Chicano/a Art in Austin, Texas: A Mexic-Arte Exhibition.
Mexic-Arte opened its doors on Congress Avenue in the heart of downtown Austin in 1988. Co-founded by Chicano artists, Sam Coronado and Sylvia Orozco, and, and Mexican artist, Pio Pulido, Mexic-Arte is one of the first Mexican American Art museums in the United States and started at the Arts Warehouse in 1984. Local art followers might have expected that Mexic-Arte, situated on prime real estate five blocks from the State Capitol, would not survive into the next century. The museum has more than survived; it has thrived as a pioneer art institution with premier art exhibits and educational programs. In their opening on April 8th, Mexic-Arte demonstrated in its latest exhibition why it is esteemed by art lovers from all ethnic groups. The exhibition, “Chicano/a Art: Movimiento y Más en Austen Tejas 1960s to 1980s,” is an art feast worthy of national conversation.This essay features five of the artists in the exhibition whose work I followed when my family and I lived in Austin.
Amado M. Peña, “Casi ques del Movimiento,” n.d. Stencil on canvas. 76x47. Photo by Ricardo Romo
Jose F. Treviño
Jose F. Treviño, a native of Austin, had his first solo exhibition at Mexic-Arte in 1999. At the time of the exhibit’s opening, Mary Jane Garza wrote in the Austin Chronicle that with “more than 130 paintings, drawings, and sculptures covering Treviño's work from his high school days to the present, Raíces Sin Fronteras–A Retrospective was “the largest exhibition of its kind the museum had ever presented.” Treviño is among the thirty-three artists included in the new exhibition, “Chicano/a Art.”
Treviño is a self-taught artist whose talents in art were noticed by his middle and high school teachers. In a self-portrait titled “Uno de Los Los Quemados,” Treviño sits dressed in his company uniform with his name on the right side pocket. Behind him he is engulfed with fire, flames rising from his waist up. The reference to “Los Quemados” has a special meaning to Treviño and fellow exhibitors, Santa Barraza, Carmen Lomas Garza, Amado Peña, and Carolina Flores. With the exception of Flores, all of these artists had left the Con Safos group founded in San Antonio to form their own arts organization which they named “Los Quemados,” the burned ones.
Jose F. Treviño, “Homage to Siqueiros,” 1982, oil on masonite, 4’x4’. Photo by Ricardo Romo
In the late 1950s, most Latinos lived in modest homes in East Austin and the Southeastern part of the city. The Latino neighborhoods had their own grocery stores, bakeries, barbershops, and bars. Treviño sought to capture bar life, much like the French artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who captured the nightlife and saloons of pleasure-loving Parisians.
2. Amado M. Peña
The Mexic-Arte exhibit features several serigraphs by Amado M. Peña, a resident of Austin from the early 70s to the mid-90s. Prior to coming to Austin, Peña taught art in Crystal City, Texas, the birthplace of La Raza Unida Party. Peña recalled that Raza Unida leader, Jose Angel Gutierrez, visited the Kingsville campus in 1972 to recruit teachers for the Crystal City schools. Peña, who had just earned his Master’s degree in art, and two other newly minted graduates signed up to teach in the Crystal City public schools.
Peña’s Chicano serigraphs may have been influenced by his years in Crystal City, 1972-1974. He told Los Angeles film producer, Jesus Treviño: “Then all of a sudden I’m in the middle of this revolution. And what does it mean to me? I couldn’t avoid it. It was right there.” Peña also initiated his Chicano or movimento series beginning with his creative imagery in “Raza”  and in “La Lechuga” , a powerfully graphic serigraph completed in support of Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union [UFW]. Both of these works were completed in Crystal City.
Sam Coronado, “Self Portrait.” Acrylic on canvas, 1986, 36”x24”. Photo by Ricardo Romo.
3. Santa Barraza
Santa Barraza’s “Los Migrantes” drawing, 1970-1971 in the Mexic-Arte exhibit was inspired by an image taken by famed photographer Russell Lee, one of her professors in UT Austin’s Art Department. Barraza credits Lee’s imagery with helping her develop a broader artistic perspective. She wrote that Lee’s photographs remained powerful to her because of “his portrayal of the sense of family.” She added: “This is precisely what I was seeking and wanting to communicate in my work–a sense of identity, of place, of belonging. I wanted to de-colonize myself by understanding and appreciating my history.” “Los Migrantes” is among Barraza’s earliest work of art at UT Austin.
Santa Barraza, “Head Emerging From a Maguey,” Charcoal on paper, 1985. Photo by Ricardo Romo
In the early 1970s, Chicano artists began forming cooperatives and artistic organizations. For a short time, Barraza belong to Los Quemados, a group that included several artists from Austin. Among them were Amado Peña, Luis Guerra, Jose Treviño, Carmen Lomas Garza, and Carolina Flores. After leaving Los Quemados, Barraza co-founded, with Nora González Dodson, the group Mujers Artistas del Suroeste [MAS]. MAS was incorporated by Alicia Arredondo, Sylvia Orozco, and Santa Barraza. Barraza was also active with local Chicano artists and Juarez-Lincoln students who founded LUCha at Juarez-Lincoln University in Austin, a campus affiliated with the Antioch Graduate School of Education.
Barraza and the MAS artists joined Women and Their Work, Inc in 1976 in an art festival, Encuentro Femenil, hosted at the Austin campus of Juarez-Lincoln University. The Encuentro had the assistance of the Juarez-Lincoln cultural center and the League of United Chicano Artists [LUCha].
4. Raul Valdez
Raul Valdez, also a LUCha member of that 1970s generation, has completed numerous murals in East Austin over the past fifty years. Valdez has dedicated his life to promoting human rights and protesting police brutality, wars for profit, and gentrification. His acrylic mural on canvas, “Caricaturas,” which he began in 2007, is a visual examination of fundamental questions about the exploration of identity as well as an attempt “to craft an aesthetic language of empowerment under conditions of systemic racism.” Valdez remains committed to the promotion and empowerment of what he terms “Latin@/Chicano” culture in Austin, in the state of Texas, and beyond. Valdez will be painting a large canvas mural over the next few weeks at Mexic-Arte on Sundays and visitors are welcome, continuing the tradition of community involvement and participation in the painting.
5. Carolina Flores lived in Austin during the 1970s and studied art at The University of Texas. Several of her paintings in the exhibit are of her family. She explained that while studying in Austin she painted her family because she missed them. Among her early works is a painting of her grandparents titled “Francisca y Rafael.” Other early paintings include one of a large family group surrounding a newly wedded couple as well as a self-portrait. Over the past three decades, Flores has painted in her San Antonio studio at the Blue Star Complex.
Carolina Flores, “Boda en Sanderson, Texas, 1971. Oil on canvas, 60’x72’. Photo by Ricardo Romo
The exhibition, “Chicano/a Art: Movimiento y Mas en Austen Tejas 1960s to 1980s,” is open to the public until June 19, 2022. Sundays are free admission.