Arnold Belkin (1930-1932) was a Canadian-born Jewish, Mexican painter, who is credited for continuing the Mexican muralist movement. Born in Calgary, Alberta, his parents were Jewish immigrants from Europe, whose strong socialist values would offset the foundation for Belkin’s work.
Belkin began painting and drawing in his adolescence, formally training at the Vancouver school of the arts from 1945 to 1947 and at the Banff School of Arts from 1947 to 1948. Traditional Canadian painting, such as that of the group of seven, failed to excite Belkin. It was the work of Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralist movement, which he discovered in “Time Magazine” at the age of 14, that truly inspired the young artist. Accordingly, he left Canada for Mexico at age 18 and enrolled in the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes.
After finishing his studies, Belkin began working at the Taller de Ensayo de Materiales y Plasticos, creating various murals with the collective. He created his first individual mural, ¡El Pueblo no Guiere la Guerra! in 1950, a fresco painted at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional - since destroyed.
From 1954 to 1956, he studied engraving at the Mexico City College, lithography at Escuela de Artes del Libro, and participated in various workshops conducted by Guillermo Silva Santamaría. He held his first individual exhibition at the the Instituto Cultural Anglo-Mexicano, sponsored by the Canadian Embassy in 1952, with an introduction written by David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Belkin’s philosophy on art was that it should serve to teach and stimulate intellectual discourse, often depicting painful and controversial moments from world history. Although his work went through several phases, the human figure and relating the past to the present were consistent themes throughout his career.
His early work from the 1950s focused on Mexico’s popular traditions, especially those related to mortality. In the 1960s, he was influenced by Rico Lebrun while he visited Mexico, which resulted in his work becoming monochromatic – emphasising the use of grays, sepias ochre, and black.
A visit to Europe in 1968, would further transform his work, inciting more of a dynamic character – he even denounced his previous work as too static. Europe’s old masters also inspired his series, “Historic Battles,” which were reinterpretations of classic works.
When Belkin moved to New York in the beginning of the 1970s, his work began focusing on difficult emotions, took an ochre tone, and ventured into oils and sculpture. In 1971, he was artist-in-residence at the Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. Belkin created his largest New York mural in Hell’s Kitchen from 1972 to 1973. To complete the ambitious project, he enlisted help from anyone willing to be taught. Belkin also participated in many exhibitions throughout North America in the 1970s, which increased his fame and success.
He returned to Mexico in 1976, where he spent the rest of his life, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1981. Throughout the 1980s, he worked on a series of murals and sculptures for the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Iztapalapa, Mexico. The body of work is his most famed.
Belkin died in Mexico City in 1992 from lung cancer at age 61. He was buried at the Panteón Judio in Mexico City.
Belkin's career spanned more than three decades. He created 28 major public murals, participated in over 150 exhibitions all over the world, forty Mexican stage productions, as well as other activities.