On Being a Hispanic Star

I was startled by the invitation identifying me as a “Hispanic Star,” at the Midwest Regional Hispanic Leadership Summit 2022, to an audience of Hispanic leaders from across the country gathered at the Global Headquarters of 3M Corporation. With exuberant moderator and 3M’s Strategy Director Country Governance and Services Marlene Lopez Ibarra, I spoke on the political and cultural influence of art and what it represents to the Hispanic community.

Unleashing that part of my mind from my youth when the world was truly wonderful and, in a purely philosophical vein, I realize that a star exists in three forms. A sun, radiating energy, a planet or other celestial body reflecting the light of the sun, and a comet streaking across the sky. Of course, this is a way to complicate a very simple thing. My goal has always been: How to engage an audience to see themselves as stars.

Through a metaphorical lens, the concrete object: the art piece, is a reflection of the energy of the artist. And like a celestial body in the expanse of the universe, it is only visible if it is hit by the light of a sun. Much of what I do is a satellite of the energy I exert. And so, the arts have an aspect of nourishing the souls of us – nosotros – with the energy that is reflected off our social endeavors. And here is my indigenous sense of humor – the sun can’t see its own light – it is too busy radiating.

When I make an object, perforce, I have to accept its independence from me. As a Hispanic artist, I am, by design, casting out energy towards the Hispanic universe. I do, however, strive to be responsible in shaping that energy. The purpose of my work is to illuminate our identity. It is when we know ourselves that we can come together and move into our own future. To physically articulate my talk, I proposed an activity to the Summit organizers that would generate a communal object. It engaged all of the participants who contributed their own energy in producing the elements that went into creating a bouquet of leadership. The beauty of the process was that it employed leaders who embraced a cooperative leadership activity.

Cooperative leaders
These people who sat down together around a table to share a meal were invited to participate in the creation of the elements for the final piece, which, parallel to its reality, had to be accomplished quickly, as if it were perishable. With their contributions, the image was created by me, at the back of the room while the summit continued.

I was deeply honored in being recognized as the appropriate person to deliver the closing grito of the summit. “Si se puede.”

The finished piece is remarkable in that it is a collaborative work of art, with Hispanic leaders and the Hispanic Star, and visually it is a metaphor of the summit. A coming together of the blooming of leadership and it is a snapshot because the universe continues, and leadership is like a flower. Once you cut it, it begins to fade.

I am excited this piece, “Hispanic Leadership Bouquet,” will be the shining star in the home of a 3M leader.

El Corazon de Minnesota

El Corazon de Minnesota literally translates to “The Heart of Minnesota,” but to Spanish speaking Americans, the word “Corazon” expresses meanings beyond its literal translation. Throughout my career, I have endeavored to explore the various dimensions of who I am and who people like me are through murals and paintings. In this show, I do this primarily through the use of color.

As an art student, I was told that color needed to be muted, constrained, incorporated into a theory. In other words, it needed to follow the traditions of European good taste. But from the heart of my experience growing up in Texas, in farmland, under a searing blue sky, surrounded by vibrant green vegetation, I knew that nature did not subscribe to a common muted blandness. As a child in charge of hunting snakes in the fields to protect the farmworkers, I learned to distinguish between the muted colors of harmless milk snakes and the brilliant colors of the lethal king coral snake. My grandfather who tended a grapefruit orchard, delighted in showing me the beauty of the pink heart of Texas ruby red grapefruit. The colors pink and the yellow came to me directly – and with great emotion – as my grandfather broke open a tree ripe grapefruit and held up the ruby flesh to the sun. The prismatic effect of pink, against blue, against green, and against the yellow rind will forever be etched in my memory. In this exhibition, throughout all the paintings, these colors are there for you to relish, like sun-ripened, sweet, ruby red grapefruit.

Last fall, during Hispanic Heritage Month, I was invited to produce art for the employees of 3M. Initially, my intention was to use my usual medium—paint. However, I was invited to consider using innovative 3M materials. The result of that invitation was the discovery of the potential of prismatic films and vinyls to create dynamic, reactive art. This exhibition includes works that are variations on the very same themes of my paintings, but with new, exciting and wonderous properties. Usually, paintings incorporate only one perspective. However, with the use of 3M prismatic films and vinyls, colors become mobile, to change in relation to the direction of viewing. These works invite the viewer to move and read the painting from different points of view..

Included in the show are works that startle people who know my work – works in black and white, where I have fun working the paint as if it were a drawing. I am grateful to my friend Mimi for the suggestion that I try working in black and white. Only after I finished did I tell her the story of how I submitted only ink drawings to get accepted as a painting major at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. All painting begins with drawing.

The show also includes painted shovels, which are not your typical artwork. They are tied up in the meanings of honor and mutual respect between strong leaders and their constituencies. They are acts of love on my part, taking hours and hours to produce. They are not for sale; they can only be earned.

