Remembering Eduardo

A new exhibit at the Sesnon brings forth the stunning vision of the late Eduardo Carrillo

Julia Chiapella
Santa Cruz Sentinel
March 13, 1998

If there ever was a contemporary painter for the common woman and man, it was Eduardo Carrillo.

A painting and drawing instructor at UC Santa Cruz, Carrillo died suddenly last year at the age of 60 shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

His sudden death shocked and saddened the local art community.

In a memorial tribute to Carrillo’s lifelong work as an artist, the Sesnon Gallery at UCSC’s Porter College is displaying a collection of his work in an exhibition titled “Eduardo Carrillo: Memorial Exhibition” It runs through April 25.

Carrillo spent his career as an artist in the University of California system but he was far from your typical academic. With his background and beliefs firmly tied to his Mexican ancestry, Carrillo moved easily between the halls of academia and the fields of farm workers.

He had one foot in the world of superstar painter and one sandal in the paisano world of “lettuce pickers” said longtime friend and nationally known art critic John Fitz Gibbon. He could move in both arenas.

Certainly, his paintings reflect a passion for his ancestors and the Chicano landscape. From the brilliant flat light portrayed in “Santoa Abarotes‚Äö√Ñ√∂ to the Aztec and Spanish skirmish portrayed in “Warrior” Carrillo’s paintings echo both the sublime atmosphere and the violent interface between Europe and the native Aztec or Mixtec people.

But Fitz Gibbon says that Carrillo’s agenda was never overtly political.

“There are many (Chicano) artists who have political agendas and usually for the right reasons, but their art is kind of a litany of complaints about this country and the selfishness, greed, and oppression that visited upon people of Mexican descent by the power hold,” said Fitz Gibbon. “Eduardo wasn’t exactly like that. He had a social agenda but his vision was basically a constructive vision. He didn’t have a political ax to grind”

Fitz Gibbon first met Carrillo in the late 1960’s when he hired him for the art department at Sacramento State of which he was chairman. He wanted to make a national presence of the school in the art world as well as diversify the department by hiring women and people of color.

Fitz Gibbon heard about a Mexican American working in Baja.

“He had established a workshop on an acre and a half of scrabble ground on the outskirts of La Paz” said Fitz Gibbon. “He brought in people who knew how to weave, carve wood, build a kiln. He created a kind of artisan workshop, in so doing he created employment to dozens
of families who were destitute”

Carrillo, Fitz Gibbon said, always looked for situations and created opportunity. Though he taught art at UCSC he always had time for the Mexican laborer in the Salinas fields.

Pamela Bailey, director of the Sesnon gallery,said that, for her, Eduardo represented generosity. He gave of himself as an artist wholeheartedly and without hesitation.

“He didn’t hold back,” said Bailey, “because he simply knew that there would be more where that came from.
He trusted his gift as an artist and he trusted the world to receive it”

The Memorial Exhibition reflects Carrillo’s uncanny ability to reinvent himself. Eclectic but technically fastidious and always passionately earthy, this collection of paintings presents work from the 1960’s up to the year of his death. It displays the wit and melancholoy that so frequently make up the two sides of the Mexican coin.

He constantly searched for ways to transform the material into the numinous. “He gave you that paradigm of spiritual truth in his form,” said Fitz Gibbon, “more deduced from an ideal realm than from a pure realm. That’s how us art critics talk”

Taking the breath of his form from the Italian painters from the 14th century as well as the proto-surrealists of Latin culture, Carrillo let his paintings bubble up from the unconscious. Born in the barrio of east Los Angeles he had an unpretentious savvy that easily drew both the privledged and the disadvantaged to his side. Fitz Gibbons claims his attitude was bred by the values espoused by his Mexican relatives love, openness, generousity of spirit and a humility that is not found in the States.

“Everybody loved Ed” said Fitz Gibbon who says Carrillo will take his place near the top of American artists. “He was a remarkable touchstone.”

To “Live Our Own Dynamic Epoch”: Eduardo Carrillo at Joseph Chowning Gallery

Eduardo Carrillo at Joseph Chowning Gallery
Katherine Cook
Artweek, October 11, 1990

Eduardo Carrillo, like many Mexican-descended people in America, is striving to redefine patterns of relating to community. In the current exhibition, Mentiritas (Little Lies) at Joseph Chowning Gallery, this struggle is evident. Born in Santa Monica and educated in the United States and Spain, Carrillo has moved between Mexico and California during much of his adult life, forcing him to examine closely his relationship to both Americas. The diversity of style and content in this show of more than twenty paintings and watercolors, ranging from landscapes and single object studies to enormous, mural-like canvases may itself reflect the multiplicity of processes that can result from emotional and intellectual turbulence.

The Hermit/St. Anthony is an unsettling painting in which a seated, skeletal-like figure fixedly stares at an object; overhead a luminous palm protects the scene like a celestial umbrella. The title recalls the story of St. Anthony, a second century early Christian who sequestered himself for twenty years before founding the monastic movement. In the painting, the artist seems to be setting a mood, heightened by his predominant use of incandescent, pale-yellow tones and concern for light, which suggests a state of deep contemplation before action.

