Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond

Peter Selz
with an essay by Susan Laundauer
University of Berkeley Press in conjunction with the San Jose Museum of Art, 2006


In 1979, using ceramic tile, Eduardo Carrillo (1937-1997) created a remarkable mural, forty-four feet long, as a commission for the city of Los Angeles. Born in Santa Monica, Carrillo studied at UCLA with Stanton MacDonald Wright and William Brice, and also spent a year in Spain, where he came to admire the paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, Diego Velazquez, and El Greco in the Prado, as well as the work of Giorgio de Chirico. As he matured, he combined the Spanish and Mexican Baroque traditions with European modernism, achieving work of highly personal authenticity. In 1966 he founded El Centro de Arte Regional in La Paz, Baja California, which he directed for several years. There he helped revive the regional crafts of ceramics, leatherwork, dyeing, and weaving for the production of fine salable items. In 1972 Carrillo joined the art faculty of the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he remained until his death in 1997. In 1976, as a gift to the community, he painted a mural based on the theme of birth, death and regeneration, in a vaulted passageway near a downtown shopping mall in Santa Cruz. The mural was obliterated, however, by a bank that later acquired the property, the manager claiming he had no idea of the value of the work. Carrillo’s ceramic mural for Los Angeles was done on a curved wall in front of the Church of Dolores, close to Siqueiros’s mural Tropical America on Olvera Street, in the original Mexican section of the city. Entitled El Grito, it commemorates the Mexican revolt against Spain in 1810. Father Miguel Hildalgo y Costillo, Mexican Creole priest, launched the revolt with his cry for independence, known as El Grito de Dolores. Leading an insurgent army in the early fight for independence, Hildalgo is said to have carried the banner of the Virgin of Guadalajara, but was eventually defeated by royalists. Hidalgo was defrocked and shot. But his grito, calling for the freeing of slaves and the redistribution of land was not forgotten. In Carrillo’s mural Hidalgo is the central figure. Next to him we see a woman carrying the standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and farther to the right Native men with arrows, women carrying baskets of corn, and children at play. Spanish grandees flee on horseback, and a black flag displays a skull and crossbones. The luminous glazes of the ceramics, predominantly in blue and ochre, endow the work with an amazing glow. Carrillo’s later paintings, shown in a solo exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento in 1986, were often preoccupied with images from Mexican mythology, history, and contemporary culture. Painted in closely hued vibrant colors, these depictions of human drama convey a sense of mystery, reminding the viewer of Surrealist imagination.

View book at University of California Press 

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