By David Avalos
Recently the William D. Cannon Art Gallery in Carlsbad changed its annual juried exhibition into a biennial. Starting this year the juried exhibition alternates with an invitational showcase of a select few of the artists whose work had been included in the previous juried show. Mario Torero had two paintings in the Biennial juried show and was selected to exhibit more works in the first Invitational Exhibition. In the words of gallery director and curator, Karen McGuire, the invitational allows audiences to view more of an artists’ work and thus “to get to know their work in greater depth.”
Mario Torero is the only painter among the four selected artists. He is well known in the community as one of the original Chicano Park muralists, but may not be familiar to audiences as a studio artist. Six of his canvas paintings are featured in the Invitational. I had been asked by Karen McGuire to accompany her to Mario’s studio when she selected his works in preparation for the Invitational. I was intrigued by Mario’s thought process and decided to interview him for La Prensa’s readers.
Avalos: Mario, you say that the six paintings selected by Karen McGuire are all part of a single narrative. Could you please explain while referring to each painting?
Torero: My paintings tell a story with symbols and metaphors of a personal experience that belongs to a whole lot of cultures, migration. Coming back to this unfinished work begun thirty years ago I’m now able to decipher and finish the art because the instincts of 1974 have become much more clear and factual today. NO CORRAS, VUELA (THE SENDOFF) is a painted interpretation of my send-off from the depths of the Native American essence, the Aztec/Mayan and Incan prophesy of the spirit of the god Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, returning as prophesized after a 500-year absence to the land of Aztlan. The shaman/jaguar, in ritual, surrounded by allies and using chant and smoke, directs the signals towards the goal and fortifies the journey of the brave.
The line between Mexico and the USA, San Diego/Tijuana is the edge of the prophetic land of our ancestors. While mother earth looks on over her children’s prayers the border monster quenches his thirst with the never-ending arrivals. The cactus goddess Mescalito in THE BORDER (MESCALITO) sits witnessing the drama of the arrivals unfolding and transforming the landscape into a pyramid of dreams.
Even while the human race is being devoured, there is a place in the heart of the people, hidden and protected by the love-gift delivered to us in the send off from our ancestors. MAQUILADORO (LOVE CONQUERS HATE) expresses that protected element in each one of us that is collectively lifted and confronts the hate of the monster machine with our secret weapon of united love and our hopes of rehumanization.
After my father, artist Guillermo Acevedo, died, I was going through his things and I ran into this canvas with a rough line architectural drawing of some kind of shopping mall, suspended in time waiting for me to finish the job and I added the dragon and the lettering and colors. I also added all the faces, since his people had no faces.
I had always wanted to do a Che as Cristo and the opportunity came as I and five other FUERZA artists from SD were invited to paint a mural in Lima, Peru in 2001. It seemed to us that every youth in the country was wearing a T-shirt of Che and in every home we noticed the Burning Heart of Christ. The canvas painting, CRISTO CHE (REVOLUCION!), is my recreation of the Lima mural with a reference to the Middle East Occupation in the scarf on Che’s shoulders.
Just like Che becomes Christ in our times, Frida has become the long awaited, return of god in the form of a woman, the Goddess, La Chicana. She has inherited the ideal aspirations of womankind to become the symbol of woman with her virtues, joy and pain. I call the painting, LA SUFRIDA, (CHICANA) “The One that Carries the Pain of the World.”
Quetzalcoatl is programmed to be among us today, here in the Southwest, the land of Aztlan. This is the main event of the foundation of the Chicano Movement and the subject of many of my paintings. Because I am a painter of the people, I include myself in the paintings. The curator Karen McGuire came to my studio to select my pieces and based on one of your suggestions, David, asked me to create a new painting, a self-portrait in Chicano Park. QUETZALCOATL (INDIAN RENAISSANCE) puts the final touch to the 35-year review that I express in this series I call “Journey Back to Aztlan.” Through them I depict the evolution of a third world immigrant to the USA developing a revolutionary Chicano consciousness here in Aztlan, to become the messenger first and then, Quetzalcoatl himself, activating the symbolic reunion of all the indigenous peoples of these American continents under the banner of Aztlan, our mother earth.
Avalos: In what ways were your conversations with curator Karen McGuire and me important in your thinking and painting of this series?
