Latino Artists of Los Angeles: Defining Self & Inspiration













Anyone who has taken a creative writing class was probably told “write about what you know”. So, too in the visual, the plastic the fine arts- the artist demonstrate to or interprets for the viewer that which he or she knows.

During the early years of 20th century Mexico, the upper classes regarded only European, and to a lesser extent, North American art as significant. It wasn’t until the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921) when insurgents overturned the corrupt and repressive government of Porfirio Diaz that the country was able to take an incisive look at its public identity. The Spanish colonial architecture, the Italian carvings, the North American engineering techniques suggested that the citizens and indigenous people were inept or inferior. Nothing represented the centuries old indigenous cultures or aesthetic accomplishments of Mexicans in Mexico. So Mexico began looking inward, to its own past, its own strengths, and its own symbols.

Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the renowned muralist and native of Guanajuato studied art with Jose Guadalupe Posada, a revered illustrator in Mexico. When Rivera traveled to Europe he was influenced by the cubists’ ad minimalists but unabashedly began incorporating his own culture and identity into his work by painting significant moments in Mexico’s history depicted in the simple forms of farmers and laborers. His murals, of heroic size and volume, became visual chronicles of the subjugation of his people and the injustices he abhorred.

Frank Romero
Closing of Whittier Boulevard, c. 1990
Silkscreen, 34” x 55”

Fast forward to the summer of 1970, when a peaceful march to Laguna Park in East Los Angeles to protest the Vietnam War turned sour, protesters wanted to draw public attention to the disproportionate deaths of Latino soldiers in the unpopular war and showed up in throngs of over 30,000 marchers. The police, feeling outnumbered and unprepared for the vast numbers of protesters, began using billy clubs and hurling tear gas canisters to quell the agitation. Two hours later, nearly 200 marchers had been jailed, hundreds were injured and three killed. Frank Romero, an important figure in the emerging Chicano art movement witnessed the Chicano civil rights movement from the ground. His two canvases, “The

 Closing of Whittier Boulevard” and “The Death of Ruben Salazar” bear witness to this revolution.

Today, Diane Gamboa draws androgynous figures with ink on velum in her admitted exploration of make-female relationships. Yolanda Gonzalez portrays women trapped by  their circumstances, often in agony, victimized.

And the artist draws from one another, whether out of respect and admiration or because they share the same cultural memories. Gronk has a love/ hate relationship with “La Tormenta”, an enigmatic female in formal attire who is shown in various iterations but only form the back. Contrast this to Salomon Huerta’s “Untitled (Head” and “Untitled (Figure)”, human forms that are seen only from behind. Anyone who knows Ignacio Gomez personally can see the typically Latino faces of his wife, children, and parents in the figures. 

David Flurry
The Tortilla Run, 2005
Mixed Media, 3.7’ x 7’
Courtesy of the Artist
David Flury has studied with Frank Romero and continues working with him today. He is one of the new generation carrying the baton passed on to him by the original Los Four who tore through the canvas ceiling in the early 1970’s and brought a new appreciation to the region, indeed to the country, of the phenomenon known as Chicano/Hispanic/Latino art.

In 1970, protesting students were killed at Kent State, computer floppy discs were introduced and a Palestinian group hijacked five planes. IN 1974, Richard Nixon resigned the US presidency and one year later Bill Gates and Paul Allen created Microsoft. By the end of the decade, the first test-tube baby had been born and Tree Mile Island experienced the worst accident at a US commercial nuclear power plant.
In the  first five years of this millennium we saw the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse before our eyes, the US Supreme Court uphold the use of affirmative action in higher education and the legalization of gay marriages in the state of Massachusetts. Today, although African Americans and Hispanics represent about one-quarter of the US population, they account for over two-thirds of both new HIV infections and new AIDS cases (Center for Disease Control)


Joe Bravo
Battle of our Souls, 2004
Oil on Canvas, 60” x 48”
Courtesy of the Artist

How will these events and statistics affect Latino artists and the work they create? Will it be any different than it was thirty years ago? Eighty years ago? Will these artists be compelled to interpret the way things are for them as Latinos? Or the way they want them to be? Does being Latino have anything to do with creative intercourse?

In nearly every interview or statement made by the artists in this exhibition, they describe themselves by their ethnic roots. Joe Bravo says, “I was born in San Jose, California.  My father was from the state of Michoacán, Mexico and my mother’s family is from Mexicali, Baja, California”. (Not incidentally, some of Joe’s paintings are done on corn tortillas). Jacalyn Lopez Garcia starts, “I am an American multimedia artist of Mexican heritage who was born in Los Angeles”. A recent press release publicizing an art show in Montrose, California, referred to Jose Lozano as a “highly regarded painter…born and raised in California who spent some of his childhood in Juarez, Mexico; as a result, he identifies himself as Chicano, influenced by Mexican and American cultures”.  

