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.