On a quiet Sunday morning two weeks ago, about 30 muralists got together to create a meaningful and beautifully designed mural in Culver City titled Siqueiros: La Voz de la Gente! as an homage to iconic Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Lead muralist Juan Carlos Muñoz Hernandez, along with a team of artists which included Raul Gonzalez, Anna Siqueiros (great-grand niece of Siqueiros), Willie Herrón and Ernesto de la Loza, creatively enhanced a calm, dull alley behind some apartment buildings near the art galleries. Anna Siqueiros was able to secure the wall and these five main muralists collaborated and discussed ahead of time on how they would bring this mural to life. It was a word-of-mouth event, and those lucky few who had heard about it got to witness LA history take place. Thanks to United Painters and Public Artists (UPPA) and a donation from Chiquele Studios, this mural was able to be created. It is this exact attitude of collaboration which is at the soul of La Voz de la Gente!; these muralists came together to paint and give each other support because they know a new chapter of muralism in LA is now beginning to happen.
As I entered the alley and approached the wall, there were at least three scaffolds and many of the artists busily painting. Some of the muralists that I saw in action included Juan Carlos Muñoz Hernandez, Anna Siqueiros, Carlos Callejo, Fabian “Spade” Debora, Cale, Joseph “Nuke” Montalvo, Blosm, Raúl “Chose” Gonzalez, Cesar “Slye” Hernandez, Duke and Vox. Other artists who participated include: Kopye, Randy “Relic” Legaspi, Defer, Rock, Judo, Above, Luke, Chubs, Heriberto Luna, John Garcia, Fausto, Carlos Duran, Ricardo Estrada, Gustavo, Oscar Magallanes, and Laura Hayes.
According to Isabel Rojas-Williams, Art Historian and Executive Director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA), several of the artists decided that they wanted to create a mural that is an homage to Siqueiros as a reaction to the current 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). Rojas-Williams explained that although there were no specific plans for the mural, all the artists had “the sheer passion of all to break the chains that have prevented artists to express themselves freely and legally.” She also stated that this was a great opportunity for these muralists to show the world that the mural community is passionate and united, especially in a situation where the ban on creativity is ultimately a ban against freedom of speech. Just like in Siqueiros’ three murals, which was also a turning point in his own development, these muralists are releasing and outpouring a large creative energy that has denied them to paint on walls.
By participating at the forefront of this project, artist Anna Siqueiros is helping to keep her great-grand uncle’s legacy alive in Los Angeles, where he had created three murals in 1932, Tropical America, Street Meeting, and Portrait of Mexico Today, and educate future generations.
The mural contains many different images, telling the story of Siqueiros. His portrait is in the middle surrounded by people who had influenced him and those he had influenced, as well as images from his murals, such as an indigenous man being crucified by American oppression in Tropical America (currently being “restored” on Olvera Street) and images of los paisanos from Portrait of Mexico Today (now at Santa Barbara Museum of Art). Behind him is Cuahtémoc, the Aztec ruler of Tenochtitlan. There is a portrait of Cezanne, the first Impressionist painter that inspired Siqueiros as well as Michelangelo, whose masterful brushstrokes and use of perspective became influential in Siqueiros’ own work. Picasso also appears in this mural, as Siqueiros welcomed Picasso to the side of social realists after Picasso had painted Massacre in Korea, a literal depiction of a firing squad of mechanical soldiers executing a group of naked women and children. Picasso, along with a group of painters in France, petitioned for Siqueiros release when he was incarcerated. There is a portrait of Jackson Pollock, since Siqueiros’ radical experiments proved influential for this Abstract Expressionist painter who was a member of Siqueiros’ experimental workshop in New York in 1936. There is also a portrait of Rufino Tamayo, another important Mexican artist.
A surprise in the mural is found at the top left corner. There is a profile of Tony Quan, aka Tempt One, looking up to the sky, perhaps making art with his Eyewriter (He is paralyzed due to ALS), and most definitely expressing the ultimate perseverance of a true artist. If you can remember, Tempt One’s graffiti art was shown last summer at the Pasadena Museum of California Art’s exhibition Street Cred. Now this is an artist who truly carries the spirit of Siqueiros within him. Even though he can’t move, he continues to make his art and be a real inspiration to his community.
