Chicano Art in Colorado: An Overview
George Rivera, Ph.D.

For the most part, research and publications on Chicano art in the United States have yet to discover artists from Colorado.  For example, the CARA  catalogue,1 Gorodezky's book on Chicano art published in Mexico,2  de Alba's most recent text on Chicano art,3  and art historians  --like Shrifa Goldman and Tomas Ybarra-Frausto have neglected much of Chicano art in Colorado.4 Understandably, artist/authors like Judy Baca and Amalia Mesa-Bains have left this area of art untouched because art in California is what they know best.5  Though Lucy Lippard noted a few Colorado artists in Mixed Blessings,6  Chicano art talent in Colorado has yet to be discovered by those in the art world. Moreover, Cheech Marin's "Chicano Visions" touring exhibition (2002) did not include any Chicano artists outside of California and Texas.7  Some of this neglect of artists from states other than California and Texas is being addressed in a forthcoming text on Chicano art by the Bilingual Review Press.

Eighty-five percent of all Latinos of Mexican origin live in the southwestern United States (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas).  Of all these states, Colorado has the lowest percentage (10.5%) of the total state population who are of Mexican origin.8  This statistic has played an important role in the lack of attention given to  Chicano Art from Colorado. Consequently, we will explore the history  of Chicano art in Colorado and will highlight some of the major artists  who have produced art.9

Pre-Chicano Movement Art In Colorado

The best-known artists prior to the Seventies were Ramon Kelley, John Flores, and Tim Cisneros.  After having served in the Navy, Kelley moved  from Wyoming to Colorado.   His work can be characterized as traditional  Southwestern artist, and he is known for his portraits and figures.  He primarily works in oils and pastels and is a member of the Pastel  Society of America.  John Flores began his career as a meat cutter before he turned his full-time attention to art.  He also created works in the traditional Southwestern style. During this period Tim Cisneros (deceased) alsocreated work of Southwestern landscapes in impasto oils.  The work created during the Sixties can be characterized as Southwestern art and had (has) great appeal in the art market.

The Muralists

In the late Sixties and early Seventies there was a renaissance of Chicano art in Colorado.  The Crusade for Justice in Denver (La Crusada), created by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, played an important role in the emergence of this art.  Gonzales was one of the four major leaders of the Chicano Movement along with Cesar Chavez, Reies Lopez Tijerina, and Jose Angel Gutierrez.  The Crusade represented the nationalistic arm of the Chicano movement.  At the Crusade headquaters which was located on Downing Street in Denver (now razed and no longer standing), Carlos Santistevan created El Grito de Aztlan Gallery "the first Chicano gallery in Colorado" in 1968.

Emanuel Martinez started his career at the Crusade and became a well known Chicano muralist in the Colorado during this period.  His murals, which celebrate Mexican history and Chicano identity, can be found throughout Denver.  Another muralist who emerged during this era was Carlota Espinoza.  She became known for her murals referencing Chicano history in Colorado, with special reference to the contributions of women.  One of her most noted murals is found on the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Denver.  During this same period, Leo Tanguma became known for his murals.  Tanguma first started his career in Texas where he experienced the defacing of one of his murals located at the Continental Can Company in Houston.  In Colorado he became known for his "mobile" murals which could be assembled and disassembled for exhibitions indoors or outdoors.  His murals also consist of references to the Chicano Movement and Mexican history and his recent work tends to cross cultural boundaries.  He presently has murals at the Denver International Airport.

In the initial period of mural making in Colorado, Jerry Jaramillo painted  murals which can be found at various sites in Denver, e.g., Aztlan Theater, Servicios De La Raza, etc. More recently,  Andy Mendoza painted murals and became known for his inclusion of children and young people as collaborators in his projects. Bob Luna created tile murals along Interstate 25 highwayin Denver.  Tony Ortega and Sylvia Montero also have created murals in parks and neighborhoods depicting the history of  women in Colorado.


Painting has been the major medium used by Chicano artists in Colorado. Almost all artists work in this medium with the exception of the photographers.  It has had a strong influence throughout the development of Chicano art in Colorado. Carlos Sandoval painted work on church walls with particular attention given to Mexican religion and Aztec history. Stevon Lucero's work continues this tradition by creating work that addresses Aztec and Mayan history, and his style is known as "metarealism.".  Bob Luna's work is historically based with references to Mexican and Chicano history while Dan Luna (his brother) creates colorful works of scenes involving traditional Latin American personages.

Tony Ortega creates work that depicts everyday life in the barrio and contains historical references to indigenous culture.  Ricky  Armendariz's work addresses stereotypes by utilizing cartoon characters

from mass media, with references to Chicanos like Freddy Fender.  Carlos  Fresquez and Frank Zamora recently created "Los Supersonics" an art group that focuses on the influence of  mass media and popular culture.

Jerry De La Cruz's work is well executed and references religious iconography.  Patty Ortiz, a transplant from Texas, creates work about her own frustrations as a Chicana living in the United

States.  Anita Rodriguez-Wakelin's work sometimes focuses on Chicano culture but oftentimes is much more abstract. Emilio Lobato is another artist who uses the abstract tradition to reference his background in the San Luis Valley.

Luis Ferreyra and Ismael Lozano are young Chicano/Mexicano artists whose work continues to address Mexican history and contemporary civil rights issues. Ferreyra recently graduated from the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Lozano is an undergraduate student in Fine Arts at Metropolitan State College.