José Lozano
Recortando a Frida, 2005
Serigraph, 18” x 24”
Courtesy of the Artist

Susan Elizalde-Holler
Why?, 2005
Ceramic Sculpture,  
 4” x 7” x 4”
Courtesy of the Artist

Jose Orozco creates Kochinadas Kineticas (Kinetic filthy objects) inspired by folk toys. He states “these novelties nourished my imagination and were a significant part of my cultural upbringing…shaped by the fading memory of my childhood and inspired by the iconography of the Catholic Church”.

Place also infects and informs an artist’s development of style. Self-Help Graphics, the East Los Angeles visual-arts center has been an integral part of the Chicano at scene since the early 1970’s. In 1997, Susan Elizalde-Holler participated in an artist’s collaborative exhibition there, an experience that allowed her to work with artists she admired and to cement the creative direction she would take.

A 60 foot long mural in Hollywood executed by Miguel Angel Reyes, “the eternal Sea” depicts an HIV/AIDS sufferer supported by his partner as Death waits in the sidelines. Johnny Nicoloro seeks balance in his life, to feel “OK” with being himself, someone of Mexican American and Italian American heritage, trying to claim an identity. His photo art pays homage to religious rebellion.

It would not be incorrect to say that those artists who cal themselves (or dare not call themselves) Latino feel and interpret in his or her own style a panoply of emotions experience by the artists who have preceded them. Is pain suffered any differently because one is Latino or Asian?

Johnny Nicoloro
Latin Market in Korea Town, 2005
Photograph, 34” x 45” Courtesy of the Artist

Is Poverty any less a scourge because it is experienced in East Los Angeles, Boulder, Colorado, or Colima, Mexico? Are the themes any more or less controversial? Was Picasso’s “Guernica” one of modern art’s most powerful antiwar statements, any more moving than Frank Romero’s “The Death of Ruben Salazar”?

It is true that Chicano or Latino art had its origins in the barrio, at the universities, within the political stirrings of the 60’s and 70’s, when the public became aware of the inhumane treatment of California farm workers. Perhaps this is what gave it its raw edge. It was uncomfortable to look at, problematic to discuss. It unapologetically exposed us to the anger felt by those who had the gift of expressing their rage through their art.     

Miguel Angel Reyes
Apollo, 2003
Acrylic, 60”x 60”
Courtesy of the Artist
Technology has only added to the rich tapestry of Chicano art. Digital imagery, video, cyber-art are used and/or blended with more conventional media, but the motivation  seems not to have changed much- the desire to span ethnic boundaries and to extract a broad array of intellectual and emotional responses. This is good news to younger artists and to the public as a while- art’s capacity to reach inside the skin of the viewer- is as important today as it’s ever been. To see beyond the blurred images we’re exposed to daily, to piece through the hype.

It is not to presumptuous to believe that soon, possibly now, Chicano or Latino or Hispanic art will be known not so much as an ethnic art, but as a powerful art…. That the artist’s name will be incidental to the content of his work and that it will become as respected and significant as one of the finest of artistic movements.

Artists featured in the exhibition include:

  • Gonzalo Algarate
  • Carlos Almaraz
  • Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin
  • Armando Baeza
  • Joe Bravo
  • Federico Cantu
  • Oscar Castillo
  • Raul de la Sota
  • Susan Elizalde-Holler
  • David Flury
  • Diane Gamboa
  • Margaret Garcia
  • Elysa Gomez
  • Ignacio Gomez
  • Angelica Gonzalez
  • Daniel Gonzalez
  • Yolanda Gonzalez
  • Gronk
  • Brandy Healy
  • Salomon Huerta
  • Marquis Lewis
  • Jacalyn Lopez Garcia
  • José Lozano
  • Gilbert “Magu” Lujan
  • Hertiberto Luna
  • Ana Marini Genzon
  • Patrick Martinez
  • Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein
  • Laura Molina
  • Graciela Nardi
  • Johnny Nicoloro
  • Eriberto Oriol
  • José Orozco
  • José Clemente Orozco
  • Gilbert Ortiz
  • Johnny Quintana
  • Sergio Rebia
  • Miguel Angel Reyes
  • Sonia Romero
  • Dan Romero
  • Frank Romero
  • David Alfaro Siqueiros
  • Rufino Tamayo
  • Melissa Trochez
  • John Valadez
  • Linda Vallejo
  • Jaime “Germs” Zacarias


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