Elvis is known as the king, but what if his last name was Chavez and instead of being the king of rock ‘n roll, he was the king of Tejano? Marilyn Monroe has remained the pinnacle of Hollywood beauty and sex appeal for over 50 years, but what if her last name was really Martinez? What if Superman was actually an Aztec warrior from another plane of existence instead of an alien from another planet? What if this nation’s founding fathers actually migrated from Mexico instead of Great Britain? Elvis Chavez…Marilyn Martinez…George Washington with a permanent tan? How would these modifications change the course of American history and iconography if they were true? If you have ever pondered questions like these, then I’ve got something to share with you.
FAMERS, I’ve got the scoop on something hilariously provocative coming this way via the other coast. Beginning next month the Lower East Side’s Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center will play host to a Chicano invasion courtesy of L.A. based artist Linda Vallejo. For 20 years Vallejo’s work had been influenced by her study of ancient culture, architecture and symbols. In recent years, Vallejo has taken memories of growing up in the segregated South during the 1960s and her experiences as a Mexican-American, Chicana to produce a new series titled “Make ‘Em All Mexican.”
“Make ‘Em All Mexican” uses cheeky wit to address a larger topic, which can be drilled down to one fact, the skin we are born in colors our perception of the world and our experiences. Although it speaks to the Latino/Mexican-American/Chicano conundrum directly, it’s by no means a show for Latinos exclusively. In fact, members of all minority groups in this country have a story that is reflected in this exhibition. It’s a springboard in which we can all dive deeper into the issues that fester in the stitches of the stars and stripes. “Make ‘Em All Mexican” is ripe for the Big Apple, adding an essential dash of spice to melting pot of this city. I got an opportunity to speak with Linda as she prepares to bring her show to Manhattan. She answered a few questions about herself and the importance of the show.
1. What made you want to become an artist?
I have always been an artist. I think I was born that way. My first experience was at four-years-old in kindergarten. We were finger painting on large pieces of paper with an egg drawn on it for Easter. I was on my knees with my hands in the paint and I can still remember the smell. I loved it and I knew it. I was also very fortunate to have a first grade teacher that used literature to inspire painting projects. We would read a book and then go to the back of the classroom to paint with easels and brushes on large pads of paper. I won several prizes and loved the literature/visual art link which still inspires me today. I sang as a young girl in the church choir and painted. At twelve, I was playing guitar, writing music and painting. In high school, I designed clothes, wrote music and painted, and in college I worked in theater, wrote music and painted. All my life. An artist is simply an artist. We can’t help it…we’ve just got to live it.
2. New York City has a large Hispanic population. As a west coast based artist how important is it to you for this show to be seen in NYC and why?
All my colleagues in Los Angeles are very happy that I’m taking the work to New York. New York shows mean a great deal to any artistic career. “Brown” isn’t just a West Coast/Los Angeles/Mexican phenomenon, the politics of color is a global issue. I am very excited to connect with Mexicanos, Cubanos and Puerto Riquenos in New York to expand the conversation, share our stores and heal some wounds. A positive response from the New York arts community would certainly give MEAM additional cache as New York is still considered the center of the art world.
3. When you summon the creative gods to assist you with your work, who do you pray to?
I ask the Sacred Four Directions, Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Great Spirit to help me create an image with meaning and purpose.
4. Today…right now, which piece out of “Make ‘Em All Mexican” is your favorite and why?
I’m enthralled with the new larger series of sculptures including “Super Hombre.” It took weeks to find a 1:1 ratio/life size bust of Super Man. My fabricator, Chino, is a car body specialist and a perfectionist. I have been working with him for months on this new series that creates a “car culture sub-text” by painting repurposed sculpture “as if they were cars” including metal flake, hand painting, and chrome details. The result is a luscious chocolate coating that many say is “good enough to eat!” One person said, “Super Hombre” is “Chocoliscious!” or “I want to lick it!”
First the viewer laughs out load, then she or he is seduced by the luscious edible beauty of the object itself, and then the questions start pouring in: Is brown good enough? Can brown be beautiful? Can a superhero be brown? The answers are, absolutely! There are five of these larger works and three of them will be in NYC, but I’m only sharing the additional images with those that make it to the show in New York.
5. If you were asked to describe “Make ‘Em All Mexican” to a New Yorker using three words, which words would you pick?
Brown is beautiful!
“Make ‘Em All Mexican” opens at Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, located at 107 Suffolk St, on April 3 and includes an artist talk and discussion. FAMERS don’t wait until Cinco de Mayo to channel your inner Chicano. Get down to the barrio of the Lower East Side and get a good dose of artistic consciousness.