Juan O’Gorman, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Introduction: Juan O’Gorman, an Innovator and the Proponent of Artistic Synthesis

Born in Mexico and now quite famous due to his accomplishments in architecture, Juan O’Gorman created numerous art pieces packed with symbolism. As his father was a painter, O’Gorman had been exposed to art since childhood. This artist promoted the concept of utility and function when it was unconventional and innovative; therefore, considering that he introduced groundbreaking ideas to the artistic world, his art pieces speak to me on a personal level and inspire me to use my art to address challenging ideas that are not typically discussed.1

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O’Gorman should be credited specifically for introducing the principle of functionalism into the realm of Mexican art. While the latter had previously relied on the concept of traditional, vernacular imagery and symbols, O’Gorman suggested that, apart from stressing the significance of the form, one should place an equally strong emphasis on the function of art. Thus, as O’Gorman began to explore the possibilities that the concept of artistic fusion opened, the principles of functionalism were introduced into the world of Mexican art.

Reasons for Personal Interest: What Made Him Unique

While O’Gorman’s technique is admittedly impressive and worthy of a detailed analysis, it is the underlying philosophy that attracts me most and affects me as an artist. Furthermore, being Mexican, I can relate to his art on a cultural level. In particular, the artist’s propensity for combining the elements of different cultures that might seem incompatible at first is the characteristic of his art that I consider by far the most impressive.2

A closer look at the distinct style that made O’Gorman instantly recognizable will reveal that it represents a combination of the author’s unique stance regarding the use of artistic forms and many elements borrowed from Le Corbusier, a famous French architect.3 The fact that the artist managed to create a fusion of styles that include not only the vernacular motifs of his own culture but also the distinct elements of others, the French example being a case in point, leads me to admire his works. The idea of fusing different cultures into a fascinating mixture that represents several philosophies and viewpoints on art as a concept is what makes O’Gorman’s works both enthralling and mysterious to me.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Studio: Obvious yet Touching Symbolism

Talking about Kahlo and Rivera’s studios without addressing the conflict that initially surrounded them is scarcely possible. O’Gorman’s endeavor to blend the functional and formal elements into a single, harmonious entity was considered a bold move at the time. As a result, the studio became one of the best-known cultural landmarks of Mexico, as well as the herald of the Modernism movement in Mexican art. For instance, the use of construction materials as the foundation for developing the design of the house should be mentioned as the crucial characteristic of the art piece. The identified element stands in stark contrast to the intense red and blue colors, which are supposed to represent Mexican vernacular art.

It should be borne in mind, though, that O’Gorman’s successful attempt at combining the traditional Mexican style with functionalism led to less-than-enthusiastic reviews from critics at the time. The organic Mexican architecture, with its vivacity and simplicity, was considered to be incompatible with the cold and detached nature of functionalism. Therefore, O’Gorman’s approach to combining traditional vernacular patterns with uncompromising functionalism was viewed as revolutionary and nearly aesthetically unacceptable. The boldness with which O’Gorman faced critical responses and pursued his concept of perfection also fills me with equal parts of fascination and the desire to find the unique style that will help me stand out as an artist.4

The entire house can be viewed as a metaphor for the union between and artistic independence of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. While using a bridge as a metaphor might seem to be lacking in originality, the choice of the identified metaphor is justified by the rough functionality of the rest of the studio. The material economy, the fact that every single element, from elevators to green areas around the houses, has a distinct purpose, shows that the synthesis between the artwork and the use of traditional Mexican patterns is, in fact, a successful marriage of functionalism and Mexican vernacular art. The idea of introducing the elements of functionalism into architecture at a time when such a thing would have been considered beyond unconventional speaks to me on a very deep and personal level since I believe that architectural designs must be based on the concepts of utility, beauty, and harmony. At this point, it may be necessary to clarify that harmony was not the focus of O’Gorman’s artworks; instead, he shocked his viewers into paying attention and, thus, pointed to topical societal, political, and cultural issues with his art. However, a closer look at the studio will show that there is an intrinsic tendency to promote the concept of harmony in its design. The artist might not give an account of the characteristic of his art that is under discussion, yet the propensity to balance out the functionalist elements that were considered outrageous and were supposed to point to societal issues against the elements of traditional Mexican culture could be viewed as a compromise between form and function. Thus, the concept of harmony, while intrinsic and implied, for the most part, was still an integral part of the studio design.

