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 boys t-shirt and the wrinkles
on peoples faces and hands. We are Tex-Mexicanos and our roots are from
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, Thats 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 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 couldnt 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 gallos 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.
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. Dont
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!
Tug of War
The Tug of War is a painting inspired after a discussion with Judge
Fernando Macias over a single mothers 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 mothers
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 dont.
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."