Pulling the Plants is a landscape painting in which the muted background supports the busy foreground action. Angular, simplified figures struggle with enormous bright-green plants whose leaves resemble splayed human palms; they seem to almost grab at the participants. The uprooting of these plants acts as a metaphor for the more personal conflict this artist is attempting to reconcile.

In marked departure from the rest of the show are two large mural-like paintings, The Buccaneers, and Two Brothers Fighting, mounted in the foyer of the exhibition hall. The style of these works are reminiscent of Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, especially the latter work. Here two muscular male combatants are depicted locked in fierce battle; behind them stands a mysterious priest-like figure whose outstretched arms seem to command spiritual symbols to float upward. With these paintings, Carrillo conveys an ideological sympathy with Los Tres Grandes (Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros) artists of Mexico. Painters, not writers, were at the heart of the 1920’s intellectual vanguard of the Mexican Revolution. Carrillo seems to follow their lead by painting the internal revolution that exists today in the Chicano community.
Like the Mexican muralists, Carrillo sees himself as a “cultural worker” in solidarity with the people.

In striking juxtaposition to these works are two small paintings, The Street Painter and The Letter. Each depicts
solitary, eerily disenfranchised figures whose sombreros resemble halos. In The Letter gut loneliness spills onto the frame which bears deep red gashes along each edge. Again, the internal and external struggle is apparent in both the form and content of the entirety of the exhibition. In another small painting, The Bubble Cafe, the artist concerns himself with geometric planes and intersecting rectilineal surfaces. Carrillo tells us that this scene is taken from the Santa Cruz boardwalk. The geometric forms evoke thoughts of Diebenkorn and his Ocean Park series. Interestingly, Diebenkorn’s Santa Monica studio, where this series was completed, was not far from the birthplace of Carrillo.

In The Artist Dreaming of Immortality at His Grandmother’s House, the artist gives us a bird’s-eye view of the small town of San Ignacio in the Baja region of Mexico where the artist’s family originated. Cadmium red hills dominate the background with larger-than-life trees jutting out from the foot, all encasing an idyllic scene of village life. Color becomes a symbolic factor in viewing all of Carrillo’s work. It becomes even more significant when considered within the historic content of Mesoamerican traditions where color not only conveyed emotion but designated specific gods, direction and time.


Eduardo Carrillo at Joseph Chowning Gallery
Marc Van Proyen
November, 1992

Almost all of the figure paintings are frontal portraits of individuals who (by virtue of first name titles) seem to be known to the artist, and here, Carrillo shows himself to be an astute observer of the way in which the human face functions as a telegraph of complex and sometimes even contradictory attitudes.¬†Take the smallish painting titled Doyle (1992). We have the kind of close-up inspection of a man‚Äôs face the we might associate with the more well known paintings of the British painter Lucian Freud ‚Äì a face that seems to be in the midst of some kind of self confrontation, or perhaps in the grips of a willful resolution to such a confrontation. ¬†But it is also a brilliant exercise in how subdued chromaticism can achieve its own vibrancy without lapsing into simple formulas of shade and tint. Another large painting, Ruben(1992), draws back from an examination of the sitter’s face to the ways in which his total body language communicates an attitudecasual defiance, and here, it is large, broad brush strokes that are the painterly mirrors of the person portrayed.

Two small paintings of tree dotted hillsides capture that pecular autumn atmosphere of Northern CAlifornia by using chromatic understatement to subvert obvious postcard sentimentality, while a series of still life paintings really catch Carrillo putting down his painterly chops. Many of them are comprised of objects that echo a festive exoticism, but there is a somber, disquieting mood, present as well, one that makes the still life form quietly redolent of uncanny things-that-might-come. In this pecularly aesthetic attributed, Carrillo finds his painterly heritage in the Nabis painters of turn of the century Paris, such as Pierre Bonnard, and Edouard Vuillard. In Carrillo’s case, however, there is virtually no linear distortion of form, which adds to the mysterious interplay of color and tonality.

A World Away: Chas and Eddie paint the Baja

Esther Vecsey
The Daily Californian, January 1990

Baja California is the long thin land mass that stretches into the Pacific Ocean just below San Diego. Although it is an organic physical appendage of our State, whose name in Spanish is literally “lower California,” Baja is worlds removed from ours by the Mexican border.

For Eduardo Carrillo, a respected West Coast painter and professor of art at the Baskin Visual Arts Center of UC Santa Cruz, Baja ia a vitally important aspect of life. Carrillo’s parents come from Baja California, proud descendants of the Spanish conquistadores who landed at La Paz with Hernan Cortes and intermarriage with the native Indians, the French and Norwegians who settled in the peninsula.

Born in East Los Angeles, Carrillo started going down to Baja to visit his grandmother some 25 years before there was a paved highway. The trip would take close to 10 days over sandy and rocky trail. Carrillo soon began painting in San Ignacio. In 1966 he and his wife Sheila moved there. They founded El Centro de Arte Regional which operated until 1969.

The 60 watercolors now on view at the Joseph Chowning Gallery in San Francisco are pictorial records of trips between 1971 and 1989 taken by Carrillo, Charles Garabedian, Louis Lunetta, and Roberto Chavez.

