A CULTURAL PROSPECTOR OF THE U.S. SOUTHWEST, PAINTER TED DE GRAZIA PRESERVED INDIAN MYSTICISM
BRIGHT LIGHTS FROM THE T.V. cameras arced across the room as waiters in dinner jackets carrying trays of wine and hors d'oeuvres moved through the sophisticated, well-dressed crowd--another art opening, as glittering an affair as only art receptions can be in Mexico City. The first art opening ever in the New World took place there in 1781. Invitations went out, wine was ordered and a crush of dignitaries, scribes and socialites descended on the San Carlos Academy of New Spain of the Three Nobel Arts. A city that lives, breathes and personifies art, Mexico City has been honing and refining art show opening night receptions ever since, bringing them into and through the twentieth century with lustrous, shimmering perfection.
The opening in August, 1992, at Museo Estudio Diego Rivera in the city's fashionable San Angel district was something different. It was not only an art show but a homecoming. On the walls were the early works of Tucson, Arizona, artist Ted De Grazia, known throughout the world for his sensitive, colorful paintings of American Southwest Indians and of life and people in northern Mexico. De Grazia died eleven years ago, but his star continues to rise as this glittering tribute would clearly testify.
Nearly 50 years ago, the young Ettore (Ted) De Grazia left his wife, two children and his job as the manager of a Tucson movie theater, packed 20 paintings in the back of his little Ford coup and headed for Mexico City--a page torn from the life of Paul Gauguin perhaps. His goal was to meet Diego Rivera. Living on less than a dollar a day, De Grazia learned where Rivera was working and turned up daily to watch the master muralist. Finally he got up courage enough to introduce himself.
Rivera took an immediate liking to the young Spanish-speaking Italian-American and put him to work as an apprentice. The friendship deepened. Through Rivera, De Grazia met Jose Clemente Orozco and other leading artists of the day. The U.S. was in the throws of World War II at the time and it was a letter from Rivera that won De Grazia a deferment from the draft. "De Grazia's paintings greatly interested me because of his brilliant artistic gift and his personal sentiment...anything that may be done to extend him assistance, will be for the benefit of the culture of the United States."
So impressed were Rivera and Orozco with the work of the artist from the Arizona desert that in November of 1942 they arranged for an exhibition of his work to be shown in the foyer of the Bellas Artes. In preparation of the show, Rivera pressed for more paintings and offered De Grazia the use of his studio to complete them. In promoting the exhibit, Orozco wrote "De Grazia's painting has all the freshness, simplicity and power of youth. He is able to go from the simple and graceful movement of the 'Cocks Fighting,' to the understanding of human misery as in the 'Boy Playing the Violin.' He will be one of the best American painters someday." Orozco's words couldn't have been more prophetic.
The paintings exhibited last year at the Museo Estudio Diego Rivera included several that had been painted originally in the very same studio and shown at the Bellas Artes nearly a half century earlier. After Rivera's death, the upper two floors of his San Angel studio were converted to a museum, with a large gallery on the ground floor. Adjacent to the famed San Angel restaurant, the studio is preserved much the way Rivera left it. The floors creek, the walls are covered with carved wooden masks, many with the price tags still dangling off them, indicative of a man too busy to remove them. Easels and paint brushes are everywhere and there's a stack of old frames in the bathroom. Off in a corner is a large denim jacket hanging on a coat rack, above a pair of paint-splattered shoes. His presence fills the room, shared that …