When you mention famous Mexican artists to most people, they immediately think of Frida Kahlo. However, on an international scale, unless people specifically have a strong interest in art, few are aware of other beloved Mexican artists.
Art in Mexico has changed and developed in a fascinating way over the past few centuries. Today, Mexico City’s art scene is one of the best in Latin America and arguably, throughout the entirety of the Americas.
No doubt, events in Mexico’s history have shaped and influenced Mexican art culture: colonization, the struggle for independence, political matters, etc. Similarly, Mexico is an extremely diverse and multicultural country.
68 indigenous groups call Mexico home today. Their cultural background, ancient practices, religion, and beliefs influence their work and enable them to create pieces, unlike anything you will find elsewhere.
14 Most Famous Mexican Artists of All Time
Frida Kahlo is without a doubt one of the most famous Mexican artists of all time. Even people who are not familiar with her work know her name or have seen her photograph.
She remains a national icon to this day in Mexico and for good reason. Frida was born at Casa Azul in Mexico City in 1907.
However, she would often tell people that her real date of birth was 3 years later in 1910. This was not out of vanity, but so that she would be associated with the Mexican revolution.
Kahlo is of mixed Mexican, Spanish and German descent. She is seen as a feminist icon and her work is often merited with utilizing indigenous influences to highlight the beauty of Mexico’s indigenous cultures.
Frida almost died at age 18 when a trolley collided with the bus that she was traveling on. Following the accident, she had to have more than 30 operations.
During the long, solitary period that she spent recovering, she turned to art. Frida created 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits.
She shared a turbulent romantic life with Mexican artist Diego Rivera whom she married twice. Frida is quoted as saying “I suffered two serious accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar knocked me down. The other accident was Diego”.
In 1939, the Louvre bought Kahlo’s “The Frame”. This was significant at the time because Frida’s painting was the first piece by a 20th-century Mexican artist to be purchased by an internationally renowned museum.
Kahlo’s Most Famous Works
- A few small nips – a portrayal of Frida’s heartbreak when she discovered her husband Diego was cheating with her sister – produced 1935
- My grandparents, my parents, and I (Family Tree) – produced 1936
- Controversial depiction of the suicide of Dorothy Hale – produced 1938
- The two Fridas – double self-portrait produced in 1939
- Self-portrait with cropped hair and a suit – produced 1940
- Self-portrait with thorn necklace and hummingbird – produced 1940
- Roots – produced 1943
- The broken column – a nude depiction of Frida recovering from surgery – produced in 1944
- Without hope – a depiction of Kahlo recovering from surgery produced in 1945
- The wounded deer – 1946
Diego Rivera was born in December 1886. He is widely regarded as one of the best and most famous Mexican artists of all time.
He traveled the world from an early age and during the course of his life, lived in several countries. These included Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, the United States, Argentina, France, Italy, and Spain.
Being exposed to different cultures and countries no doubt had a significant impact on Rivera’s art. He didn’t stick to specifically one style of art.
Instead, he dabbled with many. Cubists, Flemish, Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists were just a few that he experimented with. Over the course of his life, he produced more than a whopping 10,000 pieces of art.
Rivera’s personal life is just as interesting to many as his artwork. He was eccentric, eclectic, and renowned for being overweight and grotesquely unattractive.
Despite his physical appearance though, Rivera was known for being a major hit with the ladies. Most notably, he married his fellow artist Frida Kahlo twice.
However, it seems that nobody could tame him and over the course of his life, he is documented as having four wives and over 50 lovers! Rivera was so beloved and his art was so special that he massively overshadowed his partner Kahlo.
For decades she was known as nothing more than “Diego’s wife”. That is until her art started to receive acclaim in the 1970s and 80s.
Many of Rivera’s pieces are strongly patriotic and unapologetically Mexican. They use different styles to portray scenes in Mexico’s history, traditions, and culture. For instance, the Mexican Revolution and the struggles faced by the indigenous people.
Rivera’s Most Famous Works
- Street in Avila – 1908 landscape painting
- Motherhood Angelina and the Child – Cubist painting of his late wife and their child – 1916
- Day of the dead – muralist painting created in 1924
- Retrato de Ignacio Sanchez – oil painting of a peasant boy in rural Mexico painted in 1927
- Peasants – 1931 oil painting depicting the struggles of manual laborers
- Man at the crossroads – muralist painting completed in 1934
- The flower carrier – 1935 depiction of the struggles of the peasant class
- Nude with Calla Lilies – art deco painting completed in 1944
- Watermelons – modern art/realism painting completed in 1957
- Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central – 1946 depiction of the 1910 Mexican Revolution
David Alfaro Siqueiros
There were three great muralist painters in Mexico. Namely, they were David Alfaro Siqueiros, Siego Riviera, and José Clemente Orozco.