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Central Library (UNAM): Bringing Two Cultures Together

While in the case of Kahlo and Rivera’s studios, the emphasis on the artistic union between the two is very obvious, this factor is much subtler in the Central Library fresco. Furthermore, in contrast to the studio, where the emphasis was obviously on the functional side of the artwork, the UNAM architectural choices tend to lean heavily toward the use of traditional Mexican artistry. For instance, the exterior of the library features a mural that incorporates patterns representing Mexican culture. Particularly, O’Gorman used his artistic talent and vision to provide a retrospective glance of the past of Mexico, as well as the history of its cultural development.

While Kahlo and Rivera’s studio charmed me with its simplicity, the UNAM murals have an impact on me as an artist with their grandeur and scale reflecting the authors’ intent. The idea of telling a story through a series of visuals resonates with me as an artist, yet painting the entire history of Mexico, even on a canvas as big as the murals of UNAM, might seem scarcely possible. Nevertheless, O’Gorman handled the task, and he did so in a manner so unique and original that the mural remains one of the landmarks of the city to this day.5

I find the charm and appeal of the UNAM mural in the harmonic way in which the functional elements blend with the magnificent decorations that represent the elements of the Mexican pre-Hispanic cultures. Remarkably, the structural simplicity serves a distinct esthetic purpose in this case; to be more specific, the use of volcanic rock as the foundation for the building helps both to make the structure more stable and at the same time to represent a symbol of the origins of Mexican history. The delicate balance in which functionalism and the traditional elements of Mexican culture exist in the UNAM mural is especially appealing to me since it helps me develop a unique perspective on how form and function can be represented in an artwork. Furthermore, the art piece under consideration can be viewed as a prime example of how contemporary artistic tendencies can be compatible with those of the past. The continuity of the culture and how new trends, whether they try to subvert the old ones or have been spawned by previous artistic traditions, can be linked to the old ones is the idea that makes the mural an especially important artistic influence on me and my work. Furthermore, the use of color in creating the UNAM mural can be considered an interesting technique that has also had an impact on me as an artist. Remarkably, O’Gorman maintains the same color scheme through the entire work yet manages to define a very distinct line between the past and the present of Mexican art and culture.6

What I treasure the most about O’Gorman’s art, in general, and the UNAM mural, in particular, is how he creates beautiful yet simple structures that portray more than just a building and mean more than what one can physically see. Indeed, while the design of the decorations might seem complex, a closer look at the patterns will reveal that they are, in fact, simplistic, yet they still have a unique charm that creates a unique and unforgettable atmosphere. O’Gorman’s art has influenced me greatly, and the idea of bringing together several art genres in a fusion so that something new and meaningful could be produced has become a part of my artistic philosophy.

Conclusion: The Artist That Made a Difference

One of the greatest artists of the 20th century, without a doubt, Juan O’Gorman fascinates me as an architect and an innovator who managed to promote the idea of blending several art forms into a single art piece. His art helps me realize that it is important to understand the connection between different cultures, as well as different art styles and even art forms. O’Gorman reinvented the very concept of Mexican art by suggesting that the principles of fusion should be introduced into it and that the elements of different art genres and types could be combined to create something new and extraordinary.

O’Gorman’s two major works, i.e., the house that he designed for Kahlo and Rivera and the UNAM mural, can be viewed as prime examples of why the artist made such a significant difference in the realm of architecture. Combining the elements of traditional Mexican art with the essential concepts of functionalism, he created masterpieces that will inspire millions of artists and the opportunities that his concept of fusion opens remain the reason why O’Gorman’s art has had such a tremendous impact on me.


Condello, Annette. “Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes.” An International Quarterly 34, no. 4 (2015): 339-351.

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Fraser, Valerie. “Review: Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980, by Valerie Fraser.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 74, no. 4 (2015): 515-516.

“Juan O’Gorman.” Don Quijote. 2015. Web.

Kaplan, Temma. Democracy: A World History. Oxford, UK: OUP, 2014

Maluga, Leszlek. “Mexican Plays with Architecture and Colour.” Technical Transactions: Architecture 1, no. 1 (2015): 123-129.

Senosiain, Javier. Bio-Architecture. New York, NY: Routledge, 2013.

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