These artists make up the core of a group of close-knit friends formed at the UCLA Art Department in the late 1950’s. They came from the barrio of East Los Angeles; Ed and Bob are Chicanos, and even though Chas’ ethnic background is Armenian, and Louie’s Sicilian, they all had the common experience of social and economic disadvantage, and a passion for making art.

The watercolor landscapes and portraits at the Chowning Gallery are in the age-old tradition of plein-air painting, done on the spot. The small scale and simple technique of watercolor involves observation, and allows for immediate depiction and spontaneous expression.

The strong visionary and surreal aspects in the work of these artists owe much to their close personal connections and to their experiences in Mexico. The Baja seems to trigger seminal reactions and memories for these artists. In his vivid watercolors of the “Rancho Buena Vista” series Garabedian begins with a sure eye and deft handling of nature observed. Inspired by the landscape and by the process of watercolor, his visual fantasy soars. Subtly and stealthily, he distorts space and shape, inverts perspective, and embroiders reality with rich jewel-like color and pattern. The scenes are pure Mexico, but in the fiber of Garabedian’s work there is a lingering memory of oriental tradition, specifically of Armenian rugs.

Lunetta’s studies are fanciful, stylized and eclectic. His dramatic nocturnal view of Baja, “Night on the Sea of Cortez” recalls scenes of Mount Etna or Vesuvius erupting. Chavez’ paintings are direct, affecting icons of the primal landscape, the elements and the culture of Mexico.

Carrillo’s watercolors combine the traditional European academic concerns of form, light and color with the search for meaningful content. He refers to the works of the modern Mexican masters Rivera, Orozco and Tamayo, whose works Carrillo knew. He also references El Greco, Goya and Rembrandt.

This show is a tribute to Baja which has been the catalyst for the creativity and male bonding shared by this group of artists. Their mutual attitude toward painting, their background and formation, their continuing influence on each other are recorded in the landscapes and portraits of the Baja.

The small scale, rather unassuming watercolors in this exhibition document the enduring and closing friendship between renowned California painters Eduardo Carrillo, Charles Garabedian, and the other. The works in the exhibition reveal the important role the culture and topography of Baja California, and Mexico, has played in their lives and how these have affected the work and thinking.


The Return of the Desert Fathers: Chas and Eddie Paint the Baja at Joseph Chowning Gallery

Esther Vecsey
Artweek Volume 21, #3
January 25,1990

Chas and Eddie Paint the Baja at Joseph Chowning Gallery
There are no radical artistic statements, no dazzling personalities in the exhibition of sixty watercolors by six artists at the Joseph Chowning Gallery. The small-scale, low keyed watercolors are as unassuming as the title of the show, Chas and Eddie Paint the Baja, referring to artists Charles Garabedian and Eduardo Carrillo. But behind this seemingly unimportant facade lies an important key to the practices, creative processes and influences of a significant group of contemporary California artists whose work is intimately connected to Baja California. The link with Mexico stems from their mutual love of painting.

These little watercolors contain a great deal of history. The core group of Carrillo, Garabedian, Roberto Chavez, and Louis Lunetta, all come from the east Los Angeles barrio, and were all students in the art department at UCLA in the late 50’s and early 60’s. At the time, Carrillo begin making trips to the Baja to visit his grandmother in San Ignacio. In the days before there was a paved highway through the peninsula, the trip would take close to ten days over sandy and rocky trail. Carrillo would come back with tales of the wild, desolate landscape, the brilliant light, the pure waters, of his encounters with the indigenous of the interior and the fishermen of the coast. He would tell of his Spanish ancestors who landed with conquistador Ernan Cortez; and their descendants mixed with the Indian, French and even Norwegian settlers to produce Carrillo’s parents and relatives- the Zunigas and Carrillos of San Ignacio, Santa Rosalia and La Paz- who greet the visitor with such warmth and hospitality. Over the years, friends from his student days at UCLA would accompany Carrillo on his trips, or visit while he and his wife Sheila, ran El Centro de Arte Regional, which they had founded in 1966. The core group has continued regular trips to lower California since, enjoying the change of culture and topography and making ceramics, painting, films and videos. Watercolors of the Baja by the group marked the inaugural exhibition in 1961 of the Ceeje Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. This gallery supported the young artists of the “rear guard,” those who, like Carrillo and his friends, were impervious to the trends and pressures of the mainstream art world.
The current San Francisco show spans the period 1971 to 1989 and includes groups of paintings from various periods, series, and locations in Baja.

The trips to Baja were normally restricted to men and the rare exception is Cheryl Yaney, whose work is also included in the show. Her customary idiom is abstraction, which also sets her off from this group of figurative artists. In her happy attempt at depiction in her four watercolors, she lays bright washes of dense blue on sparkling white paper to describe sea and beach. They are exclamation points of discovery: of new terrain, subject, style and of medium.

