Denver native and artist Carlos Frésquez’s people came from the centuries-old Mexican borderland culture of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, but he experienced his roots from a city boy’s cross-cultural perspective. It’s an intrinsic part of who he is as a human and as an artist: community-driven, rooted in religion and folklore, yet radically political and often satirical.
But Frésquez, who teaches, often still returns to the heart and symbology of his ancestral culture, leading his students in the act of becoming artists or creating traditional mural projects, and gently encouraging them to remain true to themselves. This month, he’ll get deserved kudos for being all these things in a solo survey at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Center for Visual Art. In advance of the show, we invited Frésquez to talk about his work via the 100CC questionnaire.
Carlos Frésquez: Definitely my wife, Lynn. She is the soul of the earth, solid like a rock, full of spirit like water and active as a volcano. She has balanced me for close to forty years. I am like air: I get to fly like a kite, and she holds the string to allow me to soar.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
This is tough to answer. I love parties, but for our first party, I would say Robert Rauschenberg, Miles Davis and any Pre-Columbian/Pre-Conquest leader. Why? I would have loved to have met Rauschenberg while listening to Miles play live at our party. Later in the night, I would then sit in a corner until dawn conversing with an ancient Mexican — Mayan, Aztec (Mexica) leader — and give a warning as to what is to come of what we now call, for the last 500-plus years, the Americas.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I feel the best thing is the strong support that we people who create get from our community. I have seen so much positive happen in my forty-plus years of living and creating in our great city. My friends and current and former students have and are selling their work, exhibiting their work, getting published and are giving back to our communities — it doesn’t get better than that. The worst? I don’t see the worst. My wife always tells me that I see the world through rose-colored glasses. To me, if you create from your mind AND your heart, with honesty, integrity, sincerity, dignity, compassion, soul and truth, how can that be the worst?
I put on my rose-colored glasses, then my violet-colored glasses, cobalt, viridian, etc.…
What made you pick up a paintbrush in the first place?
This is a trip: I was five years old. It all started with my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. White. I distinctly recall one sunny day in class, Mrs. White had set up these little Donald Duck juice cans filled with the primary colors on what seemed, at the time, to be these enormous round tables. Picture this: Newspaper is spread about the tables, and one sheet of white paper is set on top of the tables for each student. One brush is set in each can. Mrs. White then asks each student to pick up one brush and let the paint drop onto the white paper, then put the brush back and get another color, and then proceed onto the final third primary. Once she saw each student had created their own Jackson Pollock drip pantings, she then asked for us to pick up the white paper and see what happens with the paint and the colors. I saw yellow and blue turn into green, I saw yellow and red turn to orange, right in front of my five-year-old eyes! I thought this was magic. I realized then that I wanted to make that magic for the rest of my life.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
Sharing. Teaching is sharing. I love the classroom. I get to witness my MSU Denver students making magic. I also really dig visiting local K-12 classrooms, creating and making art with our youth. I love the freedom that young kids have, especially with paint. Brushes and paint are flying about the classroom, and the youngsters are so proud of what they make or so willing to share their discoveries. Now that my own children are grown, my daughter Mia has two boys, and I get to enjoy sharing life experiences beyond painting with my grandsons, Amado and Christopher.
I’ve really never set up a list. I go with the natural flow of life and respond to what comes at me. I’m 61; maybe when I am a bit older, I’ll reflect more and make a list to see what I want or need to do. Right now, I’m just glad I haven’t kicked the bucket.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I was born and raised here in Denver, and I love it here. Out of high school, I used to spray-paint, mostly industrial metal products and some automotive. After working in that field for fifteen years, I ended up quitting after my wife’s coaxing. I quit to be a full-time artist, and I then said to myself, on my last day of spray-painting, “If I am to be supported as an artist in my community, I should give back to my community.” It’s the old saying, “Give and you shall receive.”
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Damn, there are so many — I do not have favorites. Too hard to pick one, or several, for that fact. Westword asked me to participate in the first round of Colorado Creatives (yes, I regret that I said no to you — thanks for asking again), and that question was on your first round. I thought about that question then and now. I can make a list of hundreds, but not just one.
I have an exhibit closing in Los Angeles that I’m sad to see end, but I am very happy to have several local shows opening here in early 2018. I am fortunate to have been invited to exhibits at the Museo de las Americas, the Arvada Center and the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council Gallery. The largest by far, though, is a one-person show at the MSU Center for Visual Art. CVA director/curator Cecily Cullen and her staff have been organizing this show for over a year now, and it’s titled Sangre Colorado: Carlos Fresquez, Mid-Career Survey. This exhibit showcases select works from my “Chicano activist/psychedelic punk/cubist cholo/new wave” student days in the late ’70s; some ’80s abstract works; painted installations, conceptual works and DADA pieces; to very current political and cultural works.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I have no clue, but I do hope that the talented artists who have been creating for years do get noticed. When I was a student at Metro back in the ’70s, Professor Strohmeier — “Stroh,” as we used to call him — said to the class, “Those that don’t make it are the ones that give up!” Keep on creating — your day in the sun will arrive.
Sangre Colorado: Carlos Frésquez Mid-Career Survey opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, January 12, at the CVA, 965 Santa Fe Drive, and runs through March 24; in the adjacent student-run 965 Gallery, the companion exhibit Extra Credit will celebrate work by more than forty of Frésquez's former students. For details and a list of related events, visit CVA online.
Work by Frésquez can also be seen in In SITu: From the Artist's Perspective, opening January 18 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities; Pachucos y Sirenas, opening February 8 at the Museo de las Americas; and Recognizing One of Our Own, at the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council, through February, including a reception and book signing on February 16.
Learn more about Carlos Frésquez and his work online.