Siqueiros was born in 1896 to a wealthy family from Chihuahua. He was just 15 when the Mexican Revolution started – an event that would change the course of his life, and influence his artistic creations forever.
Siquieros merged the art styles of socialist realism, pre-Columbian art, and Cubist forms, much like his predecessor Diego Riviera. He joined the Syndicate of Revolutionary Mexican Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers in support of the revolution.
Much of his work was politically charged and left-wing. This was something that led to several clashes between him, members of the public, and his own family who often did not support his views.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Siquieros was repeatedly jailed for his work. He eventually relocated to the United States – first to Los Angeles and then to New York.
Here he used his artwork to tell the story of the relationship between the USA and Latin America. In New York, he opened a school for young artists. Perhaps one of his most notable students was Jackson Pollock.
Most Famous Works
- The Elements (1922)
- Portrait of the Bourgeoisie (1939)
- New Democracy (1945)
- The people to the university, the university to the people (1952-1956)
- From Porfirismo to the Revolution (1966)
- The March of Humanity on Earth and into the Cosmos (1971)
Gerardo Murillo Cornado
Gerardo Murillo Cornado is recognized as being one of the pioneers of creating patriotic, nationalist artwork in Mexico. He is often referred to by his Aztec name Dr. Atl.
This may sound like the name of a modern-day graffiti artist but Cornado lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His name comes from the Nahuatl word for water (ātl).
He himself was of mixed indigenous and Spanish descent. He adopted this name in support of the indigenous people of Mexico and their culture, and as a rejection of the Spanish colonization of Mexico by his ancestors.
Cornado hails from Guadalajara where he was born in 1875. He studied in Europe under a scholarship from the government before returning to Mexico during the revolution.
His love and appreciation of indigenous cultures are evident in much of his artwork. He created many stunning landscape paintings that focused on the natural beauty of Mexico.
Most Famous Works
- Ruben Maria Campos’ portrait – 1909
- Nahui Olin – 1922
- Landscape with Iztaccíhuatl – 1932
- View of Popocatepetl – 1934
- Paricutín – 1943
- Píhuamo Valley – 1952
- Tepoztlán Valley -1958
- La vista de los volcanes desde el camino a Cuernavaca – 1958
- Self-portrait – 1959
Leonora Carrington was a British-born Mexican female artist. After being born in the little village of Clayton-le-Woods in Lancashire, England, she spent most of her life in Mexico.
Her family in the UK was very much religious and upper-class. They placed expectations on her that she felt suffocated by and instead found refuge in art. After studying at a new art academy founded by painter Amédée Ozenfant in London in 1936, she moved to Spain and then Mexico.
Her life was filled with adventures and traumas. She was institutionalized in Spain and married a Mexican Diplomat so that she could leave Europe and fly to the Americas.
In Mexico City, she met and married Hungarian photographer Emeric Weisz. Carrington
was one of the last surviving participants in the surrealist movement of the 1930s.
She passed away in Mexico City in 2011. Carrington was arguably the most famous female surrealist painter, with surrealism being a style that was dominated by male artists at that time.
Women surrealists were often the subject of ridicule and were not taken seriously. However, Carrington persevered and succeeded against the odds.
Carrington’s Most Famous Works
- The Meal of Lord Candlestick – 1938
- Portrait of Max Ernst – 1939
- Green Tea – 1942
- The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) – 1947
- Untitled – 1960
- Operation Wednesday – 1969
- Bird Bath – 1974
- Crookhey – 1986
José Clemente Orozco
José Clemente Orozco was the third of Mexico’s greatest muralists. He is widely regarded as being the most important 20th-century muralist to work in fresco.
Born in 1883, he developed an interest in the art world as a young boy living in Mexico City. He visited the workshop of José Guadalupe Posada, Mexico’s first great printmaker as a seven-year-old boy.
Posadas’s caricatures and obscure black-and-white drawings depicted dark news stories and events. Orozco credits Posada for being a major source of influence for him as an artist.
This is evident in many of the dark themes that Orozco uses in his creations. His work differs from that of his peers Siqueiros and Rivera in that he was critical of the Mexican Revolution. A major focus of his work was to express the struggles of the lower classes.
When studying at the Academy of San Carlos in 1905, one of Orozco’s teachers was Gerardo Murillo Cornado. He lost his hand in a laboratory accident but it never deterred him from painting only with his right hand.
Orozco gained recognition and acclaim for his murals not just in Mexico, but around the world. He rejected European styles of painting and instead focused on indigenous art styles.
Orozco’s Most Famous Works
- Prometheus – 1930
- Mexican Landscape – 1930
- Zapatistas Marching – 1931
- Catharsis – 1934
- Zapatistas – 1935
- Man of Fire – 1939
- Dive Bomber and Tank – 1940
- Father Hidalgo – 1949
María Izquierdo was a Mexican female painter. She was born María Cenobia Izquierdo Gutiérrez in San Juan de Lagos in the northern state of Jalisco in 1902.
Despite not being as well known as the likes of Kahlo or Carrington, Izquierdo’s work carried important feminist messages. She was the first Mexican woman to have her artwork displayed in museums in the United States.
She began to study painting at the National Fine Arts School in Mexico in 1927. No other than Diego Riviera himself recognized her for her excellent painting skills and talent.
In 1930, she had a solo exhibition at the Art Center in New York. The exhibition was funded by Frances Flynn Paine and contained 14 oil paintings.
She used her paintings as a form of activism. They expressed the struggles facing modern Mexican women living under traditional patriarchy.
Mexico is largely patriarchal, even today. So considering the fact that Izquierdo used her work as a platform for feminist rights in the 1930s and 1940s, she was way ahead of her time.
Izquierdo’s Most Notable Works
- Allegory of Freedom – 1937
- The Racket – 1938
- Untitled – 1938
- Conchs – 1939
- Self-portrait – 1940
- Pilgrims – 1945
- Sorrowful Friday – 1945
- The Idyll – 1946
- The Cupboard – 1947
Jose Guadalupe Posada
Born in Aguascalientes in 1852, Jose Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican satirical cartoonist and pictorial Journalist. At that time, a lot of people were illiterate.
So, Posada created grotesque caricatures, often of skeletons, to convey recent events to the people. Throughout the course of his lifetime, Posada produced thousands and thousands of illustrations and caricatures.
His work would go on to inspire countless cartoonists across Latin America. They would adapt and personalize his style to create dark, humorous, and satirical illustrations that would be used in newspapers and magazines.
Posada studied illustration at the Municipal Academy of Drawing in Aguascalientes in the 1960s. Undoubtedly his most important contribution to the world of Mexican art and culture is La Catrina.
A version of this was first drawn by Posada around 1910. La Catrina is the female skeleton depiction that is often associated with the Day of the Dead.
When you head to Dia de Los Muertos celebrations anywhere from San Cristobal de Las Casas to Oaxaca, you will see Catrina sculptures, floats, and women donning Catrina makeup. Despite now being considered as being one of the most famous Mexican artists of all time, Posada never became wealthy.
He lived a simple life and had a severe drinking problem. He died of gastroenteritis in 1913.
Sadly, he was largely forgotten towards the end of his life. He died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Posada’s Most Notable Works
- Vendor selling toys – 1885
- Skeletons as artisans – 1895
- The Oaxaqueña Calavera – 1900
- Calavera Maderista – 1913
Rufino Tamayo is widely regarded as being one of the very best Mexican painters. He was born in Oaxaca City in 1899 and was of Zapotec heritage.
Tamayo lived into his nineties and created more than 1,300 oil paintings throughout his long life, including 20 paintings of his beloved wife Olga. His pieces often depicted aspects of Zapotec culture, paired with Avante Garde stylings.
Despite the fact that Tamayo was mostly an oil painter, he dabbled in other areas of the creative arts too; He created murals, drawings, lithographs and mixographs, and even a stained glass window!
If you ever visit Mexico City, you can see some of his most renowned pieces on display in the Palacio Delles Artes, the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico, and the Anthropology Museum. Internationally, his pieces can be found in various galleries in New York City (where Tamayo spent much of his life), in Texas, Puerto Rico, Paris, and Washington.
The Museo Tamayo in Chapultapec park (Av. Paseo de la Reforma 51, Polanco) contains an extensive collection of his creations, as well as contemporary pieces by other contemporary artists from across the world.
Tamayo started his creative pursuit by studying at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City. He dropped out of the academy, but it was his passion for art and painting that led him to continue creating masterpieces and to gain international acclaim for his work, regardless of his qualifications.