Carrillo’s thirteen watercolors are markedly dissimilar, each one an explosion of familiar terrain, the topography of the lower California peninsula and the techniques of academic painting. As a long time lover seeks to find new ways to please his mistress, so too Carrillo seeks new means in each of his watercolors to depict his beloved Baja. Light and form are his primary concerns.
Dawn at San Francisquito, with its scrubbed surfaces, large opaque organic floating shapes and mottled Vuilliard colors, is like an abstract Nabi painting, while
Side View of the Mission of San Ignacio is descriptive and dense in detail. Light, color and perspective have their play in Drying Dates, while form and character come to life in the portraits of Tio Beto, Vibora, and The Big Book in Espanol. This is Carrillo’s territory, and the subject is inexhaustible for him. He attacks each work with deep knowledge, intimacy, love and exuberance.

Roberto Chavez’s works, on the other hand, are not as involved with the particularities of place and persons as they are with atmosphere and affecting imagery. The paintings are small, almost reticent, a quality which enhances their mystery. An unforgettable image is Chavez’s glowing white sphere of a moon in a swirling, endlessly- modulated deep night sky. It is a prophetic and eternal presence, conjured up magically with the sparest of means. In these small landscapes, he has captured the monumental desolation of the deserts and beaches of Baja, reducing their essence to a miniature format. There is humor and tragedy in Chavez’s Dodge Piece, and poignancy in El Nino, the depiction of a crude wayside shrine.

The naif or fauve element is strongest in Lunetta’s paintings with their pencil under drawing, their spontaneous, stylized shapes and use of bright colors. Loreto is a souvenir of the lush tropical port on the gulf which he visited with Garabedian in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The portrait, Un Joven de Todos Santos, is strikingly beautiful, as is Night on the Sea of Cortez, which is reminiscent of scenes depicted by the romantic Italian artists of the nineteenth century.

Carrillo’s older brother Alex Carrillo was the pioneer who in the 50’s first drove to Mexico from Los Angeles via Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Of all the group, his is the longest standing relationship with the territory and people of Baja. Alex’s portraits are also the strongest and most incisive. Done in a graphic style, mixing pen and ink outline and watercolor, his Don Beto and Conocido are compelling images. Puzzling, eclectic and visually seductive is his small, semi surreal abstraction, Conversaciones Con Don Beto, with its lively organic forms and miniaturist patterning, and its sliver of multicolored painted frame, which creates a double margin of white paper and sets off its sensual deckel edge.

Charles “Chas” Garabedian’s paintings are perhaps the most recollected and formally coherent of the group. A master of illusions, he relishes the freedom of the medium coupled with the physical remove from the everyday care that a trip to Baja brings. “Watercolor frees you from responsibility,” he says. Abandoning himself to the landscape, he uses color and wash, effortlessly depicting the scene before him. This is most evident in the Rancho Buena Vista series. In Rancho Buena Vista #10, with a few gestural strokes he captures the huge fish as they swing from their ropes, stark trophies in the victorious display all fishermen relish. Deftly, he orchestrates silver, grays, teal and midnight blues to contrast the fish against the pale yellow, orange, and violets of sand and sea. San Ignacio #5 displays a fascination with spacial effect, with the patterning and rich detail of an oriental rug. In San Ignacio #6 Garabedian delights in describing the surfaces of translucent glass in watercolors, and humorously presents the icon of Baja’s beach towns: a lineup of the ubiquitous beer bottle. Garabedian’s surrealist, visionary element is most evident in San Ignacio #7 (Butcher Shop). With complex layered space, reduced shape and pattern, distributed colors, and jewel-like details and accents, Garabedian creates a visually exciting, magical world in miniature. The image is enticing enough to be a travel poster.

Besides overtly celebrating the Baja, their friendship and love of painting, the watercolors in this exhibition pay tribute to the tradition of plein air painting, as practiced by the Chinese philosopher/artists, and by the artists of the Barbizon school, the Impressionists and Post Impressionist. Remembered here too is the itinerant illustrator/artist or the Beaux Arts students and artists of the British Royal Academy in the nineteenth century who, like David Roberts, documented the sights along the Grand Tour.

The contemplation of the little watercolors in the San Francisco show can lead to many more insights and even to unexpected experiences. A comparisons of works by the different artists reveals mutualities, interchange, borrowings that are also evident in their monumental work. The watercolors provide a vicarious access to the quasi-ritualistic voyages of Eduardo Carrillo and Garabedian, Chavez, Lunetta and to the less frequent trips taken by Alex Carrillo and Cheryl Yaney in the Baja. They describe the visions of the group that regularly makes the pilgrimage into the barren barren waste of the peninsula much like the Desert Fathers, the first anchorites of the early Christian era who repaired to the desert of the Sinai and Egypt for spiritual cleansing and renewal. Perhaps it is the purity of a place like the little traveled, obscure, raw and primal landscape of the Baja that allows for clarity of vision, for spontaneity and human bonding. The watercolors bear witness to the profound and complex connections of man, nature and the creative drive.

