I will be premiering two new paintings at the exhibit, Indigenous Roots, to be held December 14, 2013 to January 25, 2014, at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park, Los Angeles, CA. Curator Raoul de la Sota said of the exhibit: “I have invited 13 artists to discuss and interpret visually in their work the ethnic, cultural and racial history that has influenced their work as artists perhaps living physically distant from their homeland but closely tied by their heartstrings to its past.”
One of the oil paintings I will be showing I have titled, LA Subway. As with the portrait of this woman I encountered on a Los Angeles Metro Rail subway train, it’s the lot of the majority to daily trudge to and from work.
Perhaps she is a nurse or care worker, one of millions in a service industry that does not receive the rewards or appreciation they deserve. My father, a legal immigrant from Mexico, labored in LA’s upscale restaurants, mostly working two shifts a day for his entire professional career. While I celebrate my ethnic heritage, being of the working class has been more important in shaping my life and art.
I have two distinct sets of memories from my childhood. One collection of reminiscences has to do with my father making monthly trips from LA to San Diego to visit his mother and extended family, most of which were born in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico.
My strongest recollections are of my father’s mother, who came to San Diego as a young woman and found work at the original Chicken of the Sea canning plant. I remember her as the greatest cook in the world, and as a child I spent hours with her in the kitchen as she cooked tamales, menudo, and the most amazing hand made flour tortillas from scratch.
The other group of memories have to do with my father being a working man. He labored in LA’s restaurant industry, working his way up from bus boy to maître d’ in some of the city’s most elite private clubs. He inadvertently taught me about class as I watched him endure exhausting work and long hours while serving wealthy patrons. From my experience, ethnic and cultural identity intertwine with working class sensibility and outlook. These points of view have always informed my art.
The second oil painting I have in the exhibit is titled, Urban Landscape (seen directly below).
While Urban Landscape was inspired by observing the streets of Los Angeles, the canvas depicts a reality now present in virtually every large American city; working class youth struggling to survive in a hostile urban environment during very difficult economic times. The subject of my painting is a young Latina, but she could just as easily be of any racial background; she holds a book, perhaps the only weapon that can free her from a life of ignorance, poverty, and want.
I am very satisfied with Urban Landscape, and consider it to be my strongest social realist painting to date. The canvas, which took more than a year to complete, represents something of a turning point for me, as I was more interested in achieving paint textures than ever before. The juxtaposition of a painterly “abstract” background, a fair representation of actual city walls these days, with the precision realism of the foreground figure, I found to be a particularly pleasing accomplishment.
Our cities are decaying, basic social services and school budgets are being cut to the bone, unemployment is rampant, and crime is ever present. As a rule the artless scrawls of wannabe or real gangsters that deface city walls denote communities in decline, it has little to do with art and everything to do with collapse. This is something to be opposed, not celebrated and romanticized. Urban Landscape stands as a counterpoint to today’s trendy nonsense concerning graffiti and the attempts by hipster aesthetes to commodify it.
Indigenous Roots opens on Dec. 14, 2013 and runs until Jan. 25, 2014. An Opening Reception with the artists will be held on Dec. 14th, from 7 to 10 pm. Avenue 50 Studio is located at 131 North Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA 90042.