Torero: When you and Karen McGuire came to my studio to discuss my work for the Invitational, I don’t think any of us had a clue of what was going to be the result. I felt very confident and treated the session as a workshop allowing the energies and ideas to come out of all of us. In the beginning Karen, the curator, had thoughts, observations and clear expectations while I continued to bring out the best of my diverse works. Because you knew some of my personal history and have a different cultural understanding than Karen your occasional comments on the art gave a Chicano perspective that contributed to our creativity. I began to see what was happening in the room. I believe the three of us were very satisfied with the selection of works and my description of them as a series depicting my personal odyssey spanning thirty years of art and activism.
Avalos: How do your easel paintings relate to your public works, for example, the murals in Chicano Park?
Torero: I always will consider myself a revolutionary artist reflecting the thoughts of the barrio, protesting injustices to our peoples and at the same time celebrating our cultural pride. These experiences have enriched the content of my personal easel works but it has been difficult to create in a vacuum because unlike painting murals, which have the support and participation of the community, private easel work lacks the encouragement of the public and production is discouraged by the lack of funding and of venues to share the artwork with the community.
Avalos: Who are the young artists and activists, “artivists” to use your term, that give you hope for the community’s cultural future?
Torero: Radioactive Future, a local group of artists of diverse backgrounds has a common goal to promote their political stand using a new human sense of higher consciousness. Although most of its members are in their twenties and early thirties, they have included me in some of their exhibits and I have invited them on some occasions to participate in painting at Chicano Park.
My father, artist Guillermo Acevedo, was my personal teacher and example of being an “artivist”, as he participated along side other Chicano artists, students, and barrio residents in creating the Centro Cultural de la Raza and Chicano Park. He did not get to paint at Chicano Park but my fifth son Pablo Aztlan Acevedo, is an artist who has painted at the Park. He was involved with me in creating the Chicano Park School of Arts in 2001. At the same time we helped launch the King/Chavez Charter School (also known as The Love School) next to the Park which has in the last three years grown to be number one in the county for its grade achievement. We proudly admit that it has to do with the student’s high esteem of being a proud part of Chicano Park. As its co-founder and artist-in-residence I continue to nurture the knowledge and participation of the students in the history and preservation of the art at the Park with the intent that the students will carry on its legacy after we are gone.
Avalos: What can you say about Marcela Villaseñor’s works that are also exhibited at the Cannon Invitational?
Torero: I was not acquainted with the other three artists’ works but I felt comfortable knowing the diversity of both our mediums and our cultural backgrounds. Our works dealt with representations of our own stories reflecting time and space. The digital prints and photographic works of Marcela Villaseñor reflected her experiences as a Chicana. She mixes iconography from her pre-Colombian heritage with images utilizing her daughter as subject. Her intention is the blurring effect that happens when the past, present and future seemed to blend as though looking through a 360-degree prism. Her works, like those of the other artists in the show, reflect the story of her soul in a few targeted images. I felt proud to be in the company of the others. Without even knowing each other we were in a shared place with our collective cosmic consciousness orchestrated magnificently by the curator, Karen McGuire.
The Cannon Art Gallery’s 2004 Invitational continues until January 14, 2005. Call the gallery at 760.602.2021 for viewing hours and directions. Other artists in the Invitational are Yoshimi Hayashi, Christine Oatman, and Marcela Villaseñor, born in Mexico City and now teaching at San Diego City College. She paints and draws on photographs and digital prints juxtaposing images of her Americanized daughter with Mesoamerican icons as in the ink and digital print titled, “Te Ofrezco Mi Corazon.”
CALL FOR ENTRIES
This year’s Juried Biennial judge is Hugh M. Davies of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. Deadline for entry is January 12, 2005. Contact the gallery for information and entry forms. This is a real opportunity to exhibit work in the Juried Biennial and to be considered for next year’s Invitational Exhibition.
CALL FOR VISUAL ARTISTS
DEADLINE FOR ENTRY
January 15, 2005
Art Exhibition at Twelfth Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival (March 10-20, 2005)
Media Arts Center San Diego (MACSD) seeks entries for its first annual juried exhibition to be held in six San Diego galleries in conjunction with the Twelfth Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival (March 10-20, 2005). The competition is open to painters, photographers, and digital artists.
Each selected Arte Latino artist will be assigned to a participating gallery and display ten pieces of work at that art space. In addition, each artist will have work displayed at the SDLFF screening location (Mann Theatre in Hazard Center), the SDLFF 2005 official festival program and SDLFF 2005 web page.
SELECTION COMMITTEE: David Avalos (Artist/Professor, CSUSM), Robert Sanchez (Artist/Instructor) and Lupita Shahbazi (Artist/Instructor).