Rufino Tamayo most notable works
- Watermelons – 1977
- Mujer en gris (woman in grey) – 1931
- Moon and sun – 1990
- Three people – 1970
- The Troubadour – 1945
- Moon Dog – 1973
- America – 1955
- Women of Tehuantepec – 1939
Remedios Varo was a female, Spanish-born Mexican artist. She was born in Anglès, Spain in 1908, where she became one of the first women to ever study at the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid.
During the Spanish civil war, Varo fled Spain and moved to Paris to focus on her art. But the outbreak of the second world war and the German occupation of France led her to have to try and flee once again.
She moved to Mexico in 1941 and went on to become a naturalized Mexican. However, her life was relatively short, and she died of a heart attack in 1963.
Her surrealist paintings are known around the world today. Though she is perhaps overshadowed by other Spanish and Mexican surrealist painters (such as the infamous Salvador Dali).
Indeed, as a female artist living in a patriarchal society in the 20th century, Varo often had to fight for her work to be taken seriously, purely because of her gender. Her late works, in particular, have a strong feminist tone.
They are perhaps reflective of a woman who had spent years working in the art industry and was becoming frustrated with the lack of recognition and equality. In Paris, Varo formed a relationship with the French surrealist Benjamin Péret who introduced her to other surrealists and no doubt helped shape her art.
When she arrived in Mexico City, she lived in the trendy Roma Norte district, where she lived close to and befriended other Mexico-based artists Leonora Carrington, and Kati Horna.
Remedios Varo most notable works
- The Souls of the Mountain – 1938
- Insomnia – 1947
- Allegory of Winter – 1948
- Celestial Pablum – 1958
- Creation of the Birds – 1958
- Exploring the Source of the Orinoco River – 1959
Gabriel Orozco is one of the best Mexican artists that has thrived in recent years. He was born in Veracruz in 1962 – the son of parents with leftist political views.
His surroundings and his upbringing helped Orozco to shape his view of the world and from there, form his artistic style. Later in his childhood, his family moved to Mexico City and Orozco went on to study at the Escuela Nacional de Arte Plasticas and at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain.
Orozco is often referred to as a “nomadic artist”. He frequently traveled around the world, visiting dozens of different countries and spending extended periods of time in Berlin, Paris, and New York City.
He drew inspiration from the various landscapes, traditions, and cultures that he saw around the globe and expressed them in his artwork. This gave way to a unique style that expanded on cultures outside of Mexico and its indigenous heritages.
Orozco has done some excellent contemporary painting, but he is arguably best known for his sculptures and his reimagining of everyday objects. For instance, one notable piece that is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is known as “Black Kites”.
This is a human skull that has been painted with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern that almost forms a kind of optical illusion. His 2006 “Mobile Matrix” is an excavated whale skeleton on display in a permanent exhibition at the José Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City.
Gabriel Orozco’s most notable works
- Black Kites – 1997
- Fly Stamp Collection – 2010
- Mobile Matrix – 2006
- Samurai Tree 6C – 2006
- Secuencia modular – 2016
- Untitled – 2017
- Dé fruit- 2018
Sergio Bustamente is a Mexican artist that was born in Culiacan, Sinaloa in 1949. He was sadly orphaned early in his childhood and adopted by his Grandfather, a Chinese immigrant who had naturalized in Mexico and changed his name in the 1930s.
Despite his loss, Bustamente had a happy childhood which he uses for inspiration for his works. He has been quoted as saying that he wants his pieces to reflect his childhood feeling of “feeling able to fly”.
Bustamente went on to study architecture at the University of Guadalajara, before following his passion for creating unique, surrealist sculptures. These sculptures usually depict humanoids with obscure, triangular-shaped heads.
Some are bronze, but many are made with resin and painted in bold, vibrant shades of blue, orange, and yellow.
On an international scale, Bustamente has perhaps not yet received the recognition he deserves. But his work within Mexico and his one-of-a-kind style have gained him national praise.
He is particularly revered in Guadalajara and the wider state of Jalisco. If you visit the charming pueblo magico of Tlaquepaque (known for its mariachi and its handicrafts and sculptures), you can visit the Sergio Bustamente gallery and admire his collection of resin and bronze sculptures.
His pieces often travel Mexico and the globe as part of various temporary collections. They are also on display at the Arte VallARTa Museo ( G. Prieto 164, El Remance) in Puerto Vallarta.
Bustamente’s Chinese heritage and his appreciation for other cultures are often visible in his works. Many of his sculptures have Chinese and Indian antennas.
