My art is primarily
figurative and southwestern in theme. It has much to do with raising ethnic
I do believe in the socio-political relevance of art, but my first concern
is the emotional impact the art carries. I wish to reach my audience in a
strong emotional way by the use of color, mood, and subjective composition.
I create many of my images by reaching into the past so I can give concrete
visibility to the Chicano experience in New Mexico and the Southwest.
The southwest United States stands very much apart from the rest of the nation;
in New Mexico we refer to our land as la nacioncita, a little nation within
a nation. It is my purpose to reflect on this little nation and its people
through my art. With this understanding I feel free to create art which harks
back historically to other times. I also feel free to create paintings in
a more contemporary approach. To me, painting is an encounter between the
creative process and the artist. I am not so concerned with a method of painting
as I am with the life the artwork imparts.Statements on artwork submitted
to Chicana/Chicano art project.
Painting: "Commemorative Portrait of Patrocinio Barela (after
In 1989 I was asked by the National Association of Chicano Studies to complete
a painting to be reproduced as a poster for their annual conference to be
held in March of 1990 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The committee wanted a Mexican
American from the state who had contributed to the history and culture of
the Chicano community. The person selected was Patrocinio Barela, wood carver
Outside New Mexico, very few scholars know about Patrocinio Barela and his
exceptional accomplishments. I learned of him and his art at the age of twelve
when I found a small booklet about the artist in my junior high school library.
I felt an immediate connection to Barela as a role model. By that age I had
read all the art books in Albuquerque's public libraries and I had never come
across any Chicano artists.
I discovered that Patrocinio Barela was the first Mexican American artist
to gain national fame; he was hailed as the most important artist of the WPA/FAP
(Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Program). During his lifetime
Barela’s extraordinary wood sculptures were collected by numerous museums
throughout the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York
and the National Museum of Art in Washington, D.C. He died tragically in a
fire that consumed him and his studio in 1964.
I painted the Commemorative Portrait of Patrocinio Barela from a black and
white photo from the state library photo archives. I sought to capture the
pathos of the man’s life through the use of blue and purple, applying
the pigments in a quick and agitated way.
Barela’s successes were overshadowed by his lifelong poverty. Yet his
suffering and health problems did not change his dedication to this art. I
intended to create an icon the Chicano community could accept and appreciate.
In 1995, I co-authored the definitive biography of the artist, Spirit Ascendant,
The Art and Life of Patrocinio Barela, Red Crane Books, Santa Fe, New Mexico,
1995. A reproduction of the Barela portrait is printed on the back jacket
of the book.
Painting: "The Meal (after Collier)"
By 1991, I had lived in Santa Fe for five years. The glitz and hype of the
city as an artist’s mecca was wearing thin. Galleries and museums continued
to fill their wall spaces with silly art of Dalmatians, empty chairs, hip
coyotes, Indians and cowboys all painted in garish colors. It was like being
fed a diet of sugar substitute, no calories and bitter to the taste.
Santa Fe had been transformed from a traditional Hispano community into a
playground for tourists and the wealthy. This loss saddened me as a Chicano
and angered me as an artist. I felt I had to express my anger at the commercial
trashing of the Chicano heartland. I wanted to get back to the bare bones,
the basics of my art as a figurative painter to recapture visually what our
Chicano community had lost.
I had collected numerous black and white photos from my research of the WPA
era and earlier. The photos documented Hispano village life in New Mexico.
It is a topic close to me because my father was from a northern New Mexico
land grant village. His longing to return to a rural life deeply affected
me. The photos of village life moved me to create large canvases of rural
Hispanic New Mexico.
I added very little color to my palette for The Meal. I used a slight
ochre for the upper wall, brown with black for the lower portion and muted
green for the table cover. With the family at mealtime as its main focus the
painting provided me with sustenance to continue with my art in Santa Fe.
It also marked the beginning of a monochromatic painting series I did to exorcise
the terrible effect Santa Fe Style was having on my psyche. In 1992, this
painting and others of the monochromatic series were exhibited at the Millicent
Rogers Museum in Taos, followed by an exhibit at the New Mexico Fine Arts
Museum in Santa Fe.
Painting: "Chicana Mundial," oil on canvas,
40" x 46", 2000.
The subject for Chicana Mundial is el mestizaje, the historic process
of race mixing which led to the creation of the mestizo race. The mestizo
is seen by the outside world in a negative light, as a mongrel or half caste.
Chicanos see the mestizo as a source of pride. We regard ourselves as beautiful,
the best of many cultures.
The issue of Chicano identity is continually being examined and questioned
by Chicanos themselves. As mestizos with Indian blood, we have a birthright
to our country, the United States. As Mexican Americans we also have a political
stake in this nation. The question is, if we assimilate will we lose our identity
and our birthright to this land? This dynamic tension in our changing identity,
our interaction with Mexico and the United States is what has compelled me
to create Chicana Mundial.
I painted flowers to symbolize our mestizo heritage; the red and white roses
crossed to represent the mixing of Indian and European ancestry. They come
together to create a pink rose, which symbolizes the beauty of the Chicano
culture. From a recent visit to Mexico I learned that the great Aztec calendar
stone was originally painted. I recreated this Mexican monument as a background
to my studio portrait of la mestiza. In front of her are flags of Mexico and
the United States, symbols of our identity as Mexican Americans.
