Roberto Sifuentes

I have had people sincerely ask why the majority of my work incorporated the nude figure and I respond with two reason: the classics and truth. European and pre-Columbian classics; European in the beauty of the natural line of the body, pre-Columbian in the beauty of the abstract line of the body.

Autobiographic in nature, most of my work is usually a narrative shadow reflection of an incident in my life. To truthfully express that incident I feel that I have to bear my soul, and expose my heart, which to me requires that I remove all worldly body armor I have adorned and shielded myself with. The life that I have experienced has garnished me with more than the normal amount of that armor and, true to our worldly guise, I embellish myself with it. In the same spirit as my search for the simplicity of truth, I have simplified my palette down to the primaries and black and white, which ironically created a technical complexity to the execution of my art.

If I were to use one word to describe my art it would be flux. There is always a stylistic flux mirroring the surge and lapses that shadow the complications of my thought and spirit. At this particular time, I utilize my artwork therapeutically, as a catalyst to ease my tormented soul and battered mind. I find the limitation that some artists impose on their expression in an attempt to resolve problematical aspects too restrictive to the spontaneity of true emotional expression.

A San Antonio native, I was a participant of the Chicano movement in distinct stratums, first as a street gang worker while in high school, then as a V.I.S.T.A. volunteer and after Viet Nam, a Brown Beret. Now, I see most people defining the Chicano and his art within a very limited scope, even the “hispanics” who are against the political abrasiveness of the Chicano concepts think that Chicanismo should be confined to the barrio and the wood burning barrels within it.

I prefer to see myself as capable of expanding my Chicanismo aesthetics to encompass the whole of my reality. I refuse to acknowledge that the conscience of the Chicano and his art is bound by the peripherals of his culture.

At the moment my concern with my art is a augmentation of its technical aspects by exposure to the rigors of academia. To try to answer what my motivation is for doing art would be like answering what my motivation for breathing is. I breathe to exist and I do art to ease that existence.

As an artist, I have pondered my purpose often, and have turned my back on it from time to time. I have dropped my brush during periods of profound confusion and weakness--I stopped being the witness and have attempted to exist only as a participant.

A tarot card reader once told me that as a participant I would witness very little of my experience. She said that my world was engulfed by heavy fog, but that the misty shroud was also my protection. I could see clearly through this thick veil; I could not witness it through the eyes of the artist, through the id of my experience. The fog of self-betrayal clouded my vision.

I remember winning a fifth grade art contest with a tempera painting of Peter Pan fighting with Captain Hook, an art piece that was reproduced on mimeograph for “La Vela,” the school’s newspaper. For most of my life, I was that Peter Pan fighting life’s Captain Hooks. When I discarded the Peter Pan cap, shoes, and façade, I discovered underneath a vampire seeking to hook his roots in the clouds of my fog. I discovered then that purpose in art could be a monstrous reality.

Now, as I attempt to simplify life for the sake of my art, I have come to embrace the solitude and the struggle of an artist’s inner landscape. I am aware of Truth; and yes, I also know of the constant manipulation of Truth. More importantly, I am the living witness and active participant in the beveled mirrors of my art. Therein lies purpose and breath of my life.

Tu asimilación is showing, 1998

oil on paper, 35 x 36 ins.

This piece is a personal expression of one of my assimilation brigades. There are times when I realize that I am doing something that I used to consider to be very “white,” or I say something like “chair” or “cheese” that does not come our right. These brigades are communication glitches or transition speedbumps that can be very romantic or vulgar depending on circumstance, like whether you’re Italian or Chicano in Texas or Greece. I have worked with this dualistic image before; the times it comes out in my moments of weakness I enjoy using humor as a shield. But there is a rending of the spirit that cannot be denied, cuando te ofenden hasta el alma, and that was the main thing that I wanted to physically express. At the same time, consumed by ego in a world that I seem to have outgrown and in some instances outlived. Cuando uno vive sincero se va encontra con la verda si la busca, but at times one does not want to see the truth and will close his eyes or assume a façade of stoic indifference. Then one will lose that sincerity and the truth will turn into foolishness, uno se hase tonto.

Guerra de flores hijo, 1983

watercolor & colorpencil 20 x 15 ins.

This piece, one of my favorites, is the first self-portrait of Viet Nam, also the first of the 173d series. Guerra de flores hijo, flower-war child is what I know my generation to have been. I was also working on the post-Columbian series and while researching came across the pre-Columbian concept of the flowery wars. The Aztecs and their alliances during times of peace would have mock wars, engrossed with religious ritual and pomp, intended for combat readiness and the taking of sacrificial victims. These wars were not intended to kill but to take prisoners for sacrificial ceremonies to appease the gods and thus bring prosperity for everyone. To die on the battleground or under the sacrificial knife was regarded as a great honor. Theocratically asking what you can do for your country, the youth were indoctrinated to the grandeur of the rewards of the flowery war on those battlegrounds.

Assimilation through social service or patriotic duty, for my generation there was the “War on Poverty” or the “War in Viet Nam.” I did both wars, after high school I joined VISTA and became a deferment carrying, anti-Viet Nam, flower-child. In November of 1968, after contemplating the return of friends from Viet Nam, some wounded, some zipped-up, I dropped both the protest sign and deferment I held, volunteered for the draft, and followed my two older brothers to Viet Nam. As an artist I had a romantically vicarious impression of “the artist’s witness to war,” which I held even while in Viet Nam. I was considered “lucky.” When I got shot my squad thought the sky was going to fall, if any thing might have fell, I like to think that it was flowers, pre-Columbian flowers.