Sergio Bustamante’s most notable works
- En Busca de la Razón (In Search of Reason) – 1999
- Adam – 2014
- Calypso – 2014
- East of the Paradise – 2014
- Demiurge – 2015
Joaquín Quirico Marcelino Clausell Traconis, known as Joaquin Clausell, was a Mexican political activist and lawyer who became known for his impressionist paintings. He was born in Campeche, in the Yucatan peninsula, in 1866.
However, he fled to Mexico City after confronting and upsetting the Campeche governor in public. In his personal life, Clausell was something of a rebel, jailed multiple times for his political views and actions.
His love for his native Mexico is clearly reflected in his artwork. Most of his pieces are paintings of beautiful landscapes and seascapes around the country.
If you love Mexico and art, you will enjoy seeing some of the best (and lesser-known) travel destinations around the country depicted in watercolor. One of Clausell’s most famous pieces is known as Xochimilco.
As the name suggests, it depicts the famous Xochimilco canals in Mexico City, where locals and tourists often board gondolas at weekends and sail along the waters. Meanwhile, the equally wonderful piece Fuentes brotantes depicts a national park in Tlalpan, Mexico City.
However, sometimes Clausell, a political activist at heart, ventured into pieces that spoke of global and political issues. One of his most famous pieces, Guernica, for instance, discusses the Spanish civil war.
Clausell mostly kept to himself and didn’t really self-promote. Nor did he draw as much attention to himself as some of the other famous Mexican artists that thrived during the Mexican revolution.
It is believed he created more than 400 paintings over the course of his life.
Joaquin Clausell’s most notable works
- Paisaje – date unknown
- Atradecer en el mar, la ola Roja – 1910
- Paisaje con Bosque y Río – 1910
- El Pedregal – date unknown
- Canal de Xochimilco – date unknown
Gilberto Aceves Navarro
Gilberto Aceves Navarro, born in Mexico City in 1931, was one of the best Mexican painters and sculptors of his time. His works are colorful, and exuberant, and contain a surrealist style with depictions of Mexican culture.
Navarro began his artistic studies at the National School for Painting, Sculpture, and Etching at “La Esmeralda” in 1950. In 1952, he worked as an assistant to the Mexican Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, before becoming a professor of art at numerous prestigious global universities.
Notably, the Instituto de Intercambio Cultural Mexicano Norteamericano in Los Angeles, California, and La Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (Academia de San Carlos, UNAM) in Mexico City. From there, he would go on to offer independent courses through himself directly.
Navarro’s artwork has won numerous awards and notable mentions across Mexico and the world. He created hundreds of gorgeous pieces throughout his life that have been hosted at exhibitions everywhere from Japan to Colombia.
Gilberto Aceves Navarro’s most famous works
- Poema Floral (Floral Poem) – 1968
- Yo Canto a Vietnam – 1970
- Canto Triste por Biafra = 1979
FAQs about the Most Famous Mexican Artists
Do you have any further questions or queries about the most famous Mexican artists past and present? Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for below.
Who is the most famous artist in Mexico?
Frida Kahlo is arguably the most famous Mexican artist that has ever lived. Her unique image and her monobrow, have become almost an icon of Mexico.
Even people that have zero interest in, or are not familiar with, art would probably recognize her. However, she was sadly unappreciated at her time.
Diego Riviera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros – the three great muralist painters are also among the most revered artists that have lived in Mexico. Sadly, many of the most famous artists that lived during the Mexican Revolution are no longer alive.
In terms of the most famous living Mexican artist, Veracruz-born Gabriel Orozco probably takes that title.
What type of art is famous in Mexico
Various types of artwork are enjoyed and appreciated in Mexico. Some of the greatest artists to have come from Mexico were muralists and impressionists so that work is particularly adored.
However, so too, are sculptures, contemporary paintings, surrealist paintings, and light installations. Mexico (Mexico City and Guadalajara in particular) is home to some excellent art museums and galleries that contain a diverse range of creations by various international and local artists, in numerous art styles.
What is the name of the famous female Mexican artist?
Several wonderful female artists have hailed from Mexico over the decades. However the most famous is Frida Kahlo – immediately recognizable in her various self-portraits for her monobrow and her tied-up hairstyle.
What makes Mexican art unique?
Mexican art and artists are unique because pieces are often used to express thoughts on historical events such as the Mexican Revolution. They also often express Mexican indigenous cultures, traditional clothing, and heritage.
Most Famous Mexican Artists: Final Thoughts
Were you aware of these Mexican artists? Which ones are your favorites?
If you have an interest in Mexican history and culture, you may also enjoy reading these facts about Mexico.