a founding member of Sociedad para el Impulso de las Artes Plásticas.
• During the 1950s and 1960s, Berdecio continued to be a significant contributor to the political and cultural art movement in Mexico. In the 1960s he assisted artist Juan O’Gorman in creating his “Hidalgo Libertador” mural, and subsequently also worked on its restoration; and in 1972 he edited a book of prints by Jose Guadalupe Posada.
• Roberto Berdecio passed away in La Paz, Bolivia in 1996.
Additional biographical material and full bibliographic
references are available upon request.
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