Memorial Text by Christina Waters

University California, Santa Cruz
Christina Waters

Adios, Eduardo, UCSC Professor of Art Eduardo Carrillo died on July 14, 1997, leaving a rich legacy of artwork and a collective broken heart.

Born on April 8, 1937 in Los Angeles, Carrillo attended Los Angeles City College before taking his BA and MA degrees at UCLA.  After a year in Spain-studying and painting in the PRA do-he and his first wife Sheila moved to his family’s ancestral home in La Paz, Baja California where he founded and directed El Centro de Arte Regional, a center for the revival and study of regional crafts.  The gifted painter and muralist had already enjoyed many solo exhibitions of his bold artworks in both Mexico and southern California before joining the faculty of UCSC in 1972, where he taught a variety of subjects- drawing, art history, ceramics, shadow puppetry, mural, fresco as well as his primary media of oil and watercolor painting- for the last 25 years of his life.  Exhibiting his work on both coasts of North America, Carrillo was represented by LA Louver Gallery in Venice, California and at Joseph Chowning Gallery in San Francisco.

Memories of Eduardo always begin with his smile, always hugh with high spiritedness-barely deflecting attention from his astonishing blue eyes.  The smile- a permanent possibility of who he was in the world- fed from the same spring as his immense talent.  Somehow about light and color, always about irrepressible sweetness and humor, that spring seemed unquenchable.  Even now that he’s gone, it still seems so.  Probably because Ed Carrillo celebrated, loved, catalogued and anthologized, wore his gift so lightly.  He never took it seriously that it couldn’t be suspended while he explored some moment of friendship.  Part trickster god, part transcultural poet, Ed was an inspiration to his students and colleagues alike.

Armed with the instinctive immediacy of a perpetual child- fascinated with the colors, shapes, textures and rhythm of the sensory world- Ed probed and prodded the land, here and in his beloved Baja, where he’d go each year to putter with a favorite uncle, soak up the light of his grandmother’s village, work on a never-ending building project and open himself to inspiration.  About 10 years ago, a whole new window opened on his life with the meeting of Alison Keeler, who became his second wife.  There had been allot of love in Ed’s life, and Alison was the crowning joy in that legacy.

Colors for Carrillo existed in the service of light, transforming themselves magically before your very eyes- into the light of an early afternoon in Ed’s beloved Baja.  Here the light is so intense that colors get distilled twice, like good tequila, into something potent enough to rediscover what you take for reality.  Magic realism.  Before the term found currency in literature and film-making, Carrillo was robustly, quietly inventing it.  Driving the everyday, the humblest into mythic moments, painting the human into countless gods every single one of them capable of simultaneous laughter and destruction.

Ed’s figures, always monumental and earthy, were more sculpted than painted.  They bore a fundamental sense of physicality that seemed directly descended- or perhaps ascended- from muralists like Rivera and Oliveros.  Solidly grounded in a world that frothed and spiraled around them like dancers in a fiesta, or warriors poised to conquer some jungle enemy, his all -too-human subjects seemed to wink even in their martyrdom.  Ed’s Blessed Virgin drinks coffee with the babes who tempted Quetzacoatl and seduced Louis Valdez.

The effect of Carrillo’s largest masterworks produced the frontera equivalent of Saint Chapelle.  Only instead of the light being saturated with the hues of stained glass, it is the resonance of enormous canvases- all talking to each other in Carrillo’s muscular language of tropical sexuality and archetypal innuendo- that makes the lasting impression.  The atmosphere shimmers with burnt oranges, that dried blood mahogany that was his signature, lustrous turquoise and a robust Aztec yellow.  Painted in the early to mid eighties, they are the work of a giant, of a man widely regarded as a leader of American painting, Hispanic or otherwise.

As a teacher, Eduardo was inventive and resourceful.  He personally dug the clay for a native pottery course and conducted original research for his art history course on Mexican art.  An emotionally as well as intellectually engaged teacher, he inspired and influenced the careers of scores of students.  He always trusted his instincts- rarely worrying about critics, who invariably praised his work without quite grasping its full measure.  Ed painted and taught like he lived- letting go, surrendering to the fullness of his moment in the universe- trusting that moment completely. For all of us left in a world without Eduardo Carrillo, his moment was not nearly long enough.

An overflow congregation of friends, colleagues, family and students from all over the Americas attended a memorial celebration of Eduardo Carrillo’s life and legacy on Sunday, September 28, 1997, at the Elena Baskin Visual Arts Courtyard  A painting and drawing scholarships been established in his name.  Contributions to the Eduardo Carrillo Scholarship may be sent to the Arts Development Office, Division of the Arts, UCSC, Santa Cruz, 95064.
An internationally recognized artist, Carrillo’s work was anthologized in many art-books and articles in the most influential journals, from The New Yorker and Artweek, to the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.   His work has been exhibited for 40 years in dozens of solo and group shows throughout the US and Latin America, and is preserved in such public collections as the Oakland Museum, Yale University Art Gallery and Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum.  His monumental tile mural, commissioned by El Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1979 to honor Father Hidalgo, maintains a dramatic presence in  Carrillo’s metropolitan home town of Los Angeles.

A gifted painter, leader of contemporary American and Hispanic art and patient teacher, Eduardo is survived by his wife,  Alison Keeler Carrillo, of Santa Cruz; his daughter, Juliette Carrillo of Los Angeles; his son, Ruben Carrillo of Honolulu; three sisters, Georgina Ossorio of Miami, Mary Black of Burlingame and Patricia Mullins of Huntington Beach; a brother, Alex Carrillo of Northridge; a stepdaughter, Bhavani Parsons of Paris, France and one grandson, Kino Eduardo Carrillo of Honolulu.

— Christina Waters
The memorial text was written by Christina Waters, University of California, In Memoriam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *