On September 19th the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach (MOLAA) unveils a regional aesthetic of landscape painting, focusing on Southern California artists. “Somewhere Over El Arco Iris” presents works from the Chicano Movement, while simultaneously contrasting these works with modern-day street artists Man One, Vyal Reyes, and Johnny KMDZ Martinez. Coincidentally, “Somewhere over the El Arco Iris“ is the first exhibit to highlight local artists for the museum, since conventionally MOLAA has shown artists from Latin America proper.
Included in the exhibition are drawings, paintings, photographs and mixed-media by Chicano artists from Southern California such as Roberto Gutierrez, John Valadez, Gronk, Carlos Almaraz, Patssi Valdez, Wayne Healy, Frank Romero, Shizu Saldamando, and others. Gronk and Patssi Valdez were core members of Asco, the political performance arts collective which in 1972 spray-painted their names onto the outside entrance of LACMA after a curator told Asco member Henry Gamboa that Chicanos were incapable of producing anything other than folk art. Two years later, in 1974, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) launched the first major exhibition of Chicano art in a major museum, featuring two of the artists in “Somewhere over the El Arco Iris,” Frank Romero, and Carlos Almaraz, then part part of the Los Four collective. Los Four gained notoriety when in an interview Romero maintained that Los Four compared themselves to Los Tres Grandes−Siquieros, Rivera, and Orozco.
Retrospectively reading the Chicano Movement, perhaps Frank Romero’s comment wasn’t entirely far-fetched, but perhaps he should have focused on Los Tres Grandes of Los Angeles landscapes: himself, Roberto Gutierrez, and Carlos Almaraz. Whether appreciated, undervalued, or deceased, these three phenomenal artists capture the vibrancy, pulse, and color of the Los Angeles metropolis perhaps better than any other artists before or after.
Influenced by Impressionism, Expressionism, film noir, social realism, barrio life, and their lives as native Angelenos, these three greats have done for Los Angeles what Manet, Pissarro, and Degas did for Paris. These Angelenos commandeered an avant-garde aesthetic and color of the city, while connecting it to the history of the city-state mentality of the region. Beginning with Almaraz and his “Echo Park Series,” the bright colorful hues and wonderful strokes identify the symbolism of the park in regards to palm trees, boats, homes, lake water, the adjacent Downtown cityscape and the bridges, which were replicated in their own styles by Romero and Gutierrez as homage to Almaraz and which juxtapose the dark and light chronicles of the city.
A similar tradition can be seen in Johnny KMDZ Martinez, Jaime “Germs” Zacarias, and Jeff Soto’s (not included in exhibition) work. Bridging the gap somewhere between Chicano art and Pop Surrealism, these artists blend fantasy, science-fiction, pop culture, landscapes, and cultural aesthetic into a transformative world that reflects today’s era of vast imagination and connectedness. Their work speaks to a regional cultural norm, while appealing to the larger masses because of their inclusivity. Man One captures a colorful narrative tradition of bold colors used by artists of the Chicano and graffiti movements, while Vyal Reyes’ figures and landscapes appropriately communicate a rainbow of hues spread across the spectrum. New works by these artists will be directly informed by some of the works on display and will hopefully benchmark the beginning of MOLAA’s relationship with Southern California artists of Latin American descent. “Somewhere Over El Arco Iris” opens September 19, 2015 at 6pm and continues through November 15, 2015.
Jaime “Germs” Zacarias