Crossed Borders

The normally staid Museo de las Americas, on Santa Fe Drive, is now hosting Los Supersonicos: Two Chicanos Zoom Into the New Millennium, a raucous contemporary exhibit filled with humorous political commentary in the form of irreverent paintings, prints and sculptures.

"Los Supersonicos is a grupo," says Carlos Fresquez, who teamed with Francisco (Frank) Zamora for the collaboration. A well-known Denver artist, Fresquez has been interested in artistic cooperation for a long time. In the early 1990s he joined two other high-profile local artists, Tony Ortega and Carlos Santisteven, to form the short-lived Los Three. The group's works commented on Chicano culture, but Fresquez now describes his style at the time as "conservative and romantic." These are two qualities in short supply in Los Supersonicos, which is instead daring and cynical.

Fresquez has exhibited frequently over the last two decades; his accomplished work has been shown in more than a dozen solo shows as well as scores of group offerings. He imbues his work with his experience as a "Chicano," a term he uses pointedly. "We're disappearing," he says. "First 'Chicano' was replaced by 'Hispanic,' and then by 'Latino'--we're losing our identity, man." "Chicano" specifically refers to Mexican-Americans born in the United States, whereas "Hispanic" and "Latino" carry broader meanings. Fresquez defines himself as Chicano because, though he is a fourth-generation Coloradan descended from a family who lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for centuries, he is nonetheless steeped in the unique variant of Mexican culture that still flourishes in Denver and throughout the Southwest. But Fresquez doesn't just look back wistfully at his heritage; he also takes in current events. His last two exhibits, Lagrima/Teardrop and Cholodelica, explored the Chicano gang culture in Denver. Both of these strong shows were presented at the Edge Gallery, where Fresquez is a co-op member.

The idea for Los Supersonicos, both the group and the exhibit, came to Fresquez when he first saw the work of emerging artist Zamora last year in La Mano Peluda, at Denver's Chicano Humanities & Arts Council. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "I met Francisco, saw his work, which was quirky and strange. He was doing something that was exactly the opposite of what I'd been doing. In my work, each element had to have a meaning, but Francisco's work had no meaning--it was just shapes, forms and colors."

Despite his attention to picture design, Zamora does not paint abstracts but rather employs a kind of neo-pop art, since he also uses imagery from popular culture, including cartoon characters. Zamora, who was born in Colorado, lives part of the year in Commerce City and part of the year in Mexico City, where he is now.

The name Los Supersonicos refers to the future. It's the name used in Mexico for the Jetsons cartoon. "Los Supersonicos is a tiempo trip into the future, with flying saucers, aliens--and maybe even some illegal aliens," says Fresquez with a laugh. "We're all from the same planet, so how come some people are called aliens?" This interest in the future reflects the fact that Fresquez aims with Los Supersonicos to break the stranglehold traditional representational styles have had on mainstream Chicano art since the 1960s. "What's the future of Chicano art? It needs to be kicked in the ass," says Fresquez, complaining that the same images and approaches have been used over and over. "An artist friend of mine says that maybe we've set the bar too low for Chicano art if everyone can clear it. I want to raise the bar with my work."

The show begins with "Tacuche Haze," a small piece done by both Fresquez and Zamora. The square panel is carried out in mixed mediums, including paint and collage elements. On a smeared painted ground accented with pink, purple and green, a dark-blue silhouette of a 1940s zoot-suiter (called a pachuco) is set next to a photo of a young man stripped to his briefs. The nearly nude man, whose arms are crossed against his stomach, is apparently embarrassed. His image relates to the strip-searching of pachucos by the Los Angeles police that was common practice in the 1940s. "Tacuche Haze" is sharp politically and aesthetically, a combination that's not easy to accomplish.

Nearby are four collaborations closely related in size and content to "Tacuche Haze." One of the most striking is "Picoso Hot and Fast" in paint and collage. The title is a play on words: Picoso means "hot" in Spanish, but it also sounds like the name of Picasso, the greatest artist of the century and a Hispanic. Fresquez and Zamora place a hand-painted copy of Picasso's famous self-portrait as a bull on an abstract-expressionist field of yellow, pink and teal. In the bottom left quadrant is the easy-to-recognize flying saucer from The Jetsons.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia