Mexico has always been blessed with great artists who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of art. During the Spanish rule of Mexico their art bore that influence and reflected the Spanish culture and traditions. After the Mexican Revolution a new generation of artists emerged. These artists set the stage for new trends in art. Their large-scale murals depicting human life and carrying social messages gave an entirely new dimension to Mexican art.
Artists such as Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Frida Kahlo, still had a European flavor, but they also portrayed elements of the Mexican culture and changed the artistic landscape of their nation forever.
Here in Arizona, we too are blessed with a lot of Latino artists who are making their mark on the artistic landscape. Thanks to a partner who is Latina, I have been introduce to Mexican art and have been very fortunate to spend several nights at benefits for Xico and ALAC, the Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center
meeting Latino artists and admiring their beautiful work.
I chatted with four Latino artists – Hugo Medina, Joe Ray, Frank Ybarra and Monica Robles – about their work, their passion and what it means to be Latino artists.
Frank Ippolito: What mediums do you work in?
Frank Ybarra: Primarily acrylic on canvas. Also printmaking: monoprint, mono silkscreen. Some (traditional) silkscreen and lithography.
Monica Robles: My favorite medium is working with reclaimed wood and scrap metal objects that I find on my treasure hunts through various junkyards and alleyways.
Joe Ray: Mostly acrylic and mixed medium stuff. Also monoprints. I tell people I’m a painter and a printmaker. Sometimes they actually believe me!
Hugo Medina: Metal, acrylics, various mediums for murals.
How early did the calling to art come to you?
FY: Since I was a child. I have always been interested in art. I was also very fortunate to have a wonderful grade school art teacher that taught me many techniques and mediums. A great experience!
MR: I wasn’t surrounded by art growing up so I wasn’t really pushed on learning or being involved in any art classes. It wasn’t until I attended college at the University of Arizona that I would find myself returning to my artistic roots. This is where I branched out and my creative mind kicked into full gear.
JR: I’ve always had the calling. I believe it’s one of the advantages of hearing voices! Growing up, the majority of my friends were visual.
HM: My parents tell me I entered my 1st art contest when I was 5. Been doing it ever since.
All artists are driven by passion, do you feel because of your heritage you feel a bit more of a tug?
FY: Yes, of course. We all have our cultural backgrounds that bring back memories of childhood, family events and experiences from our neighborhoods and communities. My art depicts many of my memories of growing up in east Phoenix. Not to mention the landscape.
MR: I feel every artist is driven by passion, that’s why he or she continue to do it even if they aren’t making millions of dollars.
JR: For me, it’s a visceral connection with the language, my roots, my imagination, and observations. My imagination and experiences run deeper in this river of heritage. It can’t be forced, or it’s fake. But if it’s honest and at times subtle, it’s much more passionate.
HM: Passion is fueled by love, the way I see it there are only four questions of value in life: What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: only love. My love and respect for my heritage plays a big part in what or how I create.
What are some of the lessons you learned along the way?
FY: Don’t give up! Follow your dreams! Even if it has to be on a part time basis.
MR: That it’s a process and it’s not something that happens overnight. You create and create and sometimes you make mistakes but then those mistakes create something new. You just evolve as an artist especially when you start meeting new artist and sharing ideas it’s a never-ending creative process.
JR: Be collaborative. I love collaborating with other creative people.
Be open. Try new things. Only demons think in straight lines.
HM: Just keep working, if I run out of red, I use blue. Drips happen, just paint over it and keep pushing forward.
How important is it to infuse a cultural vibe into your work?
FY: Very important, because it is part of who we are.
MR: Even though my art isn’t “Latino” per se, I do want to be known as strong Hispanic woman in the art community who has inspired someone to do what they love.
JR: It just is. I don’t force it. It has to flow natural.
HM: I feel as an artist I can’t but help to “infuse” myself into my work, keeping true to myself means to infuse culture into what I do. Whether I choose to or not, it’s there.
Have you taken on any serious issues with your work – and if so, which ones?
FY: For the most part, my art is relatively “tame”. I like to show depictions of family life, my Mexican heritage and the desert and Arizona landscapes that inspire me. I don’t usually get into controversial topics. Some of my editorial illustrations may have depicted controversial subject matter. The most recent, an illustration about the SB1070 law.
MR: I haven’t taken on any serious issues with my work but I won’t say I will never do it.
JR: SB1070 raised a lot of ire for me. It brought back a ton of issues that I encountered growing up in western AZ. Also, I’ve recently started working with Hip Veggies, a group to fight hunger, promote healthy eating with a cultural insight. Collaborating with them, artists, and chefs we are getting ready for the second annual Nopalpalooza!.
HM: I just paint, what I see, what I feel. Just by doing so, I am making a statement. I don’t like to force my views on people through my work, I let my actions do that for me.
How does your work compare to the past generations?
FY: That is a tough question to answer. Although I have been trying and looking for a unique way of expressing my background and our desert way of life. Still working on it.
MR: I can’t really compare my work to past generations but there is an artist that really inspired when I moved to Tucson, Daniel Martin Diaz, I was and still am very fascinated with his beautiful artwork.
JR: I don’t dwell on that much. I respect previous generations, all of them. I have never been a radical though I know many who were, and it’s amazing how so many years later I still hold very dear what I learned from them. Maybe my work is a result of those teachings.
HM: I learn from the past, pay attention to history, live in the now, thinking of the future. All work evolves with the times – art is just a way of recording history as it happens. I am telling a story in my language for others to interpret what they see.
What, if any, influence have you had on young Latino artists?
FY: Younger artists that I admire very much have complimented me. It’s a good feeling and the ultimate compliment.
MR: The influence I have on the future…. I hope to inspire risk. Don’t just work with what you have, resources are available and take advantage of that. Be bold. Think of what you feel and explore.
JR: Collaboration. Being inclusive with younger artists. Getting involved in group arts and cultural projects allows me to get inspired by them. I’ve mentored a few through the years, in art, but mostly in the design and advertising arenas.
HM: I am hoping that future artists can see that through hard work, dedication, and integrity, they can be fight for their dreams as I am still pushing forward to achieve mine.
What are some of your past projects?
FY: One project I was involved in was the Arizona Centennial advertising campaign. They used 5 or so pieces of mine in ads, banners, billboards, posters etc., I was honored to have been chosen for this project.
MR: “5th Row Dance Studio”, Dance studios/Art Gallery (2012-current), “Inspired Soles”, 2012 & 2013, 6 x 6, “Benefit for Eye Lounge” – 2012, “944 Artist Challenge San Diego”, 2009, “Stand Up for Kids Charity”, 2009
JR: “Xico Arte y Cultural” (formerly Xicanindio) I’ve been involved with them for over 22 years. “Nopalpalooza!” last year. Promoting nopales, while helping educate and fight hunger via art. SB1070, I co-curated a juried exhibition that was pretty high profile.
“Fiestas del Desierto” – I participated in 2011 at the first one in my hometown of San Luis, Rio Colorado, Sonora, MX. It was a celebration of art, culture, cuisine, and ecological awareness for the lower Colorado River Delta.
HM: Co-founder of the Calle 16 mural project, various community-based murals and shows around the valley.
FY: I’m always working!
MR: After our relocation of the Lab from Roosevelt to Grand Ave in August, I decided to keep it as a Pop-up Gallery. I want to continue to provide a venue for artists to showcase their work without a great expense, and without having to undergo a time-consuming and lengthy application process for their work to be featured, such as that of museums and galleries.
JR: November 9 is Nopalpalooza! Plus, I’m in a group exhibit October 10 at the AZ Community Foundation with 7 other artists titled “Arizona Latino Voices: Constructing Identity”
What would be the most important thing to know about you and your art?
FY: I mentioned before, that I don’t take myself too seriously. I use humor in my art as well. I have more fun painting about the things that make us feel at home and show a sensitive side.
MR: That I love working with my hands and creating art with objects that have been discarded and giving them new life and meaning.
JR: I’m collaborative and a lot of fun. I give a damn.
HM: I love what I do and live to create.
Is it true you put lime on everything?
FY: Maybe in a Corona or margarita!
MR: Actually ha-ha I don’t!
JR: No. But chiles have to be included. They can be dried, fresh, or pickled. It’s a required side, as well as a good start.
HM: HAHA Actually I put Sriracha on everything except desserts.