Arnold Belkin Biography

Arnold Belkin




Painter, muralist, and printmaker Arnold Belkin was born Arnold Lewis Belkin Greenberg on December 9, 1930, in Calgary, Canada. His parents were prominent members of the Vancouver Jewish and Socialist communities, having immigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s as the rise of Nazism took hold of Europe. Showing an early aptitude for visual arts, he taught himself how to draw and paint, and at age fourteen he discovered the work of Mexican artist Diego Rivera featured in Time magazine. This discovery would become the catalyst for Belkin's career path.

He began his formal art studies at the Vancouver School of Art in 1945 at the age of fifteen. That same year he won first place in an art contest held by the Labor Arts Guild in British Columbia, and from 1947 to 1948 he studied at the Banff School of Fine Arts. At age eighteen he left for Mexico City, enrolling in the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura, y Grabado "La Esmerelda" (National School of Painting, Sculpture, and Printmaking), studying under leading Social Realists such as Jose Clemente Orozco, Carlos Orozco Romero, Agustin Lazo, and others. His most influential connection was with the artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, for whom he worked as a mural assistant. Siqueiros encouraged the young painter to enroll at the Taller de Ensayo de Materiales Plasticos (Plastic Materials Testing Workshop) where he furthered his studies in muralism, leading to several collaborative and personal mural commissions throughout Mexico in the 1950s. From 1954 to 1956 he learned printmaking techniques at Mexico City College under Lola Cueto and at Escuela de Artes del Libro with Pedro Castelar Baez, and took workshops in painting from Colombian artist Guillermo Silva Santamaria.

By the 1960s Belkin had established a career in Mexico, rarely traveling outside of his adopted home except to visit Europe and a few years spent in New York working on projects with Mexican and South American muralists, and he become a naturalized Mexican citizen in 1981. His work was primarily concerned with the sociopolitical events affecting Mexico, Latin America, and to some degree the U.S. and Europe during the 20th century. He co-founded several artists groups (Grupo de Interioristas and Nueva Presencia) as well as the Museo Latinoamericano in reaction to the lackluster representation of Latin American art found in major international museums and collections. The goal was to provide pushback against bourgeois art sensibilities in favor of art geared toward working class people.

In addition to murals, oil painting, and printmaking, Belkin designed theater sets and costumes for a variety of Mexican directors from the 1950s through the 1980s, and collaborated on an illustrated book of poems with American activist, writer, and poet Jack Hirschman. He also worked briefly in sculpture in the 1980s, creating two large scale works for the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and for the gardens at Bosque Lazaro Cardenas in Morelia. His dedication to the arts and his contribution to the internationalization of Mexico's art world earned him the title of the "Canadian son of Mexican Muralism" by the Museo de la Revolucion, Puebla, who hosted a retrospective of Belkin's work in 2011.

Belkin died in Mexico City on July 3, 1992, and was buried in Panteon Judio with honors.

Selected exhibitions:
1952: Instituto Cultural Anglo-Mexicano, sponsored by the Canadian Embassy
1960: Academy of San Carlos, Mexico City
1961: Zora Gallery, Los Angeles
1962: International Award Exhibition, Guggenheim, NY (group exh. with Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, and others)
1966: Confrontacion 66, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico
1972: Lerner-Hellar Gallery, NY
1972-1975: traveling exhibition, Detroit, Houston, Atalanta, Dayton, Phoenix, Puerto Rico
1977: Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, Venezuela
1979: Casa de las Americas, Cuba
1982: Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico, retrospective
1983: Casa del Lago, Mexico
1997: Museo Mural Diego Rivera (posthumous retrospective)
1998: Museo Universitario del Chopo (posthumous exhibition)

Selected honors and awards:
1960: Award, set design, Asociacion de Critcos Teatrales for Terror y miserias del III Reich by Bertolt Brecht, Mexico
1963: Adquisicion del Salon de Pintura Prize for painting, Mexico
1963: Honorable mention for suite of lithographs, Casa de la Americas, Los Angeles
1983: Winfred Lam Grand Prize for mural, Havana Bienal