Hand to Hand Combat

The Oakland Museum hosts Mano a Mano: Abstraction and Figuration,  16 Mexican American and Latin American Painters from the Bay Area.
Esther Vecsey
The Daily Californian
March 31, 1989

The term “mano a mano” means “hand to hand” in Spanish. It’s a colloquial expression for a close confrontation, or hand-to-hand battle between opposing forces. Mano a Mano is also the title of a museum exhibition that opened recently at the Oakland Museum. In the context of the exhibition, “mano a mano” assumes a metaphoric meaning for what happens in the creative arena, according to Rolando Castellon, director of the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz. Castellon is the curator of “Mano a Mano: Abstraction/ Figuration, 16 Mexican American and Latin American Painters from the San Francisco Bay Area.” Castellon is nationally known for his tireless efforts on behalf of Latino artists.

In a talk to the docents of the Oakland Museum, Castellon, who was born in Nicaragua and emigrated to this country over 25 years ago, told of his efforts to bring to public attention the achievements of Latinos. In 1969 Castellon, himself a painter, and a group of Bay Area Chicano and Latin American artists, founded the Galeria de la Raza to provide a regular forum for Latino artists, who are generally excluded from mainstream galleries and the art establishment. In the initial lecture of a series connected with the exhibition, Castellon said he first conceived of this exhibition in 1969.

Castellon said he is primarily interested in the early, pre-Spanish conquest origins of the artists of Mexican and Central and South American origin. It is that aspects of Hispanic culture that he feels plays a principal part in their creative process. Castellon’s declared mission is to reestablish a direct link with the rich artistic heritage that was extinguished by the Spanish conquest of the New World. Castellon is planning an international symposium on the theme of Pre-Colombian and Post-Colombian art to demonstrate how the indigenous past survives and is revived in the culture of peoples of Mexican and Central and South American origin.

Castellon commented on the current surge of exhibitions with a “Hispanic” theme. He said Hispanic Art in the United States, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and several other exhibitions traveling nationally , fail because they show only figurative work by contemporary Latino artists. “Somebody decided that we all do that-the emotional, figurative,” Castellon said in reference to the stereotypical notion that the contemporary Latino creative impulse is fueled by only the naive, primitive folk art tradition. Castellon decided that this was the moment to organize an exhibition to demonstrate the wide range of stylistic and conceptual concerns of Latino artists.

Castellon chose Mano a Mano to emphasize the variety of artistic vocabularies that Latino artists use, which can be distilled to the opposing genres of figurative and abstract. In conceiving Mano a Mano, Castellon envisioned a juxtaposition of abstract and figurative artists in the installation. The idea was not realized at the Oakland Museum, so an important aspect of the exhibition is marred. The original intention of the curator to group and hang the works in opposing pairs, by artists, is now reflected only in the catalog.

The theme of confrontation, the “mano a mano” of the title, is presented in conceptual form only, by arranging illustrations of the paintings to appear on facing pages of the catalog. Eight full-page spreads illustrate Castellon’s premise that the style of the paired artists may be totally disparate, but their color, light, mystical themes and structural qualities resonate with a seminal strain that binds them together, a pre-conquest Indian sensibility shared by the artists because of their ethnic origins.

In the catalog the monumental abstraction “Tlayoltevian,” by Gustavo Ramos Rivera is juxtaposed with Eduardo Carrillo’s “Las Tropicanos.” a mural-size oil on wood; Jerry Concha’s abstract “Yahmenami” is shown opposite Yolanda M. Lopez’s powerful figurative icon of “Nuestra Senora Coatlicue,” and so on through six more pairs.

The oppositions and the affinities that Castellon sees in the works of the artists in this exhibition are subtle and complex. Castellon said he relates the idea of the confrontation of two bullfighters to his original concept for the exhibition: in the corrida, mano a mano is “a traditional ritual where artistry, courage and mysticism come together and the two protagonists fight a duel, not to prove their superiority over one another, but to emphasize the human capacity to transcend the tragedy of life. In art, the artist enacts a similar struggle alone with destiny.” This idea is carried from analogy to metaphor, to “show the confrontation of two opposite directions in contemporary art- abstraction and figuration…”

It is unfortunate that the Oakland Museum didn’t carry out Castellon’s original intention for the exhibition. It is also unfortunate that the reviews never reflected upon the complex issues Castellon raises. Because this exhibition, whose premise is so much more subtly conceived by a Latino painter-curator coincides with the rash of showings of art by Latino artists. Mano a Mano has been lumped with them. Each exhibition may strive to correct the injustice done to Latino artists by the art world establishment in this country, but by presenting the artists in an ethnically determined grouping, the curators run the risk of generalizing and “ghettoizing.” thus defeating their own purpose.

In the very busy and lucrative machine of today’s art world , simple categories and labels are preferred to complex philosophical agendas. Thus the complex issues of Castellon’s exhibition are lost on the critics and reviewers and the issue of ethnicity becomes the main focus for the journalists who have written about it.

The racial, ethnic, political, cultural, religious, economic, social and aesthetic baggage that the artists in Castellon’s exhibition carry is fraught with contradictions. In Mano a Mano and in the intelligently and sensitively written catalog, much of this cultural baggage is explored. In the catalog each artist is treated individually and comprehensively. The paintings on exhibit are powerful works, proving that the artists are not limited by their ethnicity. Their work is valid and strong, in the global context of contemporary art. Their work should be judged on its aesthetic merits, not within the narrow confines of ethnic category, which shows of this kind inevitably perpetuate, no matter how well intentioned.

Erratic Offerings In Hispanic Exhibits

Kenneth Baker
San Francisco Chronicle

A rash of recent exhibitions has brought to light the work of “Hispanic” American artists. (More later about the problems with this term.)
A major touring survey titled “Hispanic Art in the United States: 30 Contemporary Painters and Sculpture” is at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through April 16 (after which it travels to the Brooklyn Museum).
A show of “Caribbean Festival Arts” was organized recently by the St. Louis Art Museum. The catalog, co-published with the University of Washington Press, is a useful publications on the subjects.
In the Bay Area there are two shows of work by artists of Latin American and Mexican-American descent.
At the Oakland Museum, “Mano a Mano,”organized by the Art Museum of Santa Cruz County and curator Rolando Castellon of the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery at the University of California at Santa Cruz, surveys the art of 16 people working in the Bay Area.

The Triton Museum’s “Expressiones Hispanas 88/89,” which has already been to Texas, Colorado and Los Angeles, collects single works by each of 50 artists from all over the United States. It will go on to Taos, N.M., and Miami.

It is all to good that these shows have been discriminated against by art world institutions, inclusion in shows like this has got to be a boost.

But we ought to be wary of believing that justice has been done, except by chance. When a trend develops- even if it’s a trend we’re glad to see- the reasons for it are more likely to lie in the nature of
the institutions involved than in their public declarations of purpose.

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and outline a cynical view of the situation.

Art world professionals who specialize in contemporary art are under constant pressure to keep the right tempo of novelty going in exhibition programs. Meanwhile, as museums lose their independence from the
vested interest of corporate sponsors and government funding bureaucracies, they are under pressure to respect the business values of art at the expense of its aesthetic and intellectual significance.

The effect of all this promotional smog in which things stand out as meaningful only as long as they are in the limelight, and it falls to publicists (and critics willing to behave like publicists) to forge connections
between art and the lives of those who see it. Needless to say, those connections grow ever more arbitrary in consequence.

As critic Roger Fry caricatures the state of affairs: “Not since the mannerists late-16th century, and
certainly not since the decadence of fin-de-siecle aestheticism, have art and life been so perfectly independent of each other.”

Let’s suppose Fry is right and museum professionals know it and have no choice but to work within the circumstances. Where might they turn to find art that looks and feels as if its connection is genuine?
To outsiders, minority artists, who have not “suffered” -or benefitted by- the artistically deadening effects of professionalism.

Small wonder, if this is how things work, that exhibitions of minority art work, always seem to be on (or over) the verge of fleshing out some stereotype. The stereotypical view of “Hispanic” art associates it with jazzy color, folk-art directness, fantasy and possibly violence.

“Mano a Mano” helps to break down this stereotype (even though it includes works that appear to conform to it). “Expresiones Hispanicas” does not.

“Expresiones Hispanicas” is a of largely undistinguished work in which your eye is constantly snagged by the logos of the show’s corporate sponsors, a brewer of dishwater beer and a respected South Bay
There are few bright spots here- the works by Louis LeRoy, Elena Presser and Daniel Lechon, for instance-
but the show’s cumulative effect is dispiriting.

Terminology reflects the curatorial issues at another level. “Hispanic” is not a good term for linking the
heritage of people from Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. It echoes little more than
the history of European colonialism. Even the term “minority” is rapidly losing the statistical meaning it once had. The only answer to these terminological quandaries may be not to get fixated on catch words but to let them be loose and use loosely.

Whatever, their agendas, exhibitions of so-called minority art do serve to refresh basic questions of criticism. They make us ask on what basis we judge works of art, and whether the criteria we contrive are tinged with unexamined prejudices.

“Mano a Mano” is one of the most successful exhibitions of its kind that I’ve seen, though the caliber of the work is very erratic. Its merit lies simply in showing that art by people of Latin American and
Mexican-American background cab be as good, bad and mediocre, as self-involved and open-hearted, as art by anybody else.

Part of what makes the good art good (here as elsewhere) is that it sets and clarifies terms in which it can be evaluated. The weak work just won’t hold you.

For example, there is no standard I know by which to show that Eduardo Carrillo’s “Las Tropicanos” (1975) is a knockout painting.

You have to enter into, to let your attention drift into its nightmare space, past the towering nudes, the giant iguana and the skeleton acrobatics who’ve stacked themselves into a pyramid, and up into the night
sky where a spiky UFO floats like a hanging lamp.

When you regain your composure, you know you’ve seen a great illusionist at work. You can check the details and see that Carrillo has his skills completely under control. (And you don’t need an expert to tell
you what a sad falling off is Carrillo’s most recent picture.)

The range of styles in “Mano a Mano” is exhilarating. There is everything from color field abstraction by Robert Gonzales to the anti-imperialist mural by Daniel Galvez, from Carmen Lomas Garza’s memories of
Texas childhood to Rupert Garcia’s nightmares of combat.