Art Prints

Artist With A Cause

When my friend, Leo Lopez, Vice President of Bremer Bank and Chair of the Board of Directors of Neighborhood House, invited me to paint at Neighborhood House’s annual gala, it incited excitement, apprehension and anticipation. Painting live in front of potential owners of the painting brings together all aspects of high risk: In very short order, the final product must be aesthetically significant, it must be universally engaging, and it must not suffer any failure in execution.Making a complete painting in one hour is a daunting task. There are painters who have the “painting live” routine down pat — they sketch the design out lightly on a blank canvas, and, at the critical moment, astound the viewer with the ability to conjure up a masterful work. Looking back at the very first time I was asked to do a one-hour-live auction contribution, the parties cited other artists that did this “performance.” Needless to say, it was with great hesitation that I accepted their invitation, with the caveat that I would not undertake this as a sideshow, but as a core expression of the values of the beneficiary organization and the advancement of art and culture. It is a fulfillment of my identity as an artist to give back to the community; to focus on creating value for the eventual donor/patron.

The general audience does not understand collectability of art. I purposely do not create a painting that is suitable as wall décor. I consciously produce a piece that is a provocation on the issues of our day. It is my understanding that the serious collector is there looking for a touchstone of truth to hang in their collection.  My experience with those people who collect my art aggressively is that they are looking for a painting that challenges their understanding of the world. In a way, this focus increases the risk of failure in the moments of this event.

My response to the risk of making an extremely important and provocative piece in a constricted 90-minute time period is to rehearse, much like a dancer.  The difference is that I rehearse to prepare for the innovation, rather than the rote execution. In the art community, I am recognized for the thousands of brush strokes that I utilize to create a feel of visual excitement, imagery and entrapment. Ninety minutes poses a real challenge to my signature style of work. My rehearsals have been reductive in practice. I find myself laughing at me with initially starting in my current style of execution and not being able to get below two and a half hours of fast and furious painting.  It has been enlightening to create strategies to get me down to an hour and three quarters.  As the day of the event approaches I feel the tension coursing through my entire being to focus myself into faithfully and truthfully executing an evolution of my style.

If I am successful, this is the very quality that a serious collector is searching for, because this piece becomes a milestone in the ongoing evolution of my unique style.  There is some poetry in this way of working, in that the discriminating collector awash in the anonymous audience is very intimate to the process of art making.  They are unique witnesses to the next step in my art.  With that, I am grateful when they assign a monetary value that translates into greater good for the mission of Neighborhood House.

The gala event is October 4, 2018 at Neighborhood House. It is the mission of a Chicano artist to serve the community.  Creating a painting for their fundraising gala is a great honor because Neighborhood House has been a portal for many diverse peoples, including the Latino diaspora, and a fixture on Saint Paul’s West Side for over 120 years.

“The Power of Color” – an exhibition May 1 – June 30, 2017

Preparing for an exhibition is always a rediscovery of my original intentions in becoming an artist – specifically a painter. The act of painting, no matter who is present, is always a lonely act. Painting in the tradition of the innovative artist is always a terrifying challenge because you are obligated to go to the edge of your current knowledge and move forward into something that is implied in the work you have done before. My first inroads into the identity of myself as an artist led me to a very uncomfortable place with the realization that just as I had won over an audience to what I do as a painter I would be stepping away from them, seeking out new visual language.

My peers have always challenged me on my obsession with exhibiting in modest, unpretentious venues. I have always brushed them aside with the excuse that I don’t have a career as a painter. I have a mission as a Chicano Artist to keep on going beyond the cultural borders in the land and time in which I exist. I have endured their ridicule with a smugness of an “ego of steel.” At this point in my journey as an artist, I am enchanted by the fact that people are coming to the work I do and enjoying it without the curatorial poppycock that accompanies so many exhibitions of innovative work.

The title, “The Power of Color,” is designed to open up the eyes of audiences that generally see art through words. As a serious painter I have committed to confounding curatorial reason by grasping the straw of different aesthetic concepts and practices and applying them to the idea of Chicano muralism. Muralism is about conveying a human, spiritual, and intellectual message through the craft of wall decoration. It is a common occurrence in the multitude of significant human cultures. I have made a decision to bring mural concepts to the canvas “wall.” This exhibition could enjoy a subtitle of “Muralios and Fragments.” I will be working towards assembling canvas paintings that will lend themselves to the imagining of full-blown space specific paintings.

Why color is so essential is that the average person does not realize that our industrial evolution and our consumer culture has created an environment of so many potential color and composition possibilities that artists have surrendered mastery of color as an element in the visual language and have taken on the practice of designers to harmonize color in pre-existing color theories. Tragically, the audience becomes immune to the challenge of color compositions that force them to deliberate the visual experience and incorporate it into a cognitive understanding that compels them to go beyond their existing domestic color palette.

This is an invitation to spend more than seven seconds in front of each paintings in this exhibition and to understand that the artist has created a visual puzzle in color that must be processed in order to understand the nuances of communication.