"Art for the Chicano artist or audience is far more complicated
to create or to understand because of its historical origin and the varied
elements that make up Chicano culture in relation to the rest of America.
As a visual artist, this problem often leads to frustration and keeps me searching
for ways of breaking those misunderstandings between the Chicano, Hispanic,
and mainstream American culture. Not interested in ‘stereotypical’
events, I like to challenge the viewer and tell it like it is–I guess
that my sensitivity to injustice is more important than painting about a tamalada
or harvesting crops. To me, what constitutes a Chicano artist is the ability
to stay true to Chicanismo and to the morals and values that so many Chicanos
have fought for.
"The Two Sides", oil on canvas, 48"
x 96", 1994. From the Abstracted Skyscape Series.
Collection of the ORC Industries, La Crosse, Wisconsin-Brownsville, Texas
Back in 1993-94, I decided to produce a body of work that dealt with one of
the most overlooked characteristics of Deep South Texas–the ever-changing
sky. I decided to produce twenty pieces; ten paintings and ten large mixed
media drawings. At that point I was going through a style change and decided
that the body of work would be subjective. I called this body of work "Abstracted
Skyscapes of South Texas." I spend most of the year moving about and
depicting a variety of skies. Midway through the series, a friend of mine
(George Truan) was on his deathbed dying from liver cancer. Because of that,
all sorts of personal feelings and emotions were going through me. Another
visible thing was the ever increasing numbers of Border Patrol agents roaming
the streets of Brownsville–the whole "Valley" for that matter.
It was on a weekend when I found out that my friend had passed away. I sat
there in my studio and was still in shock and somewhat angered by his death.
I took out my sketchbook and began drawing the zigzag pattern of a cardiograph–his
cardiograph. Within minutes I began to paint the same zigzag pattern on a
large canvas and when it was all finished, I had a wash painting that gave
the impression of a foggy sky, tall grass, and water. The painting stayed
like that for a month, and then the idea came to me. I painted my trademark
colored stripes in the background of the grass-like brushstrokes with the
intention of them depicting "illegal" immigrants waiting and hiding
behind the tall grass by the Rio Grande River seeking the right time to cross
into Brownsville. The painting, as simple as it is, turned out to be my favorite
of the series for three reasons. First, I accomplished my goal in regards
to the series. Two, it confirmed my commitment to my work as a Chicano painter,
and three, it alleviated some of the anguish I was going through.
Goes! mixed media on canvas, 48" x 48" 1997. From
the Anything Goes Series, Collection of the Artist
In the mid 90s, I began to notice that there was a noticeable increase of
street children from nearby Matamoros, Mexico. Every day as I drove to work,
I began to notice them more and more. Some were begging and hanging out on
the parking lots of the "casas de cambio" that are scattered along
the route I take. On some occasions, I could see some as young as six years
old inhaling spray paint and half passed out. This prompted me to paint Anything
Goes. The image of a hatchling sitting on an old and weathered tree branch
is symbolic of the cry and unknown fate of these street children. I chose
the young bird, an icon that I often use because of its frailty. The dark
and energized background is symbolic of the fears and cries that come with
the night. Where these kids go and what happens to them are still the biggest