Joe L. López

With an irrepressible sense of ethnic identity and a love for the subtle aspects of his cultural traditions, Lopez explains, “I enjoy painting things I relate to, things that remind me of my childhood in the barrio. People can relate to my paintings because we have shared a common experience. I paint life the way it is… real life. I include the holes in the little boy’s t-shirt and the wrinkles on people’s faces and hands. We are Tex-Mexicanos and our roots are from Mexico.

“I like to call my work Chicano Barrio art, with emphasis on Barrio! Growing up, I saw both sides of life and I prefer to paint the positive and beautiful side. I never want to forget where I came from… I am an American of Mexican descent and that is what I paint. I am not unique, there are millions of people who grew up this way. Even though life was rough, we survived. I am proud to go back to my roots, and paint images that evoke memories of a proud lifestyle. The greatest compliment I can receive, is from a individual who looks at my work and says, ‘That’s my uncle!’ or ‘I had forgotten that!’”

At a ceremony honoring Lopez, Father Virgil Elizondo of the Archdiocese of Texas, praised Joe Lopez for his paintings portraying the historic San Fernando Cathedral and concluded his thoughts by saying, “he captures our soul.”

La Visita

La Visita is one of several in a series of “Dia de los Muertos” paintings. It was inspired by my cuñada Eugenia who lives in Mexico. One day while I was sitting outside her humble home, sipping on a cold Corona beer, I over heard Queña talking to her chickens “Gallo condenado, vas a ver a la noche te pesco,” she mumbled, “no te me vas a escapar! Que paso Queña? Se esta peleando cn las gallinas? Si Joe, ese maldito gallito crea que se me escapo, pero a la noche quando este dormido me lo pesco.” Sure enough that evening when the sun went down Quena and I, with her flashlight in her hand went to an old shed in the back yard. Up on the rafters the unsuspecting “Gallito” slept. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him as she grab him by his legs and stuck him in a small cage. “Mañana te voy haser un caldo bein sbroso!” De tantas gallinas que tiene aqui, porque este? Why this one? I asked. Because he is young, es el mas tiernito, she replied. The next morning my brother-in-law wrung the young gallo’s neck and plucked his feathers. As promised that day Queña cooked a delicous “Caldo de Gallina” or perhaps I should say un “Caldito de Gallo.” A fond memory came to mind of when I was a young boy and my abuelita would also feed and talk to her gallinas, she had a name for each one of them as if she was sure they could understand her every word. After my abuelita died the chickens became fewer and fewer until they were all gone. “La Visita” is a small gesture on Dia de los Muertos to the spirit of my abuelita and her beloved gallinas.

La Causa

This painting was inspired by the lawsuit filed against my two cousins and myself by the Gallo Wine Company. I had never been an activist, protestor or a rebel in the Chicano movement, nor was I ever involved in any kind of boycott against grapes or lettuce. Actually I was too busy being a Vato Loco enjoying life to the fullest and getting in trouble. I remember watching César Chávez and all his followers on TV but never really comprehended what it was all about. I just remember being proud to be a Chicano. Don’t get me wrong, as a young boy I sold news papers on street corners, I cut yards and I walked many a mile picking up empty beer and soda water bottles. They used to pay 2 cents for each bottle back then. When I got older I worked at a dairy farm helping milk the cows or worked out in fields picking up bails of hay. Both my parents work hard as migrant workers being pulled out of school at a young age to go to Las Piscas, like many other families trying to survive in this new land… America. We were sued because we were trying to trademark the phrase “Puro Gallo” they said the word “Gallo” belonged to them. It was then, when our backs were up against the wall, that people from all over started coming to our aid, because of reading about our dilemma through newspaper articles and on the Internet. Activists, Latino organizations and just plain people many had march along side César Chávez, all this support finally opened my eyes to “La Causa.” Inspired by a photograph of a farm workers march, “La Causa” pays tribute to the thousands of migrant workers who toiled endlessly with blood, sweat, and tears for a chance at a better life. The skeletons represent the many, many proud people who died for La Causa. Que Viva La Raza!

The Tug of War

The Tug of War is a painting inspired after a discussion with Judge Fernando Macias over a single mother’s struggle to keep her child (chavalon) out of a gang. Judge Mancias wondered what my interpretation as an artist of this sad but real life situation would be. As fate would have it I could relate to everything that he had said to me. My older brother Tony (El Tony) was my hero, and I had always looked up to him and his friends. Los Vatos Locos. Mi carnal and his comaradas were cool, tough, fun-loving vatos and they all had nicknames that they carried with pride. They were always getting into fights or in trouble with the law. I had good hard working Catholic parents. My father worked nights and my jefita (mother) would be sitting in the dark waiting and praying that my bother would get home safely. One night a man with a flashlight came to our house. My brother had been in a bad accident; he was OK but seriously hurt. My mother crying told me I had to go to the hospital with her. That night I swore I would never put my mother through such pain, but in the end, I too fell under the influence of gangs. The painting shows gang members, boys and girls, pulling on a mother’s son. Behind the figures is a rough, cracked wall, to show that life is rough. The wall is covered with nicknames of people I grew up with. Some are in prison and ma,y are dead, and other are still living “La Vida Loca” and some of us are still trying to do something with our lives. The little boy helping the mother in the painting is me before I switchd over to the other side. This painting is about the vicious circle that many of Chicanos live. Some of us make it; many of us don’t.

The Spirit of Machismo

This is a painting of my cousin Bonifascio (Bon'e), flapping his shirt back and forth in the Texas heat. I have a lot of respect for Bon'e. When we were kids, Bon'e fearlessly fought the barrio bully. Smaller and younger than his opponent, Bon'es arms never stopped swinging, and although he didn't win the fight, he earned respect from all of us, including the bully who provoked him. Years later, another bully came into our neighborhood– a giant winery from Modesto, California. Once again, Bon'e was there. When I gave him the opportunity to distance himself from the Puro Gallo Lawsuit, his response was, "Yo no me rajo"… we're in this together, 'til the end… "te di palabra de hombre". If you look closely, you can see him, El Prieto, standing tall, flapping his wings, his chest puffed out…"PURO GALLO."