At the top of the mural is text from Siqueiros’ 1933 Call to Artists that is still relevant for LA artists today:
It is necessary for artists to create work on the most visible sides of high modern buildings, in the most strategic places in “callejones” in working-class districts, in Union Halls, in public squares, in sports stadia, in open-air theaters.
What finally binds all these images of the mural together is Juan Carlos Muñoz Hernandez’ explosion of colors, lines and movement. Muñoz Hernandez explained to me that he saw all the artists working together in synchronicity, just like a flock of birds able to fly together, creating something beautiful.
There will be a public unveiling soon… so keep your eyes posted here on Notes on Looking if you want to know the address of the mural and attend this event. (Or you can just wander around Culver City until you find it… ¡Suerte!) In the meantime, you can visit the works that some of these artists are showing around LA.
Oscar Magallanes‘ exhibition Papel y Madera is on view now at Crewest in Downtown. In November I wrote about Magallanes’ work at the York in Highland Park, curated by Culture Reference. (Here’s the link in case you missed that one!) Some of those same pieces are part of this exhibition at Crewest as well as selected prints from Self Help Graphics, my favorites being those by Chaz Bojorquez, Salomón Huerta and Raymond Pettibon.
Another muralist/artist to check out is Fabian Debora, who will be having an exhibition at Homegirl Cafe on March 16, with live entertainment by Quetzal. (Readers of Notes may recall meeting Fabian Debora at Homeboy Industries in this post from May, 2011 by Geoff: http://notesonlooking.com/?p=4371)
Speaking of murals, Judith Baca (known for her epic work The Great Wall of Los Angeles, a 2,754-foot mural) has three works on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art as part of the PST show L.A. Raw: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980. Dead Homeboy Killed by a Placa, a pastel drawing from 1974, is an emotional piece about one of the boys who worked on a mural, but was then killed in a gang fight. Also on view is Sketch for Uprising of the Mujeres Mural from 1979 and Uprising of the Mujeres (study) from 1977.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera are considered the “Big Three” Mexican Muralists. But of “los tres grandes”, we should not forget the women that stood by these great men. Of course Frida Kahlo comes to everyone’s mind when Diego Rivera’s name is mentioned. Her paintings steal the show at LACMA’s blockbuster exhibition “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.” Rather than just being female objects, Kahlo along with the other female artists featured in this show, were able to fall into their own subconscious and imaginative dreams and then create the most incredible works. Kahlo’s masterpieces, several coming from Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno, are amazing to see alongside other gems by Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Dorothea Tanning, and Louise Bourgeois. ¡Que viva la mujer!
And if it’s women you want to see, then definitely visit Carolyn Castaño’s exhibition El Jardín Femenil y Otros Ocasos showing now at Walter Maciel Gallery in Culver City. When you enter the gallery space, you enter into a world of lush gardens, at first colorful and bright. Beautiful, naked women are covered in glitter and rhinestones. The flowers seem to be blooming. But then the darkness creeps in, and you realize this is not the Garden of Eden, but a garden of death and tragedy. The blackness in the paintings begins to set the tone. The sun may be shining, but the black mountains seem somber and isolated. The skin of the Latin women is no longer brown, but pure white, bloodless and ghostly. The women are forever trapped in this tropical garden of opium poppies and marihuana and coca leaves, surrounded by decapitated heads and calaveras. But these women do not look sad. Two rest peacefully while the others recline in flirtatious positions and stare at their audience with their beautiful glittering eyes, confident, tough, sexy, inviting.
The women are beauty queens, narco-trophies that stand by their men, the drug lords of Latin America. There is Angie, Liliana Andrea, Sandra, Juliana, Karlita- real women with real stories, some now in prison, some dead, all beautiful, all tragic. If you go to see this exhibition, make sure to watch the video El Reporte Femenil in the back room. Castaño stars as the main anchorwoman on a news show that talks (in Spanglish) about the stories of the narco beauties. El Jardín Femenil y Otros Ocasos ends on April 7th.
Another exhibition that recently opened at Launch is Antonio Pelayo‘s first solo-show Mi Familia and other pencil drawings on paper. Pelayo is a very gifted draftsman and there is no doubt that he is talented. From the three series in the show, Mi Familia stands out as they are full of emotion and nostalgia. Pelayo used old family photos to choose his subjects, but he intentionally left out the background encouraging the viewer to ask Where are these people? Are they lost? The images of wandering beings leave an open end to Pelayo’s family stories and create a strong metaphor for the immigrant who is misplaced and searching for a new identity.