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Nephtalí de León, La Virgen de Guadaliberty, 1999, serigraph, 10.5 inches by 6 inches (courtesy photo)

'Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art' is a multi-volume index of local, regional, and national artists

A crescendo of jubilant gritos!

For collectors and aficionados of contemporary art, a comprehensive, encyclopedic work on Chicano art has arrived. Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture, and Education is not an art show catalog promoting an exhibit nor a rehashed historical survey. It is an original, two-volume publication that will leave the most skeptical and jaded art lovers impressed. An added incentive for local readers is the baker's dozen of San Antonio artists featured in the set: Mel Casas, Nephtalí De León, Rolando Briseño, Xavier Garza, Juan Farias, Carolina G. Flores, Quintin González, Joe L. López, César A. Martínez, Alex Rubio, Roberto Sifuentes, Vincent Valdez, and David Zamora Casas.

In his introduction, the book's principal editor, Arizona State University Regents Professor of Spanish Gary D. Keller, discusses the scope and concept of this multi-volume work (two more volumes are forthcoming, which will include Chicana/o filmmakers), along with an Internet extension (www.latinoartcommunity.org). "One of our objectives ... was to provide a fertile resource base upon which art research, interpretation, and criticism could be generated," writes Keller.

The visual beauty of the two-volume set offers the ability to hold in one's hands the gamut of Chicana and Chicano art as an organic whole. What originally were to be 100 artist profiles has doubled. Each profile includes examples of each artist's work, a mug shot, an art statement or manifesto, a short biography, and a bibliography. The artist statements allow readers to get close to the artists. César Martinez' eloquent manifesto states: "I make paintings of people, as opposed to portraits. The characters are frequently composites of people I have know or seen - characters universal to the Chicano experience. One of my principal objectives is that my characters be instantly recognizable. 'I know him!' is a frequent response. It is music to my ears when I hear that." Wünderkind Vincent Valdez nails his characters: "By portraying forms with expressive and at times exaggerated gestures, I hope to reflect characters on the brink of an overwhelming sexuality or violence while offering a hint of the hidden pathos of every-day life."

The visual beauty of the two-volume set offers the ability to hold in one's hands the gamut of Chicana and Chicano art as an organic whole.
David Zamora Casas' artist statement reads like a poetic recitation: "I have always been an activist and it has made me who I am. That is why I paint. It goes hand in hand." Zamora Casas sees the issue of sexuality as an important theme in Chicana/o art. "`Chicana/o art` brought me out of the closet," he says. "There aren't many overt instances of gay and lesbian subject matter in the book, but there are many gay and lesbian painters in it."

"Ninety percent of Chicano art is political," says poet and painter Nephtalí De León, whose work emerged during La Raza's civil rights movement. He illustrates his point with a recent painting that portrays La Guadalupana in a Statue of Liberty pose, featured in Volume II.

The book and the website bridge Rolando Briseño's earlier work to his current interests. "I like public art because it's public! It doesn't sit in someone's home or museum, more people get to experience it. I have moved beyond affirmation and tired identity issues in my art," he says, explaining his transition from his "tabletop" paintings and sculpture featured in Volume I to large-scale public pieces, photographs of which will be added to the website upon completion. He is currently working on The Learning Tree, a two-and-a-half ton bronze grille for the front of a waterfall at Trinity University's new administration building.

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Alex Rubio, El Orejón, 1997, oil on canvas, 6 feet by 4 feet, collection of Cheech Marin (courtesy photo)

Yet, despite Keller's commitment to comprehensively profiling Chicana/o artists, some prominent artists with local roots and ties are conspicuously missing from the debut volumes of the series - from Kathy Vargas and Rudy Treviño to Franco Mondini-Ruiz and George Yepes. Keller says that a few artists didn't want to be categorized as Chicana or Chicano painters; others never made the book's deadline; and some came onto the art scene after the book went to press. Yepes and other mural and public work artists will be featured in volume three. "Much of the work done by SPARC and Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles and Con Safos and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio will be highlighted," explains Keller. "Just as a teaser, we will include 12 pullout panels from Judy Baca's Great Wall."

"Besides `the series'` comprehensive breadth and depth, I like the fact that Chicano art is continual," says Kathy Vargas, chair of the art program at Incarnate Word University, and a former director of the art program at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. "I didn't end on some specific date. It is ongoing. I also like the way `the series` includes younger practitioners of the art like Quentin Gonzáles, as well as veterans like César `Martinez`." Vargas admits that her work is missing from the debut volumes because she missed her deadline.

Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture, and Education
Edited by Gary D. Keller
Bilingual Press
$150/set (cloth)
$120/set (paper)
Volume I, 336 pages
ISBN: 1-931010-09-9 (cloth),
1-931010-12-9 (paper)
Volume II, 342 pages
ISBN: 1-931010-10-2 (cloth),
1-931010-13-7 (paper)
The seed for the mammoth undertaking of compiling such an exhaustive Chicana/o artists index began when Keller was a student in a Mexico City secondary school art class, where his teacher Jacinto Quirarte shared his love of Mexican Art. Considered the dean and pioneering chronicler of the Chicana/Chicano art movement, Quirarte wrote the seminal 1973 book Mexican American Artists, which made a lasting impression on Keller because, he says, "The word Chicano was used throughout the book."

To Keller's delight, Quirarte now uses Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art in his University of Texas at San Antonio art class. "The biggest change in Chicano art is that the artists no longer look toward Mexico for inspiration," Quirarte says. "This began when artists like César Martinez, Carmen Lomas Garza, and Amado Peña began to focus on Chicano/a culture in their work. It was `then` only a question of time before Chicano/a artists would receive the recognition they so richly deserve."

A sense of carnalismo permeates Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art, despite the varied and diverse use of media, theme, or philosophy each artist may espouse. In addition to the personal validation, there is another, more important feeling of being part of a movement larger in scope than each artist. Yet each can become an integral part of documenting and defining the once and future Chicana and Chicano art. •

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