IntroductionTHE CHICANO SCHOOL OF PAINTINO
The first time I stood in front of a Chicano painting-it was George Yepes's Amor amatizado-I had the same feeling as when I first heard a tune by the Beatles. It was a sense of experiencing something very familiar and very new. The Beatles had built their music on the backs of their rock 'n roll heroes, but their interpretation was fresh and distinctive. As the Beatles started writing their own songs, their own roots were clearly evident, and yet they were moving beyond the influences around them to create a whole new musical landscape. The same can be said about my appreciation of Chicano painters: The more art I looked at and thought about, the more that initial feeling of something new and "known" was reinforced, and with it a recognition of something powerful at work.
Having been self-educated in art from an early age (I was probably in the fifth or sixth grade), I recognized the various models from which the Chicano artists drew inspiration: Impressionism, Expressionism, the Mexican Mural Movement, Photorealism, Retablo painting, are all examples. But the common link of course was the central "influence" common to all the artists-they were Chicanos and looked at the world through Chicano eyes. Over time, this so-called common link begat something broader and more important. A much larger picture was emerging, and that picture was a new school of art in formation.
If a school can be defined as a place where people can come to learn, exchange ideas, have multiple views and different approaches to the same subject, and influence each other as they agree and disagree, then a Chicano School of Painting more than qualifies for such a definition. What distinguishes this body of work is of course not simply that it has no interest in rehashing the familiar landmarks of Impressionism, say, or abstraction or pattern & decoration. Nor is this art whose mandate is a reaction against other stylistic precedents in the history of art. Rather, it is a visual interpretation of a shared culture that unfolds in one distinctive painting after another.
The art movement developed outside of the national or international spotlight, and in separate locations, notably Los Angeles and San Antonio. In its earliest days, three decades ago, this was a movement that developed organically, with little communication among the artists. What bound them together was the DNA of common shared experience. Yes, there were a few important groups (Con Safo, Royal Chicano Air Force, Los Four, and Asco), but in general many of the artists shown in these pages never even met before their work was collected in the exhibition "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge." With little commercial encouragement, these artists have struggled to gain acceptance in the gallery world. Many painters show their works in restaurants, coffeehouses, or wherever there is a wall and an audience. What matters is that they continue to create.
Overwhelmingly university or art-school trained, these artists were exposed to art history and major contemporary world art trends in addition to the constant and surrounding influence of Mexican art and culture. Indeed, it is this blending of influences-traditional Mexican and American Pop-that defines the school. Simultaneously naive and sophisticated, the art mirrors the artists' own experience of a bicultural environment. Chicanos "code switch" amongst themselves all the time: they go back and forth almost at random between languages and cultures both spoken and visual. Code switching allows for total immersion, the creation of a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Going into its fourth generation of artists, the school continues to grow without losing its essential characteristic-the visual interpretation of the Chicano experience. Whatever the means-historical, political, spiritual, emotional, humorous-these painters each find a unique way to express their singular point of view. And just as Chicanos have been influenced by their predecessors, so now they exert an influence on American pop culture. From hip-hop dress to the predominance of salsa as the number one condiment-over ketchup!-the Latin experience is not just recognized as something "interesting," a "colorful sidelight," but as one of the main threads that makes up America's cultural fabric.
In the end, however, it is the lone art lover standing in front of a great painting with his jaw dropped, transported to a place both timeless and immediate, that provides the ultimate validation for this new movement in art. For more than twenty years, Chicano painters have done that for me. I pass along this world with love and affection, y con amor, carino y besos.
-Cheech Marin San Francisco, 2002