by Rolando Castellon
from Abstraction and Figuration: 16 Mexican-American & Latin- American Painters from the San Francisco Bay Area
The Art Museum of Santa Cruz County and University of California, 1988
In the autumn of 1969 a group of Chicano and Latin-American artists residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, established the first art center in northern California dedicated exclusively to represent the graphic arts of La Raza.1 Almost twenty years later this Center, named Galeria de la Raza,2 is an institution of major significance not only regionally but also nationally and internationally. Prior to 1969 Chicano and Latin-American artists had very little participation and recognition in the fine arts field. A few names would become known sporadically within the artistic milieu, but with little or no lasting results for the artists or their cause.
The seed for this exhibition, titled Mano a Mano, was sown that autumn in 1969. At that time, this writer and seven of the artists represented in the exhibition became seriously active in the field of visual arts as part of the group who originally founded the Galeria de la Raza. Recognition for the work of these artists has been slow to come, but after two decades, they have influenced the fabric of American contemporary art and each one of them has contributed to the cultural development of the area.
Mano a Mano: An Exhibition of Abstract and Figurative Art
This exhibition’s title, Mano a Mano, is a Spanish expression used to describe the confrontation of two bullfighters. It 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. The analogy
becomes a metaphor to show the confrontation of two opposite stylistic directions in contemporary art- abstraction and figuration- and to distinguish the differences and similarities of these two disparate points of visual expression.
It is not the intention of this exhibition to show exclusively the characteristics or historical tendencies, ethnic, folkloric, or political, of the Latin- American culture. In actuality, it tries to demonstrate the creativity of each individual regardless of the artist’s personal inclination within the two art styles. Naturally, the artistic movement developed through Galeria de la Raza includes other areas in the plastic arts; namely printmaking, sculpture, and photography. An independent in-depth study of every one of these techniques should be undertaken. However, this exhibition will address the genre of painting exclusively.
The art represented in Mano a Mano is not necessarily Latin-American, Chicano, Hispanic, naive, folkloric, political, religious, etc.; it is the artistic expression of sixteen individuals of a certain ethnic background who found themselves within the structure of a discriminatory society. The content of these artists’ work is based on their cultural roots and influenced by those different aspects, but their works present a synthesis of these influences in a mature way, reached after careful reflection, depending on how each artist has lived and understood them through his or her own personal experiences. These artists have been living beings within an alienating macrocosm in which they have been able to survive, in a large degree due to their artistic activity and their personal involvement in a sociopolitical process directed towards the development and support of their own cultural values.
Historically Latin- American art has followed a realistic human vision, reflecting the ongoing political and economic situation of the continent and expressed in figurative realism which seems to follow as a natural and logical conclusion. However, despite the prevailing tendency of this tradition, many artists have developed and expressed ideas through abstract lyricism. This tendency has been less obvious and has not been given the necessary emphasis that would illuminate its existence and importance. Most recently this omissive attitude has been demonstrated in two exhibitions of great magnitude and importance organized by large art institutions in the United States. These exhibitions, “Art of the Fantastic: Latin-American Painting, 1920-1987,” Museum of Art, Indianapolis and “Hispanic Art in the United States,” Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, emphasize the Latin – American preoccupation with figurative work. Only two of the fifty-nine artists included in both exhibitions could be considered even marginally in terms of abstract work. A little known fact is that many Latin- American artists in the United States and Latin America produce abstract work and continue to practice this artistic tradition which is still a current and dynamic force in the international artistic forefront.
Mano a Mano attempts to rectify, at the regional level, the lack of recognition given to existing abstractional tendencies in Chicano and Latin- American art. The exhibition, composed of work with abstract imagery by eight artists and an equal number of artists who follow the figurative tradition, exposes contrasts and compares philosophical and visual criteria. The exhibition’s catalogue has been designed to contraries the work to illustrate and document the point of view in question.
Figuration and Abstraction in Barrio Art
One of the first exhibitions organized by Galeria de la Raza entitled “Barrio Art” became an annual event. These exhibitions were characterized by their eclecticism because the organizers stimulated all the aesthetic tendencies and presented to the audience different forms of traditional art as well as new artistic directions. The success of these exhibitions greatly influenced the decision to maintain an ongoing and equally balanced program. Later two new institutions, the Mission Cultural Center3 and the Galeria Libertad of La Raza Graphics Center4, would join the Galeria de la Raza to continue sponsorship of a wide program of exhibitions.
Today the three cultural centers offer not only exhibitions but also a variety of cultural aspects including dance, theatre, design and workshops in literature, photography and printmaking.
Of the sixteen artists that comprise Mano a Mano, the nucleus is composed of seven original members of the Galeria de la Raza: Jerry Concha (USA), Gustavo Ramos Rivera (Mexico), Carlos Loarca (Guatemala), Manuel Villamor (British Honduras), Peter Rodriguez (USA), Rupert Garcia (USA), and Robert Gonzalez (USA, deceased, 1939-1981). These artists exhibited their work individually there during the years 1971 through 1980. Later, Carmen Lomas Garza (USA), Yolanda M. Lopez (USA), and Daniel Galvez (USA) joined the Galeria de la Raza as artists and also served in various administrative positions. The remaining artists have worked independently: Beatrice Hablig (USA), Robert Hernandez (USA), Patricio Toro (Chile), Eduardo Carrillo (USA), Armando Rascon (USA), and Ann Garcia Urriolagoitia (USA).
The sub context of this exhibition, aside from its artistic consideration, emphasizes the personal commitment of all the artists to be active in the political, educational and religious aspects of their communities. Despite their individuality, they are joined together under a common cause based on the belief of freedom through education and artistic achievement.
EDUARDO CARRILLO was born in Santa Monica, California and educated at the University of California, Los Angeles. He moved to Sacramento in 1970 and taught at California State University. Presently he resides in the Santa Cruz mountains and teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Carrillo’s work may be called anecdotal, based on the oral tradition of storytelling, describing human social events. The style of his oil paintings on canvas and watercolors on paper is formally realistic; however, his realism is not to be taken literally as his overwhelming concern is a meta-
physical one. In most cases the use of color is consistently earthen. The figures, always in action, are stylized in an expressionistic manner and reflect an underlying emotion filled with life and energy. Carrillo’s invented light shimmers over the entire canvas contrasting the dark browns, purples and reddish blacks of the painting. This non-natural light is found in most of his work and is attained by using a white tone, somewhere between a yellow and an ochre, which is reflected on the subjects giving a strong atmospheric quality captured in the space surrounding the figures. In exterior scenes, the sun is never felt, but its presence is palpable. The interior scenes are still lives or human dramas illuminated by the same ethereal and mysterious light.
— Rolando Castellon