Daniel Salazar has worked as a serious photographer whose present work focuses on transforming great historical figures, like Pancho Villa and Emilano Zapata, into men who are macho enough to do housework.  Judy Miranda works as an artist who medium is photography.  She photographs

images of constructed altars and references Mexican culture.  Merlin Madrid is another artist who works in this medium.  Her works resembles Manuel Alvarez Bravo and primarily focuses on family issues and cultural ancestry.  Melissa Gonzales has used this medium to document her own lived experience as a modern-day Chicana.


Emmanuel Martinez works in this medium, as does Humberto Maestas. Martinez has created works in bronze honoring Richard Castro, a deceased state legislator known for his contributions to the Chicano community.  He also has one of his works in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.  Maestas works in Southern Colorado and produced a series of works known as "The Stations of The Cross" which have gained recognition by the Vatican.  Carlos Santistevan creates assemblages of religious works from found objects, especially metal.  One of his works entitled "El Santo Nino de Atocha" is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.


Nadi Carey, a younger artist, is the only active ceramacist working in Fine Arts.  Her present work consists of ceramic altars.


Maruca Salazar's work uses small boxes of plastic figures from Mexico and the United States to comment on contemporary Chicano issues.  Though Sylvia Montero presently creates mixed media pieces consisting of collages of Latinas in everyday situations, she is another artist whose work has utilized boxes. Her work focuses on the contributions of  Mexican and Chicana women.  Meggan De Anza Rodriguez also uses this medium to create highly rendered religious images of saints in New Mexico.

Video and Film

Daniel Salazar is the lone contributor in this medium.  He has created videos of the Chicano experience in sometimes comical form.  Salazar collaboratied with Guillermo Gomez Pena on a video project.

Digital Art

Quintin Gonzalez, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fine Arts  at the University of Colorado in Denver, Colorado, came to Colorado from Texas  via Yale University where he received his Masters of Fine Arts degree in painting.  His digital images reference religion and his manipulated mages are highly surreal.  Dr. George Rivera is another  artist who works in this medium and uses contemporary experiences of Chicanos in his work has recently turned his attention toward creating text-based art, or "ethnograms," as he calls them. Jerry de la Cruz also creates digital art works.

Art Critics

Mary Meadows has been an art critic who has focused her periodical publications on reviews of Chicano art in Colorado.  She was a graduate student of Shrifa Goldman in California.  Her present interests include documenting the Chicano murals in Colorado.

Chicano Art Spaces

Ever since the first Chicano art space was created at the Crusade for Justice, a series of venues for Chicano art have arisen.  The Chicano Humanities and Arts Council Gallery (CHAC) in Denver served as the only  space for Chicano art for almost two decades.   During the last decade, Jerry Lawson ran a private gallery called "Artes Del Pueblo" which provided another venue for local Chicano artists.  El Museo de las Americas is presently the major Chicano art space in Denver.  However, the Museo primarily exhibits art from Latin America but only exhibits local Chicano art about once per year. Other art spaces exist throughout the state, like The San Luis Cultural Arts Center in San Luis, Colorado, and the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo, Colorado.


In the last decade, the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Colorado has played an important role in the education of Chicano artists in Colorado.  Some of the artists   who have recently graduated from this MFA program include: Carlos Fresquez, Tony Ortega, Merlin Madrid, Nadi Carey, Ricky Armendariz, and Anita Rodriguez-Waklin.  Metropolitan State College also is playing an important role in the education of undergraduate Chicano artists.  The University  of Colorado system has two Chicano faculty members in their  Departments of Fine Arts, Dr. George Rivera (Professor) in Art History at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Quintin Gonzalez (Assistant Professor) in Painting/Multimedia and Carlos Fresquez (Instructor) in Painting at the University of Colorado, Denver.

Chicano Art in Colorado is thriving.  As Colorado builds a critical mass of Chicano artists and art faculty, recognition for Chicano artists in Colorado will change.   We have attempted to present an overview of past and present contributions in this area to fill an artistic void that has lasted far too long.

George Rivera, Ph.D.
Department of Fine Arts

University of Colorado
Boulder, Colorado


1    Chicano Art: Resistance And Affirmation, 1965-1985 (Los Angeles: Wight Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles: 1991), catalogue.

2    Sylvia Gorodezky, Arte Chicano como cultura de protesta (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1993).

3    Alicia Gasper de Alba, Chicano Art Inside/Outside The Master's House (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1998).

4    For example see articles Goldman compiled in Shifra Goldman, Dimensions Of The Americas:  Art And Social Change In Latin America And The United States (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1994);  and Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, "Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility" in Catalog  Chicano Aesthetics:

Rasquachismo (Phoenix: MARS, 1989), pp. 5-8.

5    For example, see  Eva Sperling Cockcroft and Holly Barnet-Sanchez (eds) Signs from the Heart: California Chicano Murals (California: Social and Public Art Resource Center, 1990.  6 Lucy  R. Lippard, Mixed Blessings, New Art In A Multicultural America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990).

7    Chicano Visions, Cheech Marin (New York: Bulfinch Press, 2002).

8    U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000.

9    Not all Chicano artists from Colorado were highlighted in this article, but the contributions of other artists will be included in a book-length manuscript thatis being written by the author.