These last two weeks for me and many other Latinos have been about setting up ofrendas for Dia de los Muertos as a way of remembering and honoring the dead. This Day (or rather week) has influenced many artists living in Los Angeles. Day of the Dead celebrations at Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights started in 1972 and since then has always brought together the Chicano community, including the artists of Asco and Los Four, to perform their traditions and make both cultural and artistic works.
Revival at Self Help Graphics is curated this year by Patssi Valdez and will be up for another week. ¡Ándale, cómprate una flaca! It’s a great time to go to East LA to check out the art scene and SHG should definitely be one of the stops, as they have recently moved into their new location on 1st street.
At Craig Krull Gallery in Bergamot Station, Gilbert “Magu” Lujan’s work was exhibited only for one week during the Day of the Dead festivities (Nov. 1-5). His colorful paintings of chubby, ballooned out lowriders, anthropomorphic animals, and Chicano locals encircled a central round table holding Magu’s ofrenda. Magu passed away just a few months ago and it was nice to see this important Chicano artist being celebrated and remembered at this art gallery, especially next to another exhibit and ofrenda for his friend and colleague (also from the artist collective Los Four), Carlos Almaraz.
Almaraz passed away in 1989, but his drawings, paintings and pastels still capture the street life of East Los. My favorite are his car crash paintings. They are expressionistic and show us not only a moment of time in LA but seem to act as a metaphor for his own personal life.
The gallery had a third show by living artist Richard Erlich called Lucha Libre. Bright and glossy, these large photographs (44 x 60”) of current luchadores attempt to stare you down upon entering the gallery. These photographs (which were shown this past summer at the Mexican Cultural Institute of Los Angeles) capture the wrestlers’ personalities and character. And they make you want to find the nearest ring! (Luckily I ended up doing just that, as many famous luchadores de Mexico were in town that evening at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena! ¡Aplástalo chingada madre!)
But if you missed this show, don’t be sad because at The York in Highland Park, Oscar Magallanes’ solo exhibition Mascaras: Lucha/ Historia/ Cultura/ Arte, curated by Culture Reference, is a homage to the two most important luchadores in the history of Lucha Libre, El Santo and Blue Demon. At one point during opening night I thought that I was at a wrestling match. Sounds of yelling, clapping and cursing around the square bar, como un ring. I look and the bartender is wearing una mascara. The paintings surrounding the space make my imagination run wild, siento la energia de los luchadores. El Santo jumping from a ring, Blue Demon ready to catch him or get aplastado… but then I noticed the reality of it all, a football game, Raiders against the Chargers happening on the big screen above… I felt the parallels…
Two weeks ago, Patssi Valdez and her Asco colleague Gronk gave a very memorable walk through of their current show at LACMA. They even announced that this was their first time seeing the show! The two friends laughed and reminisced about those special years, which all started at Garfield High School. Patssi admitted that she was hypnotized the moment she met Gronk. She also told the crowd that she had always wanted to be an actress, but there were no movies for Chicano actors and so therefore had to act out her dream in Asco… hence, “No Movies”. And she even won a Cobra, the most prestigious No Movie award!
At the end of the Asco walk-through, Patssi handed Gronk a can of spray paint. He thought about it nervously, but didn’t dare do it. Times have changed, especially for Asco. They are already on the inside of LACMA, so there is no need for them to spray it…unfortunately.
Another PST show that shows how the Day of the Dead influenced artists can be found at MOLAA’s Mex/LA show. Charles and Ray Eames’ photographs and video were taken in Oaxaca, Mexico during the festivities. Curator Ruben Ortiz Torres told the large crowd at the Fowler Symposium last week that he really was not sure what the intention of the photos were… studies? sketches? works of art? But because of their beauty, composition and reflection of Mexican Modernism in California, Ortiz Torres included them in the exhibition. These photographs are also another example of how the Day of the Dead explores Mexican ideas of mortality in art.
If you did not attend the Fowler Symposium, I must say that you really missed out on an intense day that brought together artists, curators and scholars, who discussed Chicano art and its place in the history of art. Marla Burns, Curator at the Fowler talked about how she was the first person to unlock the doors to Mapping Another LA for Johnny D. Gonzalez, co-founder of Goez Art Studio and Gallery- the first Chicano arts organization in East LA, to see the original facade of Goez’ The Birth of our Art. The mural is completely restored and placed at the front of the show where guests enter into this Chicano world of the past, a site of social transformation and Chicano power. In this mural, there is Cortez and Malinche, representing the cultural origins of Chicano art.
Sandra de La Loza also spoke at the Symposium about her current show at LACMA, “Mural Remix”. By having her as part of the PST cluster of Chicano art, Loza acts as a bridge from the past to the present. She talked about how she believed Chicano muralism has been overlooked and often dismissed in art institutions and art criticism. Conservation efforts are minimal and rather than restoring the art found on walls, millions of dollars are spent to paint over entire sections of graffitied murals. Loza explained that she discovered dozens of murals from a friend’s collection of old photographs from the Eastside and then used this archive as a base for her project at LACMA. Loza said her challenge was how to create a frame in which to look at the work. She first began by thinking of the landscape and looked at each photo with an urban lens. She said she was also interested in the psychedelic imagery of that time. So with all of this, she created a new vision, a multi-media video installation (in collaboration with Joseph Santorromana) and lightboxes of manipulated archival material, where a social space is made and continues to be made by present day muralists. Action Portraits stars contemporary artists Fabian Debora, Roberto del Hoyo, Raul Gonzalez, Liliflor, Sonji and Timoi.
During the Symposium, Professor George Lipsitz announced “Everything I needed to know, I learned in East LA,” which should be the motto for many of East Los artists making amazing street art. At the Fowler, Lipsitz talked about the issue and importance of “willingness” (a concept he borrowed from Louie Armstrong) that makes both art and life better. Lipsitz explained that in Chicano art, you can hear willingness; It can be heard in low riders, quebradita dancers, hand painted signs on Whittier Blvd, etc. He sees all this as daring and creative, especially in a world full of racism and elitism. He explained that yes, “willingness” can be nailed to a wall, but it is held prisoner and therefore needs to be let out and circulated in the world. One such artist he referred to is Ramiro Gomez Jr. I had never heard of this artist or seen his work, but after this talk I’m so excited to learn more about him. According to Lipsitz, Gomez Jr. goes out and creates images of undocumented people, those without faces. For example, he makes paper cut outs of low-wage workers and puts them in hedges on Sunset Blvd. These cut outs act as surrogates for the real workers, those who have witnessed criminalization, sexual abuse, racism and discrimination. Lipsitz concluded that art, therefore, can give us the willingness to go beyond and do more.
¡Si se puede!
Con o sin safos,
Carlyn, tu corresponsal