The medium of printmaking still carries an Old World cachet--as well as equally exclusionary costs. The expenses involved in making a hand-pulled print on heavy paper puts the reproductive technique out of reach for many artists.
To overcome this obstacle, some arts communities have worked to make printmaking facilities more accessible. Denver's Open Press--partially financed by city loans and grants--and the printmaking studios at the Art Students League are two local examples. As yet, however, no printing facility geared specifically toward low-income minorities exists here; in that, we lag behind Phoenix's MARS (Movimiento Artstico del Ro Salado, aka Salt River Artistic Movement) and East Los Angeles's Self-Help Graphics, both of which assist Latino artists.
The Chicano Connection, a traveling exhibition assembled by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, showcases the output of MARS and Self-Help Graphics. More than forty limited-edition prints by Chicano artists--many of them familiar names to Colorado viewers--are now on display at the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts.
The show, which spans the last three decades, serves as something of a retrospective of Chicano art, a movement that sprang from the political activism of the late Sixties. But the white-hot anger and passion usually associated with that genre is largely absent. The Arizona Commission's selections focus instead on sweet-tempered depictions of what have become stereotypical motifs of Latino art: crosses and hearts, mythological themes, folk dancers and cacti. The result is a handsome but relatively safe collection designed more to win over viewers than incite riots.
Political statements, though softened here, are not totally absent. Arturo Urista's amusing silkscreen, "The Travel Back," depicts marching lines of familiar Southwestern symbols transforming into one another and resulting in a cartoony map of Texas topped with a bandana. Malaquias Montoya's "S Se Puede" (Yes, It Can Be Done) shows a stand of spiky maguey plants, a native of Mexico, growing out of an American flag. And for nostalgia buffs, there's a grouping of Emmanuel Martinez's early works--including the famous image of a bandolero with the words "Tierra o Muerte" (Land or Death), an icon still used by Latino-rights groups.
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But it is Hispanic culture, rather than pure politics, that provides the subject matter for most of these artists, and certain works charmingly embody the diversity of Mestizo lifestyles. Although Tony Ortega's naive-style woodcuts and serigraphs offer few surprises, his "Frida y Diego Nos Muestran Mexico" (Frida and Diego Show Us Mexico)--a double portrait of artists Frida Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera executed with Ortega's characteristic flattened shapes and scribbled colors--is notable. The artist not only captures the likenesses of these Mexican heroes, he squeezes some of his own favorite motifs into the background as well: an Aztec pyramid, members of a street gang draped over an American-made automobile. And his "San Pachuco," a portrait of one of the zoot-suit-clad hipsters of the title, makes a suave companion to Carlos Fresquez's "Pachuco in Pink"--a similar figure, but one rendered with Fresquez's dreamy humor and quirky detail. The celebration of this Latino stereotype, which many activists consider degrading, is a welcome work of liberation.
Chicana artists, often the fiercest soldiers of La Raza, are as timid as the men here, sticking more or less to traditional subjects: motherhood, loss, Catholic issues, female symbols from Spanish and American Indian mythology. But compelling color and design often make up for the toned-down content. For example, Gloria Vialpando's gorgeous, mystery-filled monotype "Recuerdos de Otro Tiempo" (Memories of Another Time) shows a nude female and a sort of spirit body emanating from her; the delicate play of color and texture in this large, one-of-a-kind print is spectacular. And the bold lines of Juana Alicia's mystical silkscreen "Sobreviviente" (Survivor) are far from timid, depicting a blindfolded woman seemingly overcome by the power of light, which beams from her covered eyes like a futuristic weapon.
Though less exciting than it might be, The Chicano Connection offers some memorable images from a rambunctious movement that's grown up and out.
The Chicano Connection, through October 29 at Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, 1701 Wazee Street, 294-5207.