Cosmic, Baby

Denver artist Carlos Frésquez views the world through kaleidoscope glasses -- or, to be more exact, collide-oscope glasses -- by layering elements from his own cultural background with a strong pop-cultural sensibility and an awareness of art's long march through history. It's Batman meets Picasso on a retablo, with homies spraying paint in the background. You get the picture: Everything is fair game to Frésquez.

But you could also say that Frésquez is just a big kid of an artist, taking it all in without a filter and spewing it back out across the pastiche of his own paintings -- to share with us, his compadres, his friends. In other words, he's the perfect guy to work with PlatteForum, a relatively new gallery/organization located by the train tracks in the Central Platte Valley and dedicated both to showing work by community-oriented artists and providing art-education opportunities for young people. It takes one to know one, after all, and Frésquez's gentle spirit communes beautifully with kids on the edge, living in so-called underserved neighborhoods. When his show, La Raza Cósmica, opens Friday in PlatteForum's Spotlight Gallery, it'll just be the beginning of what's going on behind the scenes.

It helps to understand the concept of La Raza Cósmica, a term Frésquez remembers hearing over and over again in the '70s, when he hung around Corky Gonzalez's Crusade for Justice, absorbing the radical Chicano screed of the day. He only recently discovered its source: José Vasconcelos, a Mexican educator and philosopher who in the '20s posited that Mexicans -- la raza -- embodied a coming together of all the world's races. "That encircled this linear thought I already had of the 'ancient future' -- looking to the past and looking forward at the same time, and combining icons and images in one painting," he says. "In a nutshell, or maybe a piñon shell," he adds. "It's a fusion -- or, in Spanish, con fusión, this mix of global and Chicano/Mexicano concepts."

How will he pass that olla podrida on to his young wards at Denver's Horace Mann Middle School? See the show for a sneak peek: Frésquez's recent works include the "Disk/O/Teca Series," art painted and/or printed directly on awful old vinyl albums picked up at garage sales (the covers, which he also paints, make great carrying cases for the finished works, he notes). As part of their PlatteForum experience, students will create an accordion-style book out of double album covers, a form Frésquez likens to the ancient Aztec codices. Which, cover to cover, is pure Frésquez in spirit.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd