Mario Calvano developed an interest in art very early in life, thanks partly to his grandmother, who was also a painter and who began to instruct him in art when he was still a child. In later years he confessed to an early obsession with comic books, especially their “flat, sensual use of color and tumultuous compositions,” which exercised an influence on his later art. Other influences have included hand-painted pop art, the first generation of Los Angeles Chicana/o artists, and his Catholic upbringing. Living near the film community has also given him an increased awareness of film, and he has cited Federico Fellini in particular as an influence on his work. Calvano attended California State University, Northridge, where he received his B.A. in fine arts in 1989. At the same time he studied color, human form, and composition with Hans Burkhardt and created a series of works at Self-Help Graphics. Calvano’s works include both oil on canvas and several printmaking media. Commenting in 1993 on his decision to commit to painting rather than more experimental media, Calvano observed that “traditional painting does not concern itself with the issue of ‘Is it art? Is it not?’ and thereby frees itself to confront other more personal issues, like those featured in our own specific point in history.”

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother is a commemoration of Calvano’s mother, who died of leukemia at the age of 52. This serigraph was created for a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration at Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles. In his mother’s hands is the phonograph the artist associates with her dancing elatedly throughout the house. As a work conceived for Día de los Muertos, this is a departure from the traditional approach. A suppressed use of colors makes this more personal, less concerned with social revelry. The calavera (skull) lacks the accessibility of the usual animated representations. Rising above the subject, a silhouetted reference to Michelangelo exemplifies the artist’s range of influences. This is a refreshing contribution to one of the most important holidays in Chicano/Mexicano culture and gives the artist and the viewer a forum for celebrating the life rather than the lament.

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Portrait of the Artist's Mother
Edition of 58

Mario Calvano