Sunday, March 15, 2009

Muralismo in the Mirror of Nostalgia, Phase I

The murals loom large and surreal over downtown LA. While his studies have not thus far included a formal survey of Chicano art history, he knows enough from magazines sent home to Texas by a sister on the West Coast to appreciate the spectacular vista before him. A two-year stay during childhood in La Puente and regular drives along I-10 had exposed him early to some of the movimiento politics and the Chicano-centric images gracing walls on buildings and public spaces he suddenly finds himself gawking at in amazement.

A Che Guevara t-shirt at nine, a copy of Black Elk Speaks at 12 and marches in protest of police brutality alongside a local chapter of the Brown Berets had solidified his ideas but the luminous beauty of the LA murals had already marked him forever in more important ways. They were beyond the ideological, beyond the politics of liberation and justice for the descendents of Mexicans in the U.S. Southwest. Skimming through copies of Con Safos, Regeneración, Avance and Xismearte magazines while assisting at a small space in Austin called the “Museo del Barrio” established the League of United Chicano Artists (LUChA), an arts non-profit), he was often lost in his own world, a universe colored in brilliant hues and peopled by a panorama envisioned by LA’s Los Streetscapers.

One might say he was steeped in art, art history and Chicano art history in particular long before the formal exposure in a college reader compiled by Dr. Jacinto Quirarte for a groundbreaking class with Dr. Ramon Favela, an instructor who introduced him to the Cubist work of Diego Rivera. Shortly after that pivotal visit to the City of Angels, he would enroll in Favela’s course. Similarly, he was destined to immerse himself in the learning even more, avidly devouring the lesson plan in Favela’s class before moving on to a Latin American Art History section with Dr. Jacquelyn Barnitz. The small, bird-like professor would bring him to the work of many others, successors to revered Mexican mural masters— “los tres grandes” as she liked to call them—who had triggered the LA Chicano mural movement still lingering in his imagination.

So at the moment, he’s tooling around the left coast in a BMW with Daniel Verches, a young political operative he’s met only once before in at a “Latinos in the Peace Movement” conference held in Denver. Danny, who prefers to go by Dan, is an aide to California Assemblyman Art Torres. While obviously the less strident of the two, Verches is, in fact, the Eastside native, even if his aspirations are more middle class than revolutionary, more Gucci and Armani than Mexica and Red Road brotherhood. He is patient and kind as he humors the art hungry activist kid from Austin.

From Placita Olvera he is whisked away to a Democratic Party presidential campaign function at a community center on Brooklyn Ave. in East LA where he is introduced to Mrs. Michael Dukakis and a smart young woman who also happens to be student body president at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights. From there, the pair head first to Melrose and then toward Venice Beach. For days after his departure, the murals decorating walls from East LA to the Victor Clothing Company building downtown and a score ocean front rooming houses, surf shops and head shops glow incandescently in his head. (Image: Kent Twitchell, Bride and Groom, 1972, Victor Clothing Company, 242 South Broadway. North wall, latex and acrylic on masonry. 70'x70')

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