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 Paul Esteban O'Higgins  (1904 - 1983)

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Lived/Active: Utah/California / Mexico      Known for: modern Mexican views, still life

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Biography from Art Cellar Exchange:
PABLO O'HIGGINS

Pablo Esteban O'Higgins was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1904.  As a young man O'Higgins began his art education in San Diego, California.  During his time in Southern California O'Higgins became fascinated with the mural movement that was taking place in Mexico. His talent for the arts we quickly noticed by his contemporaries and at the age of 20 he was invited to assist Diego Rivera on mural projects within Mexico.  This move to Mexico began the artist's permanent residence in the country that would later adopt him as a citizen.

During Pablo O'Higgins' time as Diego Rivera's primary assistant on mural projects, the young artist was privy to a hands-on education of modern Mexican art that proved to be of great influence for the rest of his life.  After assisting on a few projects, O'Higgins and Rivera parted ways due to political differences and compounded by O'Higgins' desire to create his own work.  O'Higgins continued to live in Mexico and soon founded the anti-Fascist Taller de Grafica Popular with Leopoldo Mendez (who was later implicated in the murder of Leon Trotsky.)  Taller de Grafica Mexicana was created by O'Higgins and Mendez as a vehicle by which to promote the graphic arts and social conscience, to combat racism and to improve the lives of the underprivileged.  The politics of the group were advertised through the subject matter of murals that O'Higgins created throughout Mexico as well as in his smaller easel paintings, such as Descansando.

Descansando is a quintessential example of work by Pablo Esteban O'Higgins. The artist painted the people he respected, the ordinary, hard-working campesinos.  In Descansando we see two farm workers resting from the mid-day sun.  O'Higgins sought to capture the dignity and character of Mexico's working and indigenous people through his art and does just that in this mid-20th century painting.

While O'Higgins continued to live in Mexico, becoming a citizen of Mexico in 1961, he traveled back to the US on a few occasions. He created two murals in the United States, each in keeping with his politics.  The first, The Struggle Against Racial Discrimination, was commissioned by the Shipscalers, Drydock and Miscellaneous Boatyard Workers Union in Seattle in 1945.  In the mural, Abraham Lincoln is shown holding a banner that reads, "Uniting all working people of all nations," and in another panel, workers gather over a document that says, "Build a free world.  No masters.  No slaves.  Workers of the world unite!"  The mural has been moved and restored and is now installed at the University of Washington.

O'Higgins' other mural in the United States, Solidaridad Sindical, was commissioned by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Honolulu, Hawaii.  This three-story mural celebrates the ascendancy of sugar plantation unions to power. Painted in the 1952 and still on view in the ILWU offices, this mural tells the story of oppression, struggle and victory of Hawaii's working people and serves as an inspiration to the ILWU members who improved working conditions through union representation.  Both of these grand works promote union solidarity and empower the worker.

O'Higgins was the only non-native Mexican whose work was included in the first large exhibition of Mexican art in the Unites States, Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art, which took place at New York's MoMA in 1940.  Following this ground-breaking exhibition, O'Higgins' work was included in major shows of Mexican art throughout the United States and England.  The artist also received accolades from the Mexican government and was awarded with a retrospective of his work at El Palacio de Bellas Artes.  His work was positively recognized because of his ability to capture the character of Mexico's working and indigenous people.  The powerful and emotional lines in his canvases, murals and prints show the artist's admiration and love for Mexico and her people.  In 1983 the artist died in Mexico City.  His life was celebrated and his funeral was organized by El Palacio de Bellas Artes.  Pablo O'Higgins is buried in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

--Gretchen Van Camp
Director, Latin American Painting
Art Cellar Exchange
San Diego, California

Biography from Crocker Art Museum Store:
Paul Esteban O'Higgins was born in Salt Lake, City, Utah on March 1, 1904.  Pablo O’Higgins (né Paul Higgins Stevenson) moved to San Diego, CA as a child.  He began his art studies at the San Diego Art Academy in 1922.  During 1924-28 he was in Mexico at the invitation of Diego Rivera who greatly admired his work and while there he joined the Mexican Communist party.  A grant made possible for further art study in Moscow, Russia in 1931-32.

Returning to Mexico City, he co-founded the anti-fascist “Taller de la Grafica Popular.”  While working on a mural for the University of Colima, O’Higgins died in Mexico City on July 16, 1983.

Exhibited:  Congress of American Artists, 1936; Art Institute of Chicago, 1941, 1943; Salon de la Plastica Mexicana, 1965; Palacio de Bellas Artes (Mexico City), 1971. 

Murals:  School of Zapata (Mexico); Mills College Plaza (Oakland).
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
American Art Annual 1933; Who's Who in American Art 1936-41.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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