At first it seems like a small thing: Out of nearly 200 artists nationwide whose work was chosen for inclusion in Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture and Education, an encyclopedic, comprehensive and absolutely gorgeous phone-book-sized pair of volumes put out by the Bilingual Press at Arizona State University, ten hail from the Denver area: Meggan De Anza, Jerry De La Cruz, Carlos Frésquez, Quintin Gonz´lez, Emanuel Martinez, Tony Ortega, Patty Ortiz, Maruca Salazar, Daniel Salazar and Carlos Santistevan, all of whom will be on hand tonight for an art opening and book signing at the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council. But if you ask them and their friends at CHAC, it's a significant inclusion.
"They are all among the real powerhouses of Chicano art in Denver, and almost all are CHAC members," says CHAC spokesman Jerry Vigil. "To me, that shows we're a small but strong and powerful organization in terms of representing Chicano art of the region. Books of this type are usually divided by West Coast and East Coast art, and Denver just gets lost somewhere in between. But this time it's different: There's a source and sense of pride -- not only for Denver, but for the entire Chicano community -- in being recognized in a book like this."
The admiration is mutual. "CHAC has done a really good job of introducing a certain kind of sensibility within the larger aesthetic," says artist Daniel Salazar. "We're maybe a little more hybrid here and a little more irreverent in our commentary, though still very political. Carlos Santistevan has taken the santero tradition in a totally contemporary direction, and Maruca's work shows that irreverence, illustrating things that in Spanish have satirical double meanings, while still staying rooted in folk art. Carlos Frésquez demonstrates the idea of la raza cósmica. Emanuel Martinez is important for advancing the tradition of muralism in this area, and my own work is about reinvestigating symbols and icons like machismo and presenting them in new light." And what distinguishes Denver's Chicano art from that generated in California or Texas? "The artists they selected demonstrate a distinct flavor the city can be proud of, a real Denverkind of identity," Salazar adds. "I mean, what other town comes up with a Mexican hamburger? We're just far enough north to make that connection."
Santistevan, who feels that Chicano art is still given short shrift by the Denver's art gentry, says inclusion in the collection gives his niche new validity -- and not just here, but in the art world at large. "The book is a different slice of Americana in that it's coming from our slice, as Americans of Latino descent with roots in the Southwest. For me, that's really important. Picasso doesn't mean a thing to us; colonial South American art doesn't, either. We've always had something to say, but the hard part is getting people to listen."
There's plenty in these books to listen to, and to see: Glorious color prints adorn nearly every page. A personal statement and biographical synopsis accompanies each artist's entry, making it an excellent educational resource. In addition, there are thematic overviews scattered throughout that explore recurring subjects in Chicano art, from lowriders to the classic image of the la Virgen de Guadalupe. Other entries defy traditional imagery.
While most artists would agree that too many others got left out (more than a thousand in all went through the jurying process) and the cost of the books -- $120 to $160 -- is high (a situation mitigated by a companion Web site, www.latinoartcommunity.org, that allows free access to much of the material), one thing is certain: Chicana and Chicano Art is a long-overdue tribute.