Some of the most convincing pieces are amongst the quietest. I’m thinking of the poetic abstractions of Mayan motifs by Manuel Villamor and several “Scenes from Father’s Bone Scan” by Ann Garcia


Man of Many Moods, Modes

Victoria Dalkey
Sacramento Bee Art Correspondent

Eduardo Carrillo’s retrospective exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum’s Tempo Gallery had the same effect on me as an all you can eat smorgasbord has on a shaky member of Weigh Watchers. I’ve been back three times since it opened and I’m hungry for more. It isn’t that the works aren’t satisfying and nutritious. It’s just that they’re so rich, and varied, and tempting.
No one could ever accuse Carrillo of falling prey to the hobgoblin of consistency. Each of the 18 oils on view, done between 1970-1986, stakes out fresh territory. He brings his considerable skill, complex intellect and spiritual searching to each work, moving from small and intimate, realistic still lifes and landscapes to monumental mythic figurative paintings that draw inspiration from the simplified forms and heroic proportions of Mexican murals.
Above all, Carrillo is a painter of light and its transforming effect on the world of appearances. Yet this work is nothing like that of the Impressionists who strove to render an optical reality by recording the way light strikes the surfaces of things– the skin of the world as it were. With Carrillo, you get the whole body– deep, solid, and resonant. And within that body, always, is a spiritual presence– a sense of the invisible that dwells in the visible. The exhibit opens with seven works done between 1970 and 1972 when Carrillo was teaching at California State University, Sacramento. It’s interesting to see how they move back and forth between straight realism and a more symbolic approach. “Interior” records the dusky, cool light falling through slated blinds on a room furnished with remnants from thrift stores and restaurants– a Naugahyde corner booth, a wicker rocker, a sad flowered carpet brought to life by intense bands of light. It’s a small painting, but so convincing you enter it and walk around in the dim light. In “Testament of the Holy Spirit”, Carrillo translates that veracity to a larger scale ellectual, and social critic–rises in ecstasy, her body a series of arcs lifted in praise, is simply magnificent. As intensely religious and erotic as Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Teresa,” it’s a radical, new work that connects strongly with the Spanish tradition of religious mysticism. For me it’s the most important painting in the show. It offers hope that contemporary art can connect with the past without mocking it, that a grand vision is still possible and that our humanity can be restored to us through art. Don’t miss it. “Sor Juana” and the rest of Carrillo’s works are a remarkable culmination for the Tempo Gallery, which will be discontinued as a space for showing the works of contemporary regional artists after this show.

Spiritual Narratives

by Philip Brookman
Artweek September 24, 1982

The Aztec concept of the fifth sun represents a philosophy of time in which history is described in cycles, with their world as under four suns and the present era as under the fifth. This symbolism is embodied in much of Carrillo’s work. His paintings seem to hinge on the synthesis of spiritual thought and the soul in transition. Here, in the tradition of Flemish and Spanish art, as well as that of surrealism, the painter’s role is one of both interpretation and manifestation. In several paintings exhibited, including Arrival at Puerto Balandra(1975), La Luz y la Musica(1975), and Woman Holding a Serpent(1977), mystical arrangements of history and myth are woven together in a flattened, tapestry-like space where modeling, color and light are key elements in a precarious balance between the physicality of paint and the intangibility of spiritual concepts.

Carrillo is basically an intuitive painter, having studied with Stanton Macdonald-Wright and William Brice at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the early 1960’s. His work became politicized as he began to paint murals with Roberto Chavez, Louis Lunetta, Charles Garabedian, Ramses Noriega. Since then, Carrillo has been instrumental in organizing Chicano artists in California and in developing projects for the study and documentation of Chicano art and culture through the University of California. His most recent work in the present exhibition reveals that interest and the determination to continue the development of imagery rooted in the history and art of Chicano culture. Two large paintings- one on canvas and the other on ceramic tile- depict a horseman, the chinaco, in the Mexican desert, surrounded by an endless, dry landscape which seems to inspire Carrillo.

The exhibition culminates in a large new painting. The Flight of Sor Juana(1982) which depicts the ecstasy of the seventeenth century Mexican nun and poetess, Sister Juana Inez de la Cruz. This work shows Sister Juana elevated from her seat as the image of St. Thomas manifests itself from a scroll adjacent to the crucifix hung above her table. Sister Juana, who wrote of the conflict between the visible or material and the spiritual worlds, is shown in ecstasy. Carrillo has aligned the figure of the crucified Christ, the spectral Image and Sister Juana’s upturned face to balance the arc her body makes as it rises from her chair. The diagonal cross implied in this composition is carefully echoed by the angle of the tiny cross on her habit and the tilt of the cross on the wall above her. This combination of a symbolic subject and painted vision, which sets the mind in circuitous motion, is an inherent quality of Carrillo’s work; it warrants a long, careful look for those who prefer art with a narrative base.

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Ed Carrillo-Ceeje Alumnus

Aron Goldberg
from Artweek  Volume 6, #15
April 12, 1975

Ten or twelve years ago, in the first excitement of the L.A. art boom, the Ceeje Gallery flourished as equals among equals, and Ed Carrillo was one of the best artists. The Ceeje mainly showed people who were UCLA graduate students and faculty. The art was romantic and visionary- with a vengeance. It was probably the only local gallery where narration became a consistent artistic principle like push-pull, the hard edge, and the big empty space.

