ALAC, Callejón Herrón, Saving our Murals in LA, and Remembering Ronald Lopez
After a couple of weeks of some really great moments and some not so great moments in the LA art scene, I’ve finally decided to take this opportunity to stop “looking” and start “telling”.
Upon walking into Art Los Angeles Contemporary a couple of weeks ago, I luckily found Mark Verabioff performing his version of Little Boxes. This song, originally written by Malvina Reynolds in the 60s about suburban tract housing, was a perfect way to describe the spectacle of the art fair “all made of ticky-tacky” and which “all look just the same”. Verabioff walked on speakers attached to his shoes, while he performed in front of the Night Gallery’s “little box”. As he chanted, he snorted and dropped his pages of lyrics to the floor. The tone was perfectly set for me, as this was the beginning of my weekend of art fairs. I have to thank Verabioff for this as my intention for coming was to discover new Latino galleries or Latino artists…Unfortunately I found too many white (literally) “little boxes” which “all look just the same”.
HOWEVER, I did find one gallery from Mexico City, Yautepec Gallery, showing young, emerging Mexican and international artists, such as Ryan Perez, Ciler, Anibal Catalan, Misael Torres, Txema Novelo and Morgan Manduley.
While at the fair, I was fortunately able to meet and talk to Morgan Manduley, who had driven up from San Diego. Manduley’s father is Cuban and his mother is the daughter of a cowboy from Oklahoma. In his work you can definitely see how his mixed background plays a role. His paintings seem to have a fascination with the American West. His work is cinematic and tells a narrative about the cowboy and the macho man. Manduley plays with the idea of masculinity and his artworks question what it is to be a man. He said that his struggle with identity is what leads to his images, which he often refers to as “garbled boyhood fantasies.”
If you find yourself going to San Diego in March, go and check out Manduley’s work in an exhibition curated by Alexander Jarman More Real Than Life at the Southwestern College Art Gallery. Or if you end up in Mexico City, stop by Yautepec Galeria to see Manduley’s solo show later this year.
Just around the corner, I was happy to find some older pieces by Christina Fernandez at Gallery Luisotti’s “little box”. You may remember Fernandez’ work in Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement. Fernandez’ photographs combine history and narratives about her grandmother’s migration from Mexico to the United States. Fernandez poses as her grandmother to retell this personal story and through her art the viewer starts to understand the historical relationship between the US and Mexico.
During the PST Performance Festival I made sure to check out several performances, and I was happy to see Latinos in the mix! Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Mural Remix Tour II (because I was fortunately attending Geoff Tuck and David Richard’s book release party for The Parkfield Review #1! ¡Felicidades!). But I did manage to drive over to City Terrace in East LA to check out Willie Herrón’s mural in progress East of No-West. This commissioned mural is in an alley (aka el Callejón Herrón) behind Alvarez Panaderia and is inspired by Asco’s 1972 Walking Mural performance and photograph by Harry Gamboa Jr. The original performance took place on Christmas Eve on Whittier Blvd; Patssi Valdez as the Virgin Mary in black, Herrón as the “Walking Mural” of lost souls, and Gronk as the Christmas tree. Once again Asco is documenting an iconic performance through another performative gesture. It’s brilliant and I’m so excited to see it when it’s finally completed.
This alley is also the site of other Herrón murals. The Wall That Crack’d Open is a homage to Herrón’s brother, who had be beaten and stabbed. After Herron took his brother to the hospital, he dealt with his anger by painting this incredible mural. Another mural, Plumed Serpent (1972) can be found down at the corner.
And if you just walk around to the front of the building, you will find a large mural El Doliente de Hidalgo. You will also see several surveillance cameras guarding this mural, so make sure to wave.
Y si todavía necesitas más, just cross the street and visit City Terrace Library, where you will find Ofrenda Maya 1 created by Goez Art Studio (José Luis Gonzalez, Juan Gonzalez and David Botello) in 1978. This glazed ceramic tile mural is made from 432 earthenware clay tiles and reveals a Pre-Columbian Mayan style. The mural is shiny, colorful and extremely detailed.
After all this mural watching I was happy to be invited to a lecture and panel discussion at the Vincent Price Museum, “Bringing into Conversation: Restoring Memory in the Public Sphere” about LA’s mural history, present and future. Moderator Jimmy Centeno brought together UPPA (United Painter and Public Artists) members, artists, students, teachers and all those interested in the future of LA’s murals.
The discussion started with Lisbeth Espinoza, an art historian, archivist and UPPA member, who talked about how LA has lost half of its murals. Espinoza has been documenting murals in LA since the 1990s. She posed many interesting questions about murals and how they live along side and inspire their neighborhood, their communities and their environment as a whole. She discussed their survival and resistance. Espinoza quoted Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who described murals “as keepers of memories”. She concluded by explaining that murals are not only tools used by the people but also vehicles of liberation.
Muralist and activist Carlos Callejo talked about how the National Chicano Moratorium, which took place in 1970 to protest the war in Vietnam and the many Chicanos soldiers dying as a result, helped reinforce the Chicano Mural Movement. This Chicano artist started to paint on walls as a reaction to the social/political conditions of the time. Callejo concluded that the artwork is the voice of the community and that “murals are all about telling stories.”
Muralist, activist and performance artist Norma Montoya explained how she started off as a professional sign painter. Montoya was co-director with Charles Felix of Estrada Courts Murals and oversaw the creation of over 80 murals. She painted over 25 murals along with Felix “Cat” and created 3 murals of her own design at this housing project in Boyle Heights. She told us how she got many kids involved in her murals and helped them to revive the community in which they were a part of. Montoya continues to paint murals and has currently restored her original mural Los Ninos del Mundo at Chicano Park San Diego, which she and Felix made.
Contemporary graffiti muralist, Joseph “Nuke” Montalvo is an artist who went to Chiapas in 1994 and got involved with the Zapatistas in the small village of Aguas Calientes. He talked about how he participated with the Zapatista community by painting murals of revolutionary icons alongside important Zapatistas of the region. He also taught graffiti mural workshops in Chiapas and he explained that not only did they learn from him but he was inspired by them.
After the lectures, there was a panel discussion in which many people in the audience asked Tanner Blackman, a planner for the Code Studies Section of the City of LA’s Department of City Planning, many questions about the Mural Moratorium, which has prohibited the creating of new murals in LA since 2002. Uncommissioned murals are banned and even if the mural is painted on private property with the consent of the owner, violators are subject to punishment. UPPA has been in discussion with Blackman and at the forefront in the drafting of this mural ordinance.
LA used to be a mural capital…and hopefully it will be that once again. If you would like to get involved or learn more about the draft mural ordinance, art events and lectures sponsored by United Painters and Public Artists, please email Lisbeth Espinosa ([email protected]).
I want to take this final moment in my post to say goodbye to artist/curator Ronald Lopez, who passed away last week. Ronald was an important figure in not only the LA art world but also in the Latino art scene. I was lucky to have met him and learned from him about many Latino artists making incredible art here in LA. If you read my post about Sur: Biennial a few months ago, you also learned about the fantastic exhibitions Ronald put on at three galleries in the Southeast area of Los Angeles, an area that hardly sees good contemporary art. I was inspired by his eagerness and excitement and felt proud to be a member of Outpost for Contemporary Art (which he directed during that time). I will miss his energy and enthusiasm for artists in Los Angeles. ¡Ronald Lopez, presente!