From my first day of school I began paying attention to art. At age 69, I still remember my first box of crayons, and the first pair of scissors that I used for cutting and pasting colored construction paper. They were art materials that I still use in my artwork today. Pens, paper, and paint.
Teachers were an important part of my life. I was too passive to ever argue with my fellow teachers, so I always followed everything they told me to do. My teachers were so encouraging. I would not be an artist today without their encouragement. It was 1941, I was eleven years old in the sixth grade, and it was the first year of WWII. I would draw war pictures. I would draw charros on horseback. I was already drawing political, social, and cultural pictures. Teachers would put my artwork up on the walls. That gave me the encouragement that I needed. I was starting to make a connection with the art world. Later, it would be art that took me out of the labor camps and barrio life.
If I had to describe my art, I would say that it is a lifetime process. It has been the lifetime journey that shaped my style of art. A lifetime commitment has given me a new school of art called “Chicano Art.” Chicano is a Nahuatl word adopted by the early Mexican American artists.
By today’s standards, Chicano art gives me everything I need for self-expression. It has given me identity, self-respect, and finally, thirty-five years of teaching Chicano art, murals, and posters.
Chicano art allows me to paint and draw from two cultures: Indian and European. I paint about the Mestizo people at a universal level, cultural icons of food or religion. I’ll paint a slice of a hot jalapeno pie. I show people eating menudo, Mayan deities, la familia, and a lead into the future of art history. I feel grateful to be a part of Chicano art--a new school of art.
Title: Golden Jalapeno
Media: Acrylic Painting
Without satire, Chicano art would have no sense of humor. What would art be like without Salvador Dali’s surrealism? Creativity without satire would be like Mexican food without chile.
Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada made the skeleton famous. Or was it the skeleton that made Posada famous? Andy Warhol took Campbell’s soup cans off the supermarket shelves and put them in a museum. American artist Wayne Thiebaud painted pies and cakes in bright colors.
Now we have Chicano pop art. While no one was looking, I took the apples from Mom’s apple pie and replaced them with jalapeños. I would like to see the jalapeño become a cultural icon.
Title: Rueben’s Graffiti
Media: Silkscreen / Acid free paper
For me, Chicano art is basic and simple. I paint people, places, and things. People as in portraiture. Places as in Mayan architecture. Things from my imagination.
My portrait repertoire is of people who have contributed to humanity: Ruben Salazar, journalist, Los Angeles Times. César Chávez, president, United Farm Workers union. Frida Kahlo, Mexican artist. Joe Serna, Mayor, Sacramento, California. My Favorite portraits are of children--the future!