Ceeje art was youthful, maybe too learned, and it didn’t have the strength to survive the hardening of the local art scene when the moneymaking patterns became set. The gallery closed, soon dropped from public attention altogether and its artists became historical non-persons.

Despite this, the artists continued to live and work, developing according to their natures. Roberto Chavez became the spiritual father of the Chicano art movement in L.A. Charles Garabedian eventually found his way into the Whitney Annual and Max Hendler into the Metropolitan. Ed Carrillo has wandered the length of California, teaching where he could to support his family, and painting all the while.

Carrillo’s wanderings may have made him less familiar to younger readers than Garabedian, Chavez and Hendler. Thus his show at Cal State L.A. art gallery representing fifteen years, will be a surprise gift to those who long to see work that is both exultant and ecstatic. In this Carrillo represents what was best and most hopeful in the Ceeje Gallery’s art. Immensely gifted, his command of color, tone, composition and drawing suggests some fabled old master. More importantly, Carrillo is a pure spirit, uncorrupted by that ultimate refusal to take himself seriously that can ruin the most talented. His commitment to his search was, and still is, absolute. Therefore, he has claimed the right to seek out ecstasy and reconstruct the world in that light. This is no small thing. Its basis is the sense that beneath the categories and limitations of what we accept as life is another unbounded, exquisite reality, arrogantly called the fantastic or visionary.
When the clever art student was looking at the first Pop and Op art, Carrillo was drawn to di Chirico and his infusion into dead objects the emotional responses of pain and dread. Carrillo’s personal adaptation was to bring an exquisite, colored atmosphere into the painted space. Going to Spain shortly after, he saw Bosch and the other masters of the fantastic in the Prado. He must have recognized his soul-brothers in these essentially medieval artists. When he returned to L.A., he brought back the imagery of Bosch and Patenier and a great desire to work in the materials of late-gothic art. Again, his feeling for color and light made real the symbols that are still academic mysteries to scholars. The psychedelic exploiters of the 1960’s reached back to the same sources for their images, but Carrillo found a personal, austere vision where others could only see a topical rip-off. Yet a curious exchange exists between Carrillo and the generation of the 1960’s. Popular exposure to the concept that mind-expansion is a proper end in itself has prepared a wider acceptance for work like Carrillo’s, and Carrillo himself seems to have found a kind of permission to push his psychic explorations to whatever ends they may lead.

Carrillo’s religious background and his involvement with his Raza have sent him into Mexico time after time.
For several years, he was the head of a “school of regional art” in La Paz, Baja Calif., the town of his parents. While he was there, he began to lose faith in the ready-made visions of medieval mysticism. He began to paint, in a humble and studious way, the things around him, submitting to the majesty and complexity of the “objective world.” This discipline finally evolved into a vision of the ecstatic potential vibrating in the most prosaic phenomena. His means of extracting this was again light and color. As a result his kitchen or back yard, for example, became struck with the light of revelation – the same in which artists of the past would have painted a Transfiguration. Working this way he began to strike a balance between an intense inner journey towards mystical truth and the necessity of living in the world as a husband, father and teacher.

In the last few years, since he has been teaching at Santa Cruz, Carrillo has more and more followed the racial search of the Mexican Indian for his guiding Vision. This is not the place to discuss the function of visionary experience as a seemingly absolute, truthful reference point against which daily living can be judged.
It is enough to say that, for those who are not frivolous experimenters, these Visions can serve essentially the same purpose as Socrates’ demon or the angelic beings of Buddhism and the Western religions; their continuing presense in a person’s life guarantees that the sense of one’s divine origins and connections will never be lost. The pursuit of this Vision has drawn Carrillo again and again into the wilds of Mexico and established deepening contacts with their Indian peoples. It has also returned him to the painting of fantastic images.

Perhaps because of his work in the unfolding of Chicano consciousness, with the artist precedent of the Mexican muralists, he began to paint large-scale works, both on walls and free standing. Catholic and Indian folklore can both be seen in this newest work in which he has attempted to show certain mysteries directly rather than by implication. Carrillo’s style has become broader and riskier. The magnitude of his task makes his customary precise control do battle with experiment. Since the form-struggle is continuous, the only correct way of seeing his work is as a document of the spiritual search and evolvement of an individual rather than as a series of trophies or failures.

Our usual comparisons of the merits ot demerits of a given work done by an artist seem irrelevant and pernicious at this place in history. Perhaps in the past, when there was a stable world-view shared by society, which implied some objective parameters of artist subject and technique, there might have been some point to this game. Nowadays, when every artist must become like a speculative philosopher, each alone developing some system for understanding experience, such time-bound criteria have to give way to a double question: is the person faithful to the laws of his own growth, and can we accept the objectives of his search? In Carrillo’s case, the integrity of his work is beyond dispute and he has made himself a true brother to everyone who seeks spiritual unfoldment.

—Aron Goldberg, himself a Ceeje alumnus and friend of Ed Carrillo, is the author of the catalog essay for Carrillo’s exhibit.