Our Chicano culture is held in low esteem by Mexicans, other Latin cultures,
and Anglos in the United States. Chicana Mundial, the Worldly Chicana, means
the Chicano culture is equal to other cultures of the world.
Painting: "Visit to Teotihuacan," oil
on canvas, 38" x 44", 2000
Visit to Teotihuacan is the second painting in the series about cultural identity
that began with Chicana Mundial. This painting came from my recent visit to
Mexico and subsequent pilgrimage to Teotihuacan. I was profoundly moved by
these ancient sites and pre-Columbian artifacts. In Visit to Teotihuacan I
sought to contrast the humanity of a portrait of a young Chicana in festive
dress with the awesome and terrible beauty of the Teotihuacan monuments.
My idea was to make a visual and ideological link from our Chicano present
to our ancient past. There are traces of paint on some of these magnificent
monuments. This compelled me to portray the Quetzalcoatl stone head in color,
as I did with the Aztec stone calendar in Chicana Mundial. This placement
of the human figure with culturally significant sites and symbols intrigues
me. I like the idea of visiting or touring different places and establishing
a Chicano presence at the historic roots of our identity. By painting these
culturally significant places I am reclaiming them as our birthright. Being
a Chicano tourist means having a political and cultural agenda.
Description of the Process Used to Make the Art Works:
I paint primarily with oil or acrylic paints on canvas. Once in a while I
paint on untempered Masonite panels for smaller paintings. I never mix the
two mediums (acrylic with oil) as I find this process unnecessary and perhaps
harmful to the stability of the finished work. I think a great deal about
size and it fits my subject matter. I enjoy painting large works and alternate
with smaller ones. I do have the problem of creative mental block. I always
have a painting (usually a number or paintings) I am working on. I use numerous
techniques in my art including the grisaille method to painting a la prima.
My best formula for creating art is to be left alone and undisturbed for long
hours of work and contemplation.
In 1989, I painted portraits of Mexican Americans who were important to me
and to the contemporary history of New Mexico. Two images included in this
package are Commemorative Portrait of Patrocinio Barela and El Tigre Del Norte:
Portrait of Reies López Tijerina. Barela is a pivotal figure in Chicano
art history, being the first Mexican American artist to gain national attention
(1936). This painting was selected as the poster image for the National Association
for Chicano Studies Conference, 1990. The portrait of the land grant activist,
Reies López Tijerina, was also completed with the idea of commemorating
an important Chicano personage. Mr. López Tijerina sat for this portrait
in his home in Coyote, New Mexico.
In 1992, I painted works in a large format that were based on old archival
photos depicting Hispanos of New Mexico. These paintings were completed in
monochrome and a number of them were exhibited at the Fine Arts Museum of
New Mexico in Santa Fe (see the works Procession of the Sacred Heart and The
Meal). My purpose behind these works was to underscore the need to return
to the basics of painting in Santa Fe, where I lived at the time. Too much
irrelevant gaudy "Santa Fe style" art was and still is being produced
in this art community. Also, few artists were expressing the Chicano experience
in their art at that time and none of us had venues in Santa Fe other than
our own studios. With these paintings I continued to produce the "missing
images" I talked about in the 1989 article in New Mexico magazine, "Artist
Fills Cultural Gap."
Some art works with more direct Chicano expressive symbols include the works
Juan Diego y la Morena and Tierra o Muerte. In Juan Diego y la Morena I reacted
to the traditional way in which Juan Diego has been depicted in Mexican art,
as a mild and meek individual. I sought to portray a strong and tortured individual
who showed great courage of conviction about his visions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I also included other symbols representing the rebirth of Mexico, the eagle,
the serpent, and the turtle representing the "turtle island" of
the United States, all under a celestial sky. With Tierra o Muerte I was intent
on creating the quintessential painting representing the land grant struggles
of the American Southwest. Land grant groups in New Mexico revere Emiliano
Zapata so I placed him in front of the village of Tierra Amarilla at the foot
of the Brazos Peak where the land grant struggles continue to this day.
Other paintings have particular personal concerns for me. For example, A Farewell
to Mexico is a portrait of my grandmother, Remedios, who fled Mexico with
her family during the Mexican Revolution earlier in the twentieth century.
She is depicted with two of her twelve children who died before she and her
family could reach El Paso. I often use family and friends in my art such
as in Avelina’s World, which depicts my cousin from Santa Fe and the
cover illustrations for the Farolitos books. The abuelo and the granddaughter
are both family friends. The Farolitos of Christmas was awarded the Tomás
Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award of excellence by Southwest
Texas State University in 1996 for depicting with authenticity the Mexican
Printmaking is also a passion of mine. I prefer intaglio, which demands a
strong discipline in drawing. I utilize traditional techniques in aqua tint
and soft ground on copper plates to create my prints. I burn and print my
own plates and do not utilize a master printer. This allows me the control
and freedom to experiment in any direction I wish.
I have an inventory of new artwork available for purchase and will make slides
available upon request.