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.”

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