An Unusual Day of the Dead Art Exhibit

Spirit of the Children is an unusual art exhibit at L.A.’s celebrated Ave 50 Studio. Timed to kick-off the city’s Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead celebrations, the exhibition features artists that have created works in homage to children “who have died an untimely death due to preventable disease, gang warfare, abuse and war.” Kathy Mas-Gallegos, the director of Ave 50 Studio, asked me to create a painting especially for the exhibit, so I produced a small oil I’ve titled, War Child - a piece memorializing the children who have been slain in warfare. I’m pleased to have my painting shown alongside artworks by Edith and Rob Abeyta, Roberto Delgado, Kathi Flood, Clement Hanami, David Andres Kietzman, Betsy Lohrer Hall, Ricardo Munoz, and John Paul Thornton.

Oil painting by Mark Vallen

[ War Child - Mark Vallen, 2006 oil on masonite. 8" x 10". On view at Ave 50's, Day of the Dead exhibit. ]

Those expecting a quintessentially traditional Día de los Muertos exhibition are in for a few surprises. I say this because the show contains art of an international theme - with some works created by non-Chicano artists. Japanese American artist Clement Hanami is currently the Art Director of L.A.’s Japanese American National Museum, and a Commissioner on L.A.’s Cultural Affairs Commission. His mother is a hibakusha (atom bomb survivor), and his works often explore the topic of atomic war and its aftermath. Hanami will be presenting a special work at Ave 50 that commemorates those young people who died in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some might be surprised at the inclusion of John Paul Thornton in a Day of the Dead exhibit, but after examining his Missing Children paintings, his participation seems almost obligatory. Over the years, Thornton has produced hundreds of expressionist oil paintings based upon the photos of missing children found on the flyers and mailers that end up in our mailboxes.

The full title of the Ave 50 exhibit is actually, Miccailhuitontli - Spirit of the Children. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, Miccailhuitontli (Meek-Hail-We-Tontly), or “Little Feast of the Dead” - was the name of the month the Aztecs devoted to the celebration of death and departed ancestors. The month was lorded over by Mictecacihuatl, the Goddess of Death and the Queen of the Underworld. The observances began with remembrances for departed children and ended with commemorations for deceased adults. After the Spanish conquest of 1519-1521, these Aztec traditions and rituals evolved into today’s modern Día de los Muertos celebrations.

The Opening Reception for Miccailhuitontli - Spirit of the Children, takes place on Saturday, October 14, 2006, from 7 to 11 pm. The exhibit will run until November 12th, 2006. Avenue 50 Studio is located in the Highland Park area of L.A., at 131 North Avenue 50, LA., CA 90042. Phone: (323) 258-1435 